Controversy Surrounds Proposed Changes to Firearm Licensing Authority in Belize
In related news, the Senate also addressed the matter of firearm licenses and the approving authority. The discussion stemmed from the amendments brought from the last House Meeting regarding the establishment of a gun licensing board under the Firearms Act. The Government is seeking to strip the Police Commissioner Chester Williams of his authority to issue gun licenses, and pass that responsibility on to a board. UDP Senator, Michael Peyrefitte, condemned the makeup of the board, and what he has termed as ministerial interference.
Michael Peyrefitte, United Democratic Party: “Essentially what the government is saying is that they no longer have the confidence in their beloved Commissioner to issue gun licenses on his own. The Government doesn’t trust the man anymore. And so you want to replace him with a board which on the face of it sounds good Madam President but we’re all aware of the saying that the devil is in the details. First of all what you have in your mind is which board? By whom ? And we were hoping that since the government wants to get the Commissioner out of the way and since in their manifesto they promised that they would pass legislation to reduce the power of ministers you would think then that this legislation would be similar. But no. No. In the firearms act has certain powers of the minister that remain. So you take away the Commissioner, you put in a board but now the minister will have the same power over the board that he had over the Commissioner and the minister gets to appoint the board. What are we doing here ? Which law ? So change the law. It’s unfortunate you’re not in power. You don’t like the law, change it ! Change it to be consistent with what you promised the Belizean people you would do. Change the law to make sure that you accomplish what you campaigned on. And stop coming to this parliament and making it seem indeed like people don’t read documents because we read you know ? And I know this is shocking you because you didn’t read but we will read it for you right now. You said you would pass legislation to reduce the powers and influence of ministers. You said you would. If you didn’t know how to do it you shouldn’t have promised the Belizean people that. You shouldn’t have told the Belizean people that that’s what you would do if you know you don’t have the capacity to do it as Hubert Elrington would say. No capacity to do it that’s your problem not mine. You promised the Belizean people you would get it done. Get it done !.”
Senator for the private sector, Kevin Herrera, also contributed to the discussion, approving the establishment of the board.
Kevin Herrera, Senator: “The bill generally, Madam President, as the Senator said is basically to replace the Commissioner with a board, a three member board. I think that’s very clear and this board now is to approve applications among other things and it lays out the functions of that board but there’s no much difference with respect to what had existed before other than this fundamental change. And I think one of the reasons why this bill became necessary Madam President is because of what we’ve been seeing on the news recently. I think that there’s been many reports about gun licensing being issued in some cases multiple licenses to the same person and then others who believe that they should be qualified to get a license are rejected for some reason or the other. And so looking at this amendment bill this is one of the things that I was hoping would have been addressed in the bill the fairness aspect of it. Like for example it doesn’t state at all who qualifies for a firearm license. It doesn’t state what will qualify them for a firearm license. And I think this is what led to the unfairness in terms of how it was bring practiced. And then if you don’t agree or if you don’t agree that you’ve been disqualified fairly then who do you appeal to ?”
Senator Eamon Courtenay wrapped up the debate by explaining that what Peyrefitte said was lacking, did not necessarily fall within the scope of the agreement.
Eamon Courtenay, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “The purpose of the legislation is to remove a single person from having extensive powers in licensings and revoking firearms and to create a board and to have that board address those issues and that is why the bill has very limited scope. It was not intended to address the issues raised by Senator Peyrefitte and I believe Senator Herrera meaning put in appeal procedure etc and the other sections that Senator Peyrefitte he referred to 3(4), 4(2), 7(3) that were not amended. When and if the firearms act in its entirety will be reviewed and revised those are comments which may be legitimate and can be taken onboard. This bill is designed at this stage to address a problem and that is what the government would like to have passed. Removing the power from the Commissioner and giving it to the board. I will commend the bill to Senators on that basis that the concerns raised are legitimate but go beyond the scope of what government was intending to do at this stage. I ask that the question be put.”
The Firearms Act was ratified in today’s Senate meeting