Senate opens debate on new Firearms Bill

Senators Matthew Samuda and Peter Bunting
The Senate on Thursday began debate on the new Firearms Act, which calls for harsher penalties such as a minimum 15 years imprisonment for offences related to the Act.
In piloting the bill, Government Senator Matthew Samuda argued that the proliferation of illegal guns has reached crisis levels and has led to a surge in murders and shootings among criminal gangs in the fight for turf.
Since 2018, he told the House, the police have seized more than 3,200 illegal firearms and in excess of 53,000 rounds of ammunition. 
On an annual basis, he said the security forces seize about 625 firearms. 
"As of August 27th of this year, a total of 508 firearms have been seized and that represented an increase of 11 per cent over the year-to-date figure of 2021," he revealed.  
Mr. Samuda said the mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for individuals convicted of possession of an illegal gun sends a strong signal that the government is serious about removing gunmen from the streets and reassures victims of crime that "the offender will face appropriate retribution". 
This retribution, he explained, is based on the principle that "those who engage in criminal activity and harm others deserve to suffer".
In his contribution to the debate, Opposition Spokesman on National Security Peter Bunting welcomed the new legislation, but said it will not be a silver bullet to solving the country's crime problem.
He said the authorities have to implement measures to ensure that the perpetrators of violence are caught.
While he admitted that "draconian sentences, extremely harsh and severe penalties" will act as a deterrent to crime, Mr. Bunting said research shows that "the chance of being caught is a vastly more effective deterrent than even draconian punishment". 
He argued that there has been a decline in arrests under the current Firearms Act, which would suggest the chance of being caught is also declining. 
Added to that, the spokesman pointed to a clear-up rate of "less than 50 per cent", which he said also indicated that criminals are less likely to be caught. 
Under the new Firearms Act, offenders could also face sentences of life imprisonment for weapons possession, trafficking firearms and stockpiling weapons.
The debate in the Senate continues on Friday.
1,108 murders  
Meanwhile, the latest crime statistics show that Jamaica has recorded 1,108 murders for the period January 1 to September 17.
This is 82 more than were recorded over the same period last year, or an eight per cent increase.

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