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The House of Representatives yesterday (June 1) gave its approval to amendments to the 1967 Firearms Act, to centralize the licensing process and eliminate corruption.
National Security Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips said the legislation provided for the establishment of an independent central authority and sets out procedures for the granting of licences, certificates and permits, and would allow for regular audits and security reviews of all licensed holders and their weapons.
Minister Phillips said the changes, which were “urgently needed.in light of the current threats to public safety and national security,” would help to eliminate the risk of corrupt issuance of firearms licences and certificates.
In addition, he said, the grant process would be put in the hands of a central authority, which would be directed by persons of high reputation, who themselves would be subject to audit and oversight by the Ministry as well as Parliament.
The authority will also be responsible for renewing and revoking licences, certificates and permits. An appeal body is also to be established.
Dr. Phillips noted that the process for granting licences was a decentralized one and consolidating the procedure would “eliminate much of the corruption and allow for regular audits and security reviews of all licence holders and their weapons”.
The centralizing of the process, he said further, would enable the development and maintenance of an easily accessible inventory of all licences issued to private persons and security firms.
The National Security Minister pointed out that there have been persistent allegations of corruption in the existing licencing regime with evidence that persons of unscrupulous character had managed to secure licences to use firearms in questionable circumstances.
He said evidence had also shown that some licenced firearm holders had failed to properly secure their firearm and as a consequence, the weapons had fallen into the hands of persons involved in criminal activity.
Dr. Phillips further told the House, that available intelligence indicated that some licenced holders had aided and abetted criminals in the use of weapons by way of the provision of ammunition to conduct illegal activity.
Dr. Phillips pointed out that in keeping with the policy to implement new and stringent measures in the regulation of the firearms regime, the Bill also revised the fines levied under the principal Act, to make them more relevant to the current crime situation.
Opposition Speaker on Justice, Delroy Chuck said the Bill was not a controversial one and should have been dealt with long before now to address corruption in the issuance of licences.
Mr. Chuck said the consolidation of the licencing process under one authority was to be supported, and he expressed the hope that this would solve the problem of long lines at police stations at the beginning of every year for renewal. He urged further, that criteria be developed to determine how persons get firearm licences, as this cannot be done “at the whims and fancies of any authority, police officer or other person”.