There has been much debate and clamour from both politicians and the public on the stringent laws surrounding firearms and ammunition. This continues to be of national importance to the People’s United Party and Party Leader Francis Fonseca today once again spoke on the matter. Fonseca says that several sections of the laws under the Firearms Act are unconstitutional and as such, the opposition suggests three principal amendments to the act.

 

Francis Fonseca – Leader of the Opposition


“Section sixty of act which deems these various clauses of persons automatically in possession must be repealed because it infringes a citizen constitutional right under section (5) to only be deprived of their liberty upon reasonable suspicion upon having committed or being about to commit a criminal offense, it also infringes a person’s section (6) of constitutional right to presumption of innocent because it requires those clauses of persons to be in possession of the firearm and ammunition and as we point it out in the CCJ case they held that such a provision infringe the constitutional right to the equal protection of the law.”

 

The second amendment suggested by Fonseca is the repealing of section 32 of the act.

 

Francis Fonseca – Leader of the Opposition

 

“Taking out this mandatory minimum sentence as well as enlarging the discretion of the magistrate when sentencing.  It is difficult to understand why the penalty for possession simplicity of a firearm or ammunition which currently it is mandatory minimum sentence of five years without discretion of the court to impose otherwise would be harsh and the grave offense of illicit trafficking in firearms but that is Mr. Speaker, the state of the penalty provision for firearm offenses under the act currently consequently the general penalty provision under section 32, we believe needs to be repealed and substituted for provision which leave the discretion of the sentence to the court. This existing twenty year imprisonment sealing for summary conviction and twenty five years imprisonment sealing for indictment needs to be change and again it is in comprehensible why possession simplicity  will attract higher penalties than the offense of illicit trafficking in firearms, therefore if the sealing of illicit trafficking is ten years on indictment we would recommend that the sealing for possessions simplicity should be ten years on indictment as well, and a lesser penalty on summary conviction per say seven years.”

 

In relation to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act, the opposition submitted that section 16:2 where it deals with offenses under firearms act be amended to specify the quantity of ammunition and firearms the person charged must exceed before the Magistrate’s discretion to grant bail is taken away.

 

Francis Fonseca – Leader of the Opposition

 

“We recognize fully the need for us to remain tough on crime and in particular to effectively monitor and control the use of firearms in our society and I feel personally strongly about that.  I am no fan of guns Mr. speaker, but it is clear that the laws as it presently stands are leading to injustice and inequity and I think we in this honourable house, have a duty and an obligation to review when the citizens of the country are concerned and we see these matters playing out nationally, we have duty to pause and say let us review the legislation and if necessary let us revise it.”

 

Minister of National Security John Saldivar responded saying government will be addressing the concerns and the public will eventually see the possible reduction in sentences and stiffness of the laws.

 

Screen_Shot_2014-02-05_at_8.22.03_PMJohn Saldivar – Minister of National Security


“Having now gotten the reprieve from the crime situation, we will be looking more carefully to see how we can revise the firearm and other related law, to make them more fair as you would say and to review them with a view to satisfying the clamour of the Belizean citizen with respect to these laws.”

 

Saldivar said that while the laws have contributed to the reduction in crime, they recognize the “draconian” nature of the laws. Hence, government has begun a review of the pertinent laws to address the situation and is also looking at the sections that pertain to the jurisdiction of the magistrate. He stated that in addition to this they will be looking at the proposal to, quote, “narrow the net of persons that police will hold accountable,” in regards to firearms and ammunition arrests. He further stated that they will begin public consultations with stakeholders in regards to this.

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