THE judiciary must help the fight the proliferation of illegal guns by imposing proper sentences on repeat offenders, Minister of National Security Stuart Young urged yesterday.
He spoke on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2019 in the Senate.
Saying the concept of “shooters” is real, that is gunmen who are held for repeat crimes, he lamented the paltry penalties meted out to several offenders recently by the law courts.
The offenders were charged for possession of illegal guns, bullets and drugs; pleaded guilty yet then simply received a $5,000 fine for the drugs and $7,500 fine for the guns and bullets.
“That is the signal the judiciary is sending,” Young lamented. “Unless the judiciary joins with us, we’ll get nowhere.”
Underlining the need for the bill, he said out of 366 murders this year, some 230 were basically gang-related, or 63 per cent.
“We need to send a strong signal to the criminal element.”
He justified life imprisonment for a third-time offender, who already had two chances to turn his life around when previously caught with an illegal gun.
“Three strikes and you’re out!” he trumpeted, before he then punned, “Three strikes and you’re ‘in.’”
Young asked if anyone really thought such individuals were better walking around with guns, or being jailed.
Hailing the protective services, he said the number of woundings and shootings had fallen over the past year from 529 to 468.
Young said guns are not entering TT from Venezuela but come from North American. They are not improvised or old guns but rather sophisticated Glock and AR-15 guns which he said were “very sophisticated weapons that do not jam.” He said 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 at a KFC outlet was under investigation for 47 murderers done using illegal guns.
Young took offence to Opposition claims the bill was aimed at a mass incarceration of inner-city youth. “This bit of legislation is aimed only at the criminal element who want to walk around with guns.” He accused Naparima MP Rodney Charles of using a racial dog-whistle.
Charles had said that just as yesteryear’s slave masters had discussed how to flog our grandmothers, now the bill was a debate on punishment for their grandsons. Charles had said TT risked being among the world’s countries having the highest prison population per 100,000 citizens, now being ranked at 37th worst.
TT’s incarceration rate is double that of Jamaica’s rate of 138 per 100,000 residents, Charles said. He 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.
Charles said US Democratic politician Kamala Harris has said the death penalty is no deterrent. Saying 8,154 illegal firearms are circulating in TT, Charles said, “Shouldn’t we direct our attention to reducing the inflow of guns, not incarceration?”