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TRINIDAD-POLITICS-Parliament passes amendment to firearms legislation.

The Trinidad and Tobago Parliament on Monday night passed an amendment to the Firearms Act that provides for hefty penalties including life imprisonment for criminals who use guns to commit repeat offences.

All 30 of the 41 legislators who were present when the vote was taken voted in favour of the legislation that particularly targets repeat offenders regarding the possession of illegal guns as the authorities move to curb increased murders here mainly by the use of guns.

During the debate,\ government and opposition legislator clashed on the issue of race, particularly after opposition legislator, Rodney Charles, said the bill was aimed at a mass incarceration of inner-city youth.

Charles had said that just as yesteryear's slave masters had discussed how to flog grandmothers, now the bill was a debate on punishment for their grandsons and that Trinidad and Tobago risked being among the world's countries having the highest prison population per 100,000 citizens.

Trinidad and Tobago is ranked 37th and Charles said the incarceration rate is double that of Jamaica's rate of 138 per 100,000 residents.

Charles said that for a gang member who could be killed for failing his leader's order to murder someone, a 20 year jail term for gun possession was just a moot point.

He told legislators that 8,154 illegal firearms were circulating in the country, adding 'shouldn't we direct our attention to reducing the inflow of guns, not incarceration?'

But National Security Minister Stuart Young, said the legislation is aimed only at the criminal element 'who want to walk around with guns,' and accused Charles of using a racial dog-whistle.

Young said the legislation was needed noting that of the 366 murders committed so far this year, an estimated 230 were basically gang-related.

''We need to send a strong signal to the criminal element,' he said as he justified the life imprisonment for a third-time offender, who already had two chances to turn his life around.

'Three strikes and you're out. Three strikes and you're 'in,' he said, asking legislators if anyone really thought such individuals were better walking around with guns, or being jailed.

Young said guns are not entering the country from Venezuela but from North American including the Glock and AR-15 guns which he said were 'very sophisticated weapons that do not jam'.

Young told Parliament that in addition to its usual clip, these weapons can be fitted with extended magazines to hold more bullets, and by a simple modification be turned into a automatic weapon.

He said a criminal recently murdered by another criminal was under investigation for 47 murderers sing illegal guns.

In his contribution, Young was also critical of the judiciary, which he said must help in fighting the proliferation of illegal guns by imposing proper sentences on repeat offenders.

He made reference to the paltry penalties meted out to several offenders recently by the law court where the offenders were charged for possession of illegal guns, bullets and drugs; pleaded guilty yet simply received a TT$5,000 (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) fine for the drugs and TT$7,500 fine for the guns and bullets.

'That is the signal the judiciary is sending. Unless the judiciary joins with us, we'll get nowhere and lt;' he added.

Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi, in winding up the debate, disagreed with the opposition contention that the law is in conflict with the Constitution.

'I want to assure...this is not mandatory sentencing, number two, it is only the judiciary under our Constitution and the separation of powers principle that can engage in the application of sentencing and sentencing guidelines,' he said.

Al-Rawi said that the legislation 'is rationally connected to a host of processes being engaged in.

'This law is connected to reforms that this country has never seen in a four year period. This law is connected in giving Trinidad and Tobago a fighting chance.

'This law is certainly not mandatory sentencing, this law is certainly not the type of law that does not allow judicial discretion, this law is for the exclusive consideration of the judiciary,' he told legislators, adding the law provides for a definition of natural life which the judiciary can exercise as ' a proper ceiling limit depending upon the circumstances of the case and depending upon the sentencing guidelines as to whether it should be balanced not only against the statutory prescription but the condition of sentencing, retribution, punishment, deterrent and rehabilitation'.

Under the legislation, for the first offence, a penalty of TT$250,000 and 10 years jail has been proposed, conviction on a second offence carries a 20 year jail term while a third conviction is life imprisonment.

The Firearms Bill imposes a million dollar fine for several offences: possession, trafficking, manufacturing, and importation.

The bill creates a new offence of trafficking in firearms, deemed to occur if someone is in possession of two or more illegal guns. The penalty is a one million dollar fine for a first offence and 15 years imprisonment (summary) or 20 years (indictable.)

For a second offence it is 25 years imprisonment, and a third offence brings life imprisonment. In a reversal of the notion of presumption of innocence, the bill places the burden of proof on the suspect.

The bill has already received passage in the Senate.
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Publication:CANA News
Geographic Code:5TRIN
Date:Sep 10, 2019
Words:1003
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