Secondary schools support ‘Stop, Drop and Go’ (surrender fire arms campaign)

POSTED: 10/6/14 12:17 PM

St. Maarten- “One impulsive action with a gun and you can be the cause of the death of a classmate. One moment of ‘not thinking straight’ and you can be the cause of a family in grief.” These were among statements made by youth Public Prosecutor Karola van Nie to secondary school students gathered at the Philipsburg police station to receive information on the Stop Drop and Go project launched by law enforcement entities on the island.

‘Stop, Drop and Go’ is the collective project from the French and Dutch authorities– Government, Public Prosecutor’s Office and Police– to encourage the people of both sides of the island  to surrender all illegal fire-arms and to “create a safer St. Maarten without guns.”

Police spokesman Inspector Ricardo Henson explained that the secondary school representatives are extremely important to this project since the youth is one of the target groups of the Stop, Drop and Go initiative. Schools represented at the information session were the Milton Peters College, St. Maarten Academy/PSVE, and the St. Maarten Vocational Training School.

“They are the future of our island, so they need to be aware of the trouble these guns may cause to their future and of the dangers that illegal fire-arms can cause,” Henson said.

Public Prosecutor Karola van Nie, who works especially on youth matters, stressed the extreme dangers of guns in “our society” and the seriousness of their contribution to the school youth representatives. She noted that in todays’ society youngsters are more and more confronted with guns and that many youngsters carry guns.

“Their arguments to do this are various. In our opinion, there are no arguments as an excuse to carry guns on our Friendly Island. Everyone wants to live and grow up in a safe St. Maarten without guns “period”.

Van Nie pointed out to the youth that young people can experience difficulties finding a job at a later stage of their lives when their names are “in the books” because for many jobs, persons require a declaration of good behavior (VOG) to be employed. “If you can’t get a VOG, you can’t get a job. And no job means “no income” to take care of your family. One of the main reasons that you don’t receive a VOG is because you have a criminal record. You will definitely have a criminal record when you are convicted because you had an illegal fire-arm in your possession,” van Nie explained.

The students learnt that it takes at least eight years to get an individuals’ name off the criminal record, plus the length of the sentence handed down by the judge as fitting punishment for the crime.

“In other words when you are convicted for the possession of an illegal weapon, it can easily take you ten years before you get a VOG. According to the Dutch law it’s also illegal to own a ‘look alike’-gun, like BB guns for example. These weapons look so real that people can’t tell the difference between a real weapon and a fake one. People feel just as endangered when they are threatened with a fake gun, and therefore the punishment for possessing a fake weapon is the same as the punishment for possessing a real gun.”

Van Nie made the representatives promise that they would give a lot of attention to the ‘Stop, Drop and Go’-project in their schools and convince other students that it isn’t cool to own a gun; it’s extremely dangerous and life threatening. Prosecutor van Nie stressed to the students that criminal convictions are not conducive to their future careers apart from the draw backs of spending time in jail.

At the end of the presentation the students expressed their willingness to get on board with the Stop Drop and Go project and voiced a number of “very creative ideas”, according to inspector Henson.

Stop Drop and Go was introduced as a response to a wave of violent crimes involving illegal firearms and Inspector Henson explained that youngsters need to become aware that these violent situations can’t go on anymore, “enough is enough.”

He reiterated earlier calls to the public to ‘Stop, Drop and Go’. “Hand in your illegal fire-arm voluntarily from October 15th to October 31st and you won’t be prosecuted for possessing an illegal gun. After this period of time though, if you get caught with an illegal gun in your possession, prosecutors will demand higher punishments and the police actions are going to be stronger. It’s all about your future. So you’d better make the right choice now,” the police inspector stressed.

He urges everyone to join in the fight to make St. Maarten a safer place. Illegal firearms can be surrendered on Mondays to Fridays between 8.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. “you can surrender your illegal guns in the office of the attorney general at Puerta del Sol Plaza, Welfare Road #68 (third floor) in Simpson Bay. Do this now, because a safer St. Maarten starts with you.”


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