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Some licensed gun owners caught by surprise

Some licensed gun owners caught by surprise

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Some licensed firearm holders here admit to being puzzled and concerned after a licensed firearm holder was charged with carrying an offensive weapon without lawful authority.

Benjamin Exeter, the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) candidate for Central Leeward in the December 9, 2015 General Elections, was slapped with the charge last Thursday, {{more}}bringing to four, the number of chargeshe has to answer in relation to an incident on December 29, 2015, in Kingstown.

On the day in question, Exeter was among supporters of the NDP who were staging a protest outside Parliament, when he was approached by police officers. The interaction between Exeter and the police resulted in Exeter initially being charged with assaulting police officer Cuthbert Morris, resisting arrest and assaulting Granville DeFreitas, causing actual bodily harm.

At the time of his arrest, Exeter was in possession of his licensed firearm. He was not charged with carrying an offensive weapon at that time. Last Thursday, however, Exeter was slapped with the additional charge, that of carrying an offensive weapon without lawful authority.

Section 14 of the Public Order Act, under which Exeter was charged, states, “Any person who, while present at any public meeting or on the occasion of any public procession, has with him any offensive weapon, or otherwise than in the pursuance of lawful authority, is guilty of an offence.”

The Act goes on to define ‘lawful authority’ as: “For the purposes of this section, a person shall not be deemed to be acting in pursuance of lawful authority unless he is acting in his capacity as a servant of the Crown or of any local authority or as a police officer or as a member of a recognized corps or as a member of a fire brigade.”

The charge has spurred widespread debate, with a number of holders of firearm permits stressing that they were not aware that they could be committing an offence by taking their firearms to certain gatherings.

“I’m a licensed firearm holder and I was not aware of this prohibition under the firearms act. It’s either Ben Exeter should have known this at his level, or persons that are granted firearm licence need to be briefed properly and sensitized about every aspect of the Act,” said a Dorsetshire Hill resident.

He said that no one has ever told him of this Act, but when he was issued the weapon, he was told that his firearm should be in his possession at all times.

Section 74 of the Criminal Code defines prohibited and offensive weapons. Firearms fall under the definition as: “…any machine gun, sub-machine gun rifle, shot gun, revolver, pistol, air gun, air pistol, or any lethal barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged or noxious fumes can be emitted (except any air rifle, air gun or air pistol of a type prescribed by the Attorney-General of a calibre so prescribed) and includes any competent part of any such weapon and any accessory to such weapon designed or adapted to mimics the noise or flash caused by the firing of such weapon.”

SEARCHLIGHT consulted a legal professional who said that in his opinion, “the combined effect of these two sections would imply that a firearm is an offensive weapon within the meaning of the criminal code. Further that, if there is a public meeting or public procession, one must be deemed to have an offensive weapon with lawful authority, as prescribed by the Public Order Act, failing which he has committed an offence.

“These are just places where the law prohibits you from carrying your firearm,” said the experienced lawyer, while adding, “the issue is therefore lawful excuse. One can have an offensive weapon, if there is lawful excuse; for example, a farmer on his way to and from his lands may lawfully have in his possession a cutlass.

“The thrust of the Public Order Act removes the ambit of lawful excuse from persons save and except those who are allowed to have offensive weapons on their persons as agents of the crown. The idea is that, should there be some form of riot and the agents of the Crown are similarly armed as regular members of the public, maintaining law and order becomes difficult.”

But another legal mind described Exeter’s charge as “absurd”, stressing that a weapon is only offensive if used to commit an act of violence or intimidation.

“I am a licensed firearm holder and at no time have I ever been told that I am not allowed to carry it at public meetings. I never knew that. I always have my firearm with me wherever I go. To me, the Act doesn’t say a licensed firearm. That speaks to offensive weapons and a licensed firearm is only an offensive weapon if it’s misused,” said the female lawyer.

Section 74 of the Criminal Code defines an offensive weapon as, “any article made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person or intended by the person having it with him for such use by him and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing includes, any prohibited weapon, cutlass, dagger, firearm, ice pick, knife, razor or sword.”

The female lawyer said, “Your licence is lawful authority. You have authority by virtue of your licence. If you are licensed and using it legally, it cannot be an offensive weapon. So, what is this saying, that I, as a law abiding citizen cannot protect myself legally at a public meeting?”

She added, “Why is the Firearms Act silent on that particular thing? It’s nonsense. It is the interpretation of offensive weapon that needs to be considered. Where should I leave my firearm when I’m attending a public meeting? This is a breeding ground for chaos and confusion”.

Another licence holder from the Murray’s Village area said, “I feel that the law should be clarified, stating what a public meeting is. Is it any public meeting, or a specific gathering like a protest or demonstration?”

He added that when he was issued his firearm’s licence, he was told that he should have his firearm in his possession at all times and the thought that carrying it to a public meeting was an offense never crossed his mind.

A meeting under the Public Order Act is defined as “a meeting held for the purpose of the discussion of matters of public interest or for the purpose of the expression of views on such matters.” The Act says a public meeting “includes any meeting in a public place and any meeting which the public, or any section thereof, are permitted to attend, whether on payment or otherwise,” while a public place means “any highway, public park or grade, any sea beach, and any public bridge, road, lane, foot way, square, court, alley or passage, whether a

thoroughfare or not; and includes any open space to which, for the time being, the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise.” A public procession means a procession in a public place, according to the Act.

A licensed firearm holder from New Montrose said in his view, this is a good opporutnity for the State to educate all firearm users in SVG at to the legislations governing firearm ownership and use.

“I say this because many of the firearm users are hearing about this legislation under which the gentleman is charged for the first time. Obviously, this makes a lot of us concerned. I never knew about this thing at all,” the businessman said.

Exeter was slapped with the additional charge one week after Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, at a press briefing at Cabinet Room on January 7, quoted from the Public Order Act, saying that Section 14 prohibits persons from taking an offensive weapon to public meetings or processions.

Stressing that he was not commenting on any particular case, Gonsalves said some persons erroneously feel that if they have a licensed firearm, it is perfectly in order for them to attend a meeting, a gathering with the licensed firearm.

When contacted, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Colin Williams declined to comment, noting, “I’ve told my staff to say nothing at this time. I don’t want us doing/saying things that might be interpreted as unduly prejudicial at this time, since we have a trial coming up on this point shortly.”

Persons found guilty under this law can be imprisoned for three months and fined $2,000.

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