The House of Assembly on 22 March passed the long awaited Gun Control amendment Legislation, that was requested, and promised. The legislation which is titled “Firearm and Air Guns (Amendment) Act, 2015” was piloted by Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith.
Throughout the debate the legislators bemoaned the situation of crime and the use of firearms. In his contribution At Large Representative, Hon. Archibald Christian announced that the legislation makes it known that the Territory will not tolerate gun crimes. He also announced that many persons have suggested that it is time for the BVI borders to be patrolled on a regular basis, because it seems that firearms are entering the Territory and not through legal means. However, Hon. Christian noted that it would be difficult to have full border security.
Sixth District Representative, Hon. Alvera Maduro-Caines told her colleagues: “I shudder when I hear the kind of guns coming into this Territory. Guns that Bin Laden used, and I ask myself what kind of war are we starting. I ask how are these guns coming in.”
Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton in his contribution stated that the legislation is not to tie the hands of judges or magistrates, but to set a minimum standard.
Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal told the House: “As far as I am concerned the fines should be tough…People who use guns and rifles to kill their brother and sister spend eight, 10, 20 years and they are still a danger to society; and the government and legislature have a right to ensure that people are protected and guarded.” Hon. O’Neal also stated that he hopes that the legislation would cause a reduction in crime.
Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn told his colleagues that the amendment is very important and long in coming. He said that he is not sure if making the penalty stiffer will solve the problem, but the Minister said that the legislation shows the disdain for the matter of crime. In fact Hon. Walwyn said: “I see this as a national security issue because it goes to the root of the financial health of the country.”
Under the “Firearm and Air Guns (Amendment) Act, 2015” a person, other than a juvenile, faces a minimum sentence of 15 years if a firearm is used in the commission of kidnapping, robbery, drug trafficking, rape or other sexual offenses, or domestic violence incidents. The Legislation further states that if the person is again convicted for using a firearm in the commission of an offence, the Act sets out a minimum sentence of 20 years.
The Act states that an adult faces a minimum sentence of 10 years if they use or attempt to use a firearm to obstruct or interfere with a police officer in the exercise of that officer’s powers.
A person faces a prison sentence of 10 years if they use or attempt to use a firearm to intimidate, threaten or cause injury to the Governor, a member of the House of Assembly, a Judge, Master or Magistrate and a public officer engaged in the performance of his or her duties. Furthermore, a person who uses or possesses a firearm to commit an offense, including resisting arrest, faces minimum sentences of $100,000 or 10 years imprisonment, or both on summary conviction. On conviction on indictment, the minimum sentence is $200,000 or 20 years, or both.