LATE Monday, those 30 MPs present in the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2019, piloted by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
The bill allows judges to sentence a third-time offender to a term as high as life imprisonment for possessing, trafficking, importing or making an illegal gun. A first offender guilty of any of the four crimes faces a fine of up to $1 million. The bill was passed in the Senate in July.
Al-Rawi yesterday told Newsday that in line with the Interpretation Act, the bill's penalties were actually the maximum penalties available to a judge, but did not restrict his/her judicial discretion to mull mitigating factors and give a person a lower sentence.
“This bill exposes you to the risk that a court may incarcerate you for the rest of your natural life,” he added.
In the House, Tabaquite MP Dr Suruj Rambachan said, “We have to support this bill to move the country back to decency.”
The Prime Minister said Rambachan and Caroni Central MP Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie had tried damage control after an earlier speech by Naparima MP Rodney Charles who said the bill punishes grandsons of slaves. Dr Rowley said TT was multi-racial and might advance if citizens openly spoke about race without being offensive and disagreeable.
He hit Charles for copying a North American discourse, but said that in TT nobody was jailed because of their skin colour.
“To come here today and try and compare our problem to the American problem, you are fooling no-one.” He said TT’s problem is a proliferation of firearms, rendering everyone unsafe.
Rowley said a 2000 World Bank Report done under the then UNC government found African youth being marginalised.
These findings fed the Manning government's Medium Term Policy of 2014, including a project under Rowley to help African youth.
Rowley said the UNC accused him of racial discrimination, leading his two PNM colleagues to claim it was a misprint in the policy document.
With the project then rubbished, African youth delinquency spread nationwide from Laventille.
Hitting Charles for now presenting himself as a saviour, Rowley said. “So we had this intervention (by Charles), with a dog whistle from the Parliament to Africans, ‘Hold on with your gun. Hold on with your third and fourth offence. I am coming to defend you because the PNM Government is passing law in Parliament to incarcerate you.’”
The PM said every law applies to every citizen regardless of background.
“The damage he (Charles) was trying to do here today was to separate one group of people, telling them from the Parliament floor, that the law being passed here today was aimed at you, the children of slaves. Disgraceful conduct!”
The PM said the bill was needed for TT’s realities of crime, not other countries. The Opposition joined the Government to back the bill.
The House resumes of Friday at 1.30 pm to debate the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act which proposes the police set up a sex offenders register. The Senate sits today (Tuesday.)