MPs approve law to import firearms for Island Games
Parliament has approved a measure to allow importation of certain firearms required for shooting competitions — in time for the NatWest Island Games which will be held here in July.
The Opposition Progressive Labour Party opposed the measures arguing that it was prejudicial to Bermudians engaged in shooting sports and not enough consultation had been done.
But Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley, who sponsored the bill, argued otherwise.
The Firearms Amendment Act 2013 gives the Commissioner of Police discretionary power to grant firearms licences to Bermuda residents for the purpose of participating in sanctioned shooting competitions for up to 12 months.
“The licence will permit the licensee to import and possess a firearm for use in connection with a sanctioned shooting competition,” Mr Dunkley said.
Government had consulted with the police, representatives of the Island’s rifle clubs and the organisers of the Island Games, he added.
“Members of the House should rest assured that the Commissioner does not take the issuance of firearms licences lightly. Licences will only be issued to members of licensed rifle clubs who have met police clearance. Further, the weapons for which licences will be issued are not easily concealable or traditionally sought after by criminals for the purposes of committing violent crimes.”
The Minister continued: “This Bill will also provide for the grant of an ammunition licence to allow a person possessing a licence for use of a firearm in connection with a sanctioned shooting competition to possess, purchase or acquire ammunition specified in the licence.
“This will allow visitors competing in sanctioned shooting competitions to handle the ammunition required for their respective shooting events.
“The 1973 Act already requires that each round of ammunition fired from a licensed firearm be accounted for. These amendments introduce further security in that they do not permit an air rifle licensee to import ammunition as the Commissioner of Police has determined that the range of ammunition suitable for air rifles is wide and difficult to police.
“For the purposes of the upcoming Nat West Island Games, no ammunition at all will be imported by visiting competitors. All required ammunition will be supplied and accounted for by the organisers of the competition.
“This Bill will permit the Commissioner to grant temporary firearms dealers licences for the duration of a sanctioned shooting competition to a volunteer or staff member employed by a dealer at a sanctioned shooting competition. This will allow persons assisting in the armouries of the competition to handle and store weapons and ammunition for use by the competitors.”
The Firearms Act 1973 only permits Bermuda residents to practise using their guns for up to two months — to the disadvantage of local shooting athletes who cannot practice continuously locally.
Shadow Public Safety Minister Michael Scott said that the PLP could not support the bill because it was not satisfied that the appropriate level of consultation had occurred to ensure fairness and inclusiveness.
“It is very clear that the primary objective of the Government is to facilitate these Games. But we want to ensure that the Firearms Act and the way that it is both managed and amended in the country is fair,” he said.
“ Fairness will only happen if there is wide consultation.”
Extreme care should be taken if the licensing regime for prohibited firearms is to be extended — to ensure that they do not get into the hands of the wrong people, he said.
“We should absolutely ensure that there is a credible workable regime for vetting the licensees.”
PLP party whip Lovitta Foggo said that Bermudians engaged in shooting sports had not historically abused their privileges. Parliamentarians had been lobbied by the shooting enthusiasts who said that they have to go overseas to practise their sport at great expense.
“This is prejudicial to Bermudians and certainly we can draft legislation in such a way that ensures public safety but at the same time allows for those Bermudians who engage in the sport to carry out their activities and not be inhibited from doing what’s necessary in order to compete at the international level.”