Government moves to overhaul gun licence laws

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this file photo, 3D-printed guns and gun components found by police at a house in Caparo in August 2023. – TTPS

GOVERNMENT is proposing sweeping changes to overhaul Trinidad and Tobago’s firearm laws, removing the discretion of the commissioner of police to approve gun licences, and impose a ban on military-type weapons in the hands of civilians.

Gun-free zones are also recommended. These include Parliament, courts, schools, colleges, universities, child care centres, bars, banks, places of worship and any government or private buildings declared by the minister.

A Firearms Control Bill has gone out for comment with a final consultation meeting scheduled for May 20 and 21.

A request from Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, to Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher for stakeholder comment explained that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had extended technical support to the government to facilitate a thorough and comprehensive review of the Firearms Act.

In this file photo, a customer gets information on a wide selection of guns on display at AE Tactical, in Trinity. – File photo

As a result of these collaborative efforts and workshops, the Firearms Control Bill was drafted, Armour said.

“The primary objective of the bill is to establish a comprehensive and effective system for firearms control, along with addressing related matters.

“The proposed legislation holds significant importance in addressing the multi-faceted challenges associated with firearm regulation in our society including the regulation of firearm shooting ranges, a review of the firearms storage and destruction process and a reform of the firearm licensing regime,” the letter said.

“It is anticipated that this model law will eventually repeal and replace the act subject to the approval of Cabinet,” Armour said in the letter which Newsday has seen.

Speaking in the Senate on April 29, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said his ministry and the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs are exploring the possibility of amending the Firearms Act.

The proposed legislation has 24 parts and includes pepper spray provisions and “transitional provisions” dealing with existing firearm user’s licences, dealer licences, permits for the importation and exportation and lawsuits pending under the previous act.

Among the key recommendations of the new proposed law is the establishment of a Firearms Licensing Board whose responsibility would be to review all licence applications and “make binding recommendations to the CoP; monitor implementation of the act; and carry out tasks assigned by the CoP, among others.

An explanation said, “In the legislative workshop, the establishment of a Firearms Licensing Board (FLB) to limit the discretion of the Commissioner of Police was discussed. Such a board would be involved in the decision process to prepare and determine the decision of the Commissioner of Police.”

It added, “This draft gives the Commissioner of Police the authority to issue licences as well as permits for import and export, centralising all authority with the Commissioner of Police.

In this April 2021 file photo, a newspaper ad by a local gun dealer shows military-type weapons available to civilians. –

“Alternatively, also, a Firearms Licensing Board could be established to review all licence applications and make binding recommendations to the Commissioner of Police.

“If TT decides to establish a Firearms Licensing Board, an additional paragraph should be added to this section, clarifying that licences and permits are issued by the Commissioner of Police based on the binding decision of the Firearms Licensing Board.

“Alternatively, the Firearms Licensing Board could be made the competent national authority to issue licenses and permits.”

It noted that if a FLB was to be included in the new legislation, provisions of the appeal board could be cross-referenced. The proposed legislation also sets out changes to the Firearm Appeal Board. Currently, the Firearm Permit Unit of the police service investigates and recommends applications for gun licences.

The proposed legislation provides new definitions for firearms and components; sets out prohibited items which the Firearms Act does not currently do and proposes “different” types of permits. The recommendations for prohibited firearms include automatic firearms; any military-style semi-automatic firearm; firearms disguised as other objects; and. imitation firearms.

In the current Firearms Act, the definition of firearms included “prohibited weapons” but did not provide specifics creating confusion in the application of the law, the proposed legislation noted. The new law also includes provisions on prohibited ammunition which is not covered in the current law.

There are exemptions for those exempted from the application of the Act “so long as their firearm is a government firearm and therefore presumably regulated in other laws/regulations.”

These include police officers, members of the Defence Force, cadets, prison officers, customs and excise officers, Strategic Services Agency officers, and directors at the Forensic Science Centre, among others. The proposed law also expands the criteria on who can receive an FUL.

“This is to reduce the amount of discretion in the decision-making process as well as clarifying who can apply for a licence.

“This approach might also assist with reducing the number of licence applications which currently TT is faced with,” the draft said.

“One of the major concerns for TT is the high number of outstanding applications for licences. Requiring a competence certificate before applying for a licence is one way to reduce the number of licence applications.

In February, Harewood-Christopher recently told the court that there were 25,000 pending applications for gun licences.

“TT can decide if the testing should be done entirely by accredited instructors or also by the police service. Presently, training is done and competency certificates are issued by a firearms instructor,” the guidance on the proposed law stated.

In this 2022 file photo, a firearm instructor gives a shooter some pointers during training at the MH Tactical Shooting Range, Chaguaramas. – File photo

It also said the current FUL process did not distinguish between different types of users, other than an employee, so the draft law sets out different types of licences and who is entitled to apply along with the type of firearms they can possess under the FUL. The proposed legislation also suggests changes to how security firms and shooting ranges operate.

It also noted that a 2022 Private Security Industry Bill, tabled in Parliament, did not appear to require record keeping so “it would be important to have that set out in a firearms act,” which would also apply to shooting ranges.

In the requirements for import, export or in-transit permits, the draft law noted it was yet to be determined if there would be a need for an application each time or if a general import, export or in-transit permit can be granted on request.

The draft law further proposes to extend the powers given to police officers under the current act in the conduct of search and seizure. However, it noted that it was to be decided if search and seizure without a search warrant in a police operation would undermine the legal safeguards.

It further provides for the power to declare a gun amnesty.

*See part II in Monday’s newspaper on new US gun export policy which will affect local dealers