Minister Andrew Holness says the new Firearms Act is already affecting the psyche of offenders and has resulted in the arrest and charge of more than 80 people for various firearm offences since the law came into effect in November last year.
“It is already having an impact on the minds of the criminals and that is how we have to operate to change the behaviour of those who are not necessarily hardened but who are drawn into a life of crime because of circumstances. We have to increase the penalties so that they consider carefully, the decisions they make,” he said.
The prime minister, who was speaking at the inaugural staging of a security seminar by the Office of the National Security Advisor (ONSA) at AC Kingston Hotel in St Andrew on Thursday, noted that a large number of those nabbed are in the 15 to 30 age group.
Citing the harsher gun control measures under the Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act, which stipulates penalties ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment, Holness implored this cohort, “Don’t throw away your life, throw away the gun.”
He said some offenders are acutely aware of the harsher penalties, including a youngster in his St Andrew West Central constituency who has been locked up for “far less than 15 years” for being in possession of an illegal firearm. He said the soon-to-be released youth has related that he is happy he was arrested before the new law came into operation.
“I believe that this new Act, which sets a minimum 15 years before consideration for parole for simple possession, will shape behaviour. I believe those people who are in the business of producing violence will have to reconsider their use of fatal violence,” the prime minister said.
Holness, however, expressed his disappointment that the legislation was not moved along fast enough, noting that “if we could have moved it faster, maybe it would’ve had an earlier impact”.
The seminar, which was held under the theme ‘Defending and Securing Jamaica’s Development: A Strategic Security Analysis’, is the first in a series of seminars which will be conducted by ONSA through the Office of the Cabinet.
The series of sensitisation sessions will serve to provide and facilitate dialogue and awareness across ministries, departments and agencies and advance the efforts and messaging on the Government’s priorities and policies regarding national security.
ONSA is mandated to provide strategic and administrative support to the National Security Council in its function as a sub-committee of Cabinet.