Opposition, Independent senators query firearms bill

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial. FILE PHOTO –

OPPOSITION Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial and Independent Senator Paul Richards both questioned why the National Security Minister will be given powers to interfere with the issuing of firearm users licenses (FUL), during debate on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2022.

The bill seeks to grant the Commissioner of Prisons and director of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) the power to grant FULs to members deemed to be under threat. Clause 10 proposes that the minister be allowed to extend the life of FULs, which both Lutchmedial and Richards argued should either be removed or a clear explanation given.

In her contribution, Lutchmedial said no justification was given as to why this should be added and that it will be a direct interference in the role of Police Commissioner.

“No politician should determine any validity of any licenses,” she said as she questioned why that is being done, suggesting there is something “nefarious” about that clause.

Richards supported his fellow senator in asking for clarity on why this clause, which to him “sticks out like a sore thumb” was inserted.

“Why is a minister, who is essentially a political element, being inserted in this office,” Richards asked.

Independent Senator Paul Richards. FILE PHOTO –

He said the clause gave him shivers and asked what could be the reason for a National Security Minister to be granted such powers. He said he hopes to hear a good reason for it and failure to do so, will mean no support from him for the bill, which he said was a “huge red flag.”

Both also called for psychometric evaluation on officers before they are granted firearms, with Paul going a step further and asking that the spouse of the officer agree that they can be armed.

While acknowledging that prison officers’ lives are at risk, Lutchmedial said arming them is not the best solution, as both National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds and former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi had themselves, previously said it was not a good idea.

“To say that the answer to a problem of gun violence and guns in the hands of criminals is to arm people to allow them to defend themselves, it raises a lot of questions about what the government is doing to get illegal guns out of the hands of criminals. We cannot arm everybody.”

As if they shared the same notes, Richards too questioned why the need for granting FULs to every officer under threat.

He questioned what was preventing both the SSA and Commissioner of Prison from recommending that their officer be granted an FUL with it being given some priority. There is a better solution than giving the heads of both entities additional work, he said.

“Giving someone a firearm even under the circumstance that the person’s life is under threat, should come with an assessment and a suitability of that person to have a firearm because there are other lives in a home that should be considered and protected.”

Lutchmedial said the bill fails to put measures in place to protect relatives of the officers who may not have the mental wherewithal to possess a firearm outside of work.

She described the bill as a “band-aid, simple quick fixes, good public relations and a way to buy grace and good will with the Prison Officers Association.”