People who are found with illegal guns and ammunition and those found guilty of gun-related offences will feel the full brunt of the law, and will now not have the opportunity to get bail, once the new Firearms Amendment Bill 2017 is passed by Parliament.
Attorney General and Justice Minister Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, debating the Bill, said it will be automatic jail time for these criminals. At present, the law provides for a fine or imprisonment for persons found guilty of possession of illegal weapons.
The Amendment Bill received the support of all but one Member of Parliament. However, the proposed law is now before a house committee and will be voted on when Parliament resumes on Thursday, October 12th.
Benjamin, while highlighting a number of recent developments involving the use of firearms, one of which was the murder of a senior citizen woman who was gunned down in her home, said the government is taking a zero tolerance towards gun crime.
“We have therefore decided that since the fines are not a deterrent, we shall make persons who offend the law be sentenced to a term of imprisonment from the onset. This is no joke, we are here to protect Antiguans and Barbudans,” Benjamin told parliament Tuesday.
According to the attorney general, in the past, when large fines were imposed on individuals they would often come up with the money in a short period of time and be back on the street committing similar offences.
Benjamin said, however, that while a prison term is automatic, adjudicators have a discretion, having heard a plausible explanation of accused persons, as to whether to impose an alternative sentence.
He said the subject of imprisonment for gun-related offences is already in law for indictable matters (cases heard in the High Court before a judge and jury) but is now being amended to include summary cases (matters before the Magistrates’ Court). Benjamin noted that sentences have to be increased as a means of a deterrent impact for the criminal minded
Under the new Bill, persons found guilty of possession of a firearm at the Magistrates’ Court will be sentenced to an automatic five years imprisonment, while at the High Court the jail time is 10 years.
Benjamin said a 10-year sentence will be imposed on individuals found with illegal firearms at public events, including football matches and church functions.
Also, persons found guilty of selling firearms to restricted individuals will face imprisonment for 15 years.
The attorney general said government must take drastic measures to reduce crime in the country as previous measures have failed, including gun amnesties.
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