Friday 24 January, 2020

‘It’s like a warzone’: 841 guns seized for 2019, says Young

National Security Minister Stuart Young said that 841 illegal firearms have been seized for the year to date in Trinidad and Tobago, adding that the country is becoming like a warzone.

Young was speaking in the Senate on Tuesday during a debate on the Bail (Amendment)(No.2) Bill, 2019.

The amendment proposes to restrict bail for anyone charged with possession of an illegal firearm, where the weapon is a prohibited weapon listed under the Firearms Act, though the charge is a first offence.

There is absolutely no legitimate reason to be in possession of an illegal firearm. The only reason a person is in possession of an illegal firearm is to kill somebody,” Young said.

“A bulletproof vest is not going to stop the round of an assault rifle. Understand the seriousness of this piece of legislation today….that is not someone…any civic-minded citizen of Trinidad and Tobago should want to see on the streets,” he said.

He also referred to two cases earlier this year in which a number of AR15 assault rifles were seized by police. Young said nine AR15s were seized in Belmont earlier this year and in a separate incident, eight AR15s were seized in Four Roads, Diego Martin some weeks later.

He added that for the year to date, 80.2 percent of the country's murders were committed with firearms. 

“As of yesterday, 80.2 percent of the murders committed were committed with the use of firearms. I would hazard to say out of that 80.2, 80 percent…is through the use of illegal firearms.”

"Shootings and woundings, in 2018 there were 482...while (for 2019) 625 were recorded as of yesterday...that is like a warzone," he said.

“An AR15 is a weapon of war…what happened in El Paso, Texas, outside of a Walmart, it was an AR15 being used. In Trinidad and Tobago the criminal element is now in possession of AR15s and I guarantee…without fear of contradiction that God forbid, anyone of you or your family members are told that criminal X has been put into possession of AR15s to kill you,” he said.

Young said as of November 11, 2019, the murder toll stood at 455.

Senator: Innocent people at risk

Independent Senator Anthony Vieira, however, questioned whether innocent people would be made to suffer under this legislation.

He made reference to Section 7(a) of the Bill, which allows for the granting of bail under exceptional circumstances.

“This law says you will be denied bail on just a charge. What if the accused was tricked into carrying something he was unaware of? You’re an Uber driver or something like that. What the accused had let someone occupy his property? People have lockers, businesses where they rent locker spaces, all of these people are potential victims of setup. It happens. What if the accused is being coerced by threats of violence toward himself or his family? We have to consider the possibility of unintended consequences, in particular the real risk that an innocent person may be charged even if the odds of that happening are just one in a hundred,” he said, suggesting that the section be ‘softened’ to allow for these situations.

Al-Rawi said however that ‘exceptional circumstances’ would refer to anything in the individual case which a court ought to consider which included such circumstances. 

Police Commissioner Gary Griffith urged Government to review the laws governing bail for charges concerning assault weapons after a 19-year-old who was held with the weapons was granted bail. 

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