Advertisement 87
Advertisement 211
Opposition Senator, Israel Bruce speaking on the debate on the amendment to Firearm Act on April 4, 2024.
Opposition Senator, Israel Bruce speaking on the debate on the amendment to Firearm Act on April 4, 2024.
Advertisement 219

An opposition lawmaker says that the stiffer penalties passed by Parliament last week must be accompanied by programmes across St. Vincent and the Grenadines to prevent people from getting involved in crimes. 

“This government has two baskets from which to seek out measures aimed at addressing gun crimes and illegal gun possession. There is the preventative basket and then there is the curative basket,” Senator Israel Bruce said on Thursday, and he led the opposition’s response to the amendments.

The opposition supported the stiffer penalties, but Bruce noted that penalties come from the basket that talks about punishing people found in possession of illegal firearms. 

“I say that we need to spend some time to look to see what programmes we can design and execute across St. Vincent and Grenadines that dip a few more items out of the preventative basket,” said Bruce, a lawyer who practices mainly in the criminal court.

“I am sure that all of us in this chamber in this legislative council, l we must all agree that an increase in prison time and fines would not be enough,” Bruce said.

Advertisement 271

The revised law moved from EC$20,000 and seven years in prison to EC$25,000 and 10 years imprisonment, or both, the maximum sentence a magistrate can impose on a person guilty of possession of an unlicensed firearm or who forges or counterfeits any license or permit.

It also created new offences, including against trafficking in firearms and the 3D printing of firearms.

“I respectfully say to this honourable house that these new and emboldened punitive measures must be accompanied by sustained community efforts with targeted interventions to root out the underlying causes of violent crimes.”

Bruce recounted that two decades ago, when the ruling Unity Labour Party was in opposition, it made “very strident bids to get into government and it touted became a popular slogan that ULP will be ‘tough on crime and the causes of crime’”. 

Bruce noted that official statistics show that between 2012 and 2023, there were 408 murders in SVG.

However, whereas 87% of the murders resulting from stabbing and similar means were resolved, only 15% of firearm-related homicides have been resolved.

“Forty-four out of a total of 288,” Bruce said, adding, “I want that to sink in.” 

The opposition senator said the statistics suggest that “crimes have been tough on this ULP administration.

“Whilst crimes have been tough on the ULP administration, this ULP administration has been soft when it comes to addressing the root causes of crimes in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.

Bruce said the nation has to appreciate the causes of the gunslinging culture “before we can fundamentally begin to address them in a targeted way. 

“If we fail to do so, I say without fear of being contradicted that we will be donning the same old khaki pants in search of glittering results. 

“Therefore, Herein lies the multibillion-dollar question. Have we satisfied ourselves, have we, that we have done enough to assist with the social intervention programmes that can assist us in responding to social deviance as contributors to violent crimes? Are we satisfied that we have done enough? 

“If the answer, which I believe all of us ought to know that we have not done enough, that we need to then say to ourselves, we need to make greater investment, greater investment in social organisations, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, brownies, Pathfinders an other CBOs, and NGOs that can assist us in this collaborative effort.”

He said the opposition agrees that the home has a role to play, as does the school, the churches, NGOs and CBOs. 

“I am saying though, that the state, which has at its disposal greater facilities, must play a greater role in giving the enabling capabilities to these organisations and to these institutions. If you object to it, that might be a good reason for you to say so publicly.”

Bruce said it is time that the government “put in the matching financial and human resources in these types of entities so that they can assist us in fighting crimes, especially illegal gun-related crimes, and, most importantly, addressing the issue of conflict resolution amongst young people in particular…”

He said the opposition also believes that there must be “a multi-disciplinary approach to go along with the stiffer penalties that we are passing in this house today. 

“And in that sense, we can help to wrestle the problems of illegal gun violence in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Bruce said.

“Though we on this side of the house clearly indicated our support for the increase in penalties as one of the tools which can be utilised from the crime-fighting toolkit, we, we are eager to caution that the legislation and the legislative amendments must not be considered in isolation.

“There are other things to consider. And we hope that from this side of the house, that sufficient consideration will be given to the overall sets of impact of this act on St. Vincent and Grenadines.”

Bruce noted that stiffer penalties had cost implications for state coffers as more monies will have to be allocated to the nation’s prisons.

“We are talking about a number of our young men been trapped in prisons for years. And again, because we are pushing for deterrence, we should not form the view that there are not those who still will be caught in the midst of all of what is happening,” Bruce said. 

“This country will only our earn maximum benefit from these amendments to this to this law only if we have accompanying measures to go alongside with the legal amendments, but these measures must be long term and consistent,” he said.