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#485268 - 02/06/14 03:31 AM PUP Suggests, UDP Agrees, To Re-visit Gun Laws
Marty Offline

But it wasn't all bickering in the House today – there were a few things both sides could agree on.  One of them was that the severe gun laws need to be revisited.  The issue is in sharp focus presently because of the Gino Peck case and the Reynaldo Verde situation.  The Leader of the Opposition urged the government to do something about it, and government appears ready to listen:

Hon. Francis Fonseca – Leader of the Opposition
"I am no fan of guns, Mr. Speaker, but it is clear that the laws as they presently stand, are leading to injustice and inequity. And I think that we in this Honourable House have a duty and an obligation to review when the citizens of the country are concerned and we these matters playing out nationally. We have a duty to pause and say, 'Let us review the legislation, and if necessary, let us revise it to take account of these concerns of the Belizean people.'"

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security/Area Representative, Belmopan
"My government will be looking very carefully 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 fairer, as you would say, and review them with a view to satisfying the clamours of the Belizean citizenry with respect to these laws. Only yesterday, and again today, I met with the Director of Public Prosecutions, as well as the Solicitor General, and we have begun a review of these pertinent laws with a view - like I said - to find some fair and less draconian laws. We are indeed looking at the jurisdiction of the Magistrate with respect to this current law, and looking at perhaps returning to the Magistrate the jurisdiction of deciding on bail matters." 

And while the laws will change, does the GSU have to change as well?  The press asked the Prime Minister about the role of this elite unit and the division it has created within the department:

Prime Minister Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize
"Also with a view to trying to ensure that the GSU knows that it is a part of the Belize Police Department, and that the other units of the Department also know this, and that the public knows this. I concede that a perception seems to be setting in that the GSU is perhaps an entity separate and apart, an entity unto itself. I do not saw a law unto itself, a entity unto itself. And to the extent that there is that perception, some effort must be made by all those involved, including the GSU leadership, but most particularly, the Commissioner, the CEO, and the Minister to try to deal what is at least a perception." 

Channel 7

#485412 - 02/07/14 05:41 AM Re: PUP Suggests, UDP Agrees, To Re-visit Gun Laws [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

PUP Says Change Gun Law Now!

The Gun Law, it's been at the forefront of the public discourse for weeks now, and yesterday in the House of Representatives, you actually heard both sides of the House agree on making changes to the draconian laws. Police Minister John Saldivar said he was in discussions with the Director Of Public Prosecutions and the Solicitor General and had commenced a review of the laws to make them fair and less Draconian. But, today the PUP held a press conference to say no discussion with the relevant authorities needed; they have the changes in hand. The party has produced a draft for the Crime Control and Criminal Justice act, and for the firearms Amendment Act. And in a curious twist says they want to lead from the opposition:

Kareem Musa
"The PUP has a duty and an obligation to step in where the government seems unable to govern and to make the necessary changes. We are in effect leading from the Opposition."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"When the citizens of our country are of a growing view that this particular law, these particular laws are being applied inequitably or leading to injustice we certainly have an obligation to look at those laws."

Kareem Musa
"We proposed that the crime control and criminal justice act be amended to state that the charges under which an accused in not granted bail as of right under the firearms act be restricted to 1.) Robbery with a firearm, 2.) Aggravated assault with a firearm and, 3.) Possession on unlicensed firearm and ammunition. In relation to those 3 offences that there also be a proviso that would once again vest in the magistrate the authority to grant bail for special extenuating circumstances to be recorded in writing."

"We must trust that our magistrates, like our Supreme Court judges have the wisdom and the knowledge to know deserve to be granted bail and who does not. Repeat offenders who have previous or prior convictions, for instance, ought not to be granted bail. But a pregnant woman or a high school student with no previous convictions ought not to be treated like a common criminal the way they are today."

Anthony Sylvestre
"Section 32B amended firstly to take away this mandatory minimum sentence and restore the discretion to the magistrate."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"We have proposed specific amendments to these particular laws; the firearms act and the crime control criminal justice act. We are going to make that available to the government of Belize. We want to work with the government on this issue, but we certainly recognized that there is an urgent need. We don't want this thing to be dragged on. We don't want there to be a long series on discussions and meetings. We think there is need for urgent action on this matter."

Kareem Musa
"We are making proposals to change the laws now! Not two years from now so more people could get locked up, now!"

The drafts will be submitted to the relevant government authorities for review.

Channel 7

#485450 - 02/07/14 12:39 PM Re: PUP Suggests, UDP Agrees, To Re-visit Gun Laws [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

At the Special Sitting of the House of Representatives Wednesday, Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca echoed strong public sentiments that the existing firearms legislation unjustly casts too much of a wide net, to the peril of many innocent and upstanding citizens who have had to spend time in jail on account of the laws which National Security Minister John Saldivar conceded to be “draconian,” but which, he claimed, were necessary to push back a spiraling crime rate.

“I am no fan of guns, but it is clear that the laws, as they now stand, lead to injustice and inequity, and [we] have obligation to review [it],” Fonseca said, adding that the necessary revisions ought to be made to take account of public concerns.

Recently, community activists such as Russell Roberts and Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) have been clamoring for the Government to urgently revisit the laws in question. Last week Friday, Special Branch Corporal Gino Peck was the first to escape a jail sentence, after a firearms conviction, when he instead was fined $600 in court. The incident intensified public demands for Government to revisit the controversial firearms laws.

Fonseca, who is himself also a practicing attorney, also noted that the legislation impairs the ability of the judiciary to exercise discretion in sentencing, where discretion ought to be left to the court to take into account the facts of the case such as the age of the accused, the quantity of firearms and ammunition found, and/or other relevant matters such as whether the accused was a previous license holder or whether he or she has a reasonable excuse for the possession of the firearms.

Fonseca also questioned why firearm possession convictions would attract a higher maximum sentence than trafficking – 25 years versus 20 years.

He furthermore recommended that section 16.2 of the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act should be amended to specify the quantity of weapons which must be exceeded before a magistrate’s discretion to grant bail is taken away, as is the case with drug offences.

The Opposition Leader said that at the time these bills were debated in Parliament (over four years ago), the Government had been warned that the changes could potentially lead to abuses and inequity, although he realizes the need to remain tough on crime and to effectively monitor the use of firearms in this country.

Responding to the Leader of the Opposition, National Security Minister John Saldivar said that the time during which the various amendments to the Firearm Act were made, back in 2008, was a time when the country was experiencing a major surge in gang violence and gang-related crimes or gun-related crimes.

“It is within that atmosphere that the Government felt compelled to take stringent measures to deal with the rising crime situation. I must say, though, that the clamors now for a reduction in sentences and the stiffness of the Firearms Act could only be entertained now in the new environment, where we have seen in 2013 a drastic reduction in crimes,” Saldivar said.

The National Security Minister said that they have listened carefully to the presentation previously made by Fonseca, the House member for Freetown.

“I promise not only to him, but to this nation, that my government will be looking very carefully, having now gotten reprieve from the crime situation, at how we can revise the Firearms and other related law to make them more fair,” he said.

Saldivar said that he accepts the categorization of the legislation as draconian but submitted that “…they have been most instrumental in assisting the police in its fight against crime.”

He said that he had met with both the Director of Public Prosecution and the Solicitor General this week, and they have begun a review of the pertinent laws with a view of finding more fair and less draconian laws that will not restrict or reduce the ability of the police to deal with criminals—but certainly, they want to ensure that ordinary citizens are not caught by the wide net of these laws.

As for the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act, Saldivar said that they are indeed looking at the jurisdiction of the magistrate with respect to the current law and looking at returning to the magistrates the jurisdiction of deciding on bail matters; however, he said, he believes that there have to be certain provisions for special extenuating circumstances that would need to be considered before granting bail.

He also said that they are looking at proposals to narrow the net of persons police can hold accountable for firearms and ammunition found on a property.

According to Saldivar, they plan to undertake a public consultation on the matter; however, as for the proposal to consider the quantity of arms found in determining the punitive sanctions which would apply, Saldivar said that while he can see how this could pertain to ammunition, it could not apply to firearms, because one gun is one too many.

He recalled a case where a single bullet had landed some individuals in prison, and said that this is a concern that can be looked at.

“We take onboard the comments made by the member for Freetown and will certainly begin now in earnest the consultation, without compromising the police’s ability to maintain law and order,” Saldivar concluded.

Concerned citizens George and Candy Gonzalez told Amandala today that they have long had concerns about the legislation, and they intend to submit those concerns to Parliament, in line with the pending review.

The Gonzalez couple note that, “As written, the Act makes it a crime to use a firearm not licensed to the individual using it. It seems there should be a provision [to say] that when two people have licensed firearms and live in the same house [that they should both] have the right to use either firearm, in the case of emergency.”

They said that back in 2008, the Government passed an amendment to the Firearms Act which mandated immediate incarceration for anyone in the area of an unlicensed gun or ammunition, including anyone found in any house, vehicle, building, yard, church, etc., where an unlicensed gun and ammunition was found.

“If someone threw a bullet in your yard, you and anyone else found in the area could be jailed and could not apply for bail for at least two weeks. That means that the entire family, including grandparents and children, could be jailed,” they noted.

The couple adds that it is a form of extortion to force someone to plead guilty—which is what some have done to save their friends or relatives from facing incarceration.

“It also makes us less helpful to others,” the couple added. “When on the road, one doesn’t want to pick up people who are strangers. If that person happens to have an unlicensed gun or ammunition, I could go to jail along with anyone in the vehicle, even if that person is riding in the back of the pickup and not in the [main cab of the] vehicle.”



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