Parliamentarians express serious concerns about gun licenses

POSTED: 03/10/11 12:22 PM

St. Maarten – With the exception of Democratic Party MP Petrus Leroy de Weever, parliamentarians in yesterday’s central committee all had serious concerns about Justice Minister Duncan’s decree that will regulate conditions under which citizens will be able to obtain a gun license.
The Minister said that the decree does not change anything, and that previously there was no gun policy at all. As The Today Newspaper reported, the decree lists the requirements applicants for a license will have to meet.
“By doing this, only responsible people will have a licensed weapon,” Duncan said. “I believe citizens have the right to defend themselves.”
The Minister said that there are currently 111 gun licenses out there that are awaiting renewal. Since the first reports about his intention to liberate the gun law were published, he has received an additional thirty applications. This means that one in every 354 citizens has a gun on the Dutch side of the island. “Renewals will also have to meet the new conditions,” Duncan said.
The Minister defended his decree by saying that doing nothing enabled him to give out licenses arbitrarily. Now applicants who meet the requirements will be considered for a license, thought they might still be turned down. They have however the option of filing an appeal against that decision in administrative court.
Duncan admitted that the public prosecutor’s office is totally against his decree, and that the police force has indicated conditions under which it would be acceptable.
The Minister admitted that at any time a licensed gun owner could be negligent, even though he meets all the conditions, “I have had a gun license for thirty years and none of my children have shot themselves,” he said. “This policy is not a free for all to get guns. You have to buy the weapon from a licensed gun dealer and at the moment there are none in St. Maarten.”
Later in the meeting Duncan said that he has received two applications from companies that are interested in establishing a gun shop in St. Maarten.
Opposition leader William Marlin said that he did not advocate more guns. “This policy created an open door for the elite to arm themselves.” Marlin added that the decree lacks detail. “we will have more guns than ever on our streets.”
MP Louie Laveist (NA) wondered about the urgency of putting the decree on the agenda now. It’s because of the renewals that are waiting on my desk, Duncan explained. Laveist said he hoped the minister “did not have the intention to arm society. I fear a Texas shootout. I want to hear from the police that it is correct this proposal has its blessing. I certainly want to prevent vigilante justice.”
Duncan did not back down: “Yes, I believe there will be more guns issued, but I am not arming the population.”
He pointed out that several parliamentarians have applied for a gun license.
“The crooks will have to understand that citizens are going to push back,” Duncan added.
But even so, the minister pointed out, “there is no up-front justification for using a gun. The circumstances will decide that.” Overall, he expects the increase in licensed guns to have a positive effect on crime “People will have to think twice now before they commit a crime.”
But MP Roy Marlin (DP) foresees that, since anyone who meets the requirements will be considered for a license, years from now St. Maarten will be known as a gun-toting country with a gun in every home. “Does the minister feel that this will benefit society?” he wondered.
Answering other concerns Marlin brought up, Duncan said that USONA is funding the construction of a police training facility (the so-called IBT-center) that will have an indoor shooting range, a gym, and other facilities.
Duncan also pointed out that “St. Maarten will get more guns regardless,” because of the projected growth of the police force. “Right now, citizens have taken risks; they are protecting themselves with illegal guns. I don’t believe that ten years from now everybody will have a gun,” Duncan said. .
MP Johan Leonard, a retired policeman, suggested that the minister considers alternatives like pepper spray and taser guns. Duncan said he had already three requests for a pepper spray permit (one from MP Ruth Douglas), and that they had all come from women. A fourth request reached the minister during a break in the meeting. Tasers, Duncan considers as dangerous weapons, not as a good alternative.
MP Petrus Leroy de Weever congratulated the minister for standing by his conviction. “I have never seen so much opposition against guns from people who are carrying guns as this afternoon,” he said. “People have the right to defend their property. The public prosecutor’s office has concerns and I have them too but I trust the minister’s proper judgment.”
MP George Pantophlet urged the minister to focus on prevention instead of on weapons. “I am very reluctant about allowing for instance security company-staff carrying weapons. Most of them are not from here and we do not know if these people have a criminal record in their country of origin.”
The gun decree goes for further discussion – possibly behind closed doors – to the parliamentary Justice committee.
The Public prosecutor’s Office and the police force have expressed serious concerns about the gun law. The Today Newspaper reported about these concerns already in a front page story on March 5th. We will highlight these concerns more in detail in Friday’s issue.

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