Arms Amendment Bill for Games, Parliament assured

The Police Commissioner, Fuiavailiili Egon Keil, has assured Members of Parliament there is nothing to be alarmed about in connection to the Arms Amendment Bill 2019 being tabled in Parliament today.

The Police Commissioner provided the assurance during the Parliament pre-sitting at the Tofilau Eti Alesana building when the bill was discussed.

The bill, which seeks to allow athletes including people under 21 to use a firearm during the Pacific Games, is among bills to be tabled before Parliament when it reconvenes this week.

Police Commissioner Fuiavailiili made it clear that it is unlawful for anyone under 21 to be armed with a firearm and ammunition but the amendments will change and allow that.

“It is for the purpose of the Pacific Games so it does not mean that they can use it outside of the Games,” Fuiavailiili said.

“The second part allows the Minister of Police to give authorization and allow unlawful weapons in the country legally, for a specific event like the Pacific Games.

“The Minister also authorizes what the activity the firearm is granted for.”

Speaking about the Pacific Games next month, Fuiavailiili said there is an overseas athlete under 21 participating in the shooting sport. The individual will be bringing his or her firearm to be used for the Games.

“That will be allowed under the amendment for the individual to use the firearm for the shooting competition only,” he added.

“Secondly, the Minister will give authorization to allow illegal firearms like handguns – handguns are illegal and unless authorized by the Minister for the Pacific Games and they (athletes) will have to take it back with them.

“The last time we had the Pacific Games we didn’t have any laws to monitor it as there were participants under the age of 21 which legally should not have been allowed in shooting. Now it will allow foreigners and ours to participate lawfully.”

But the M.P. for Aleipata Itupa-Lalo, Tafua Maluelue, was curious. He questioned the sudden change, saying if it wasn’t done in 1983 and 2007 during the South Pacific Games hosted by Samoa, why now?

Fuiavailiili said he would be speculating if he responded as to how the issue was handled at the time as he was not in office then. But technically doing such without changes in legislation is not authorized under the law, he said.

M.P. for Fa’asaleleaga No. 2, Namulauulu Sami Leota, pointed to the second part of the amendment, which gives the Minister discretion for special reasons to allow firearms.

He made the point that if the amendment is for the purpose of the Pacific Games, then what are other “special reasons” that the Minister would have to authorize firearms. This part of the amendment is a bit “too open” added the M.P.

There was also concern raised from the floor that the amendment is also allowing the Minister to give authorization to other firearms for Police use other than for the purpose of the games.

M.P. for Urban West, Faumuina Wayne Fong, shared his concerns on the amendments.

“What I’m asking about is that there are unlawful firearms apart from what is being approved for the competition and section 6 opens up the opportunity for the Minister to authorize any other firearms,” he said.

“That is why I’m asking because you the competition and then an open approval for the Minister to allow the firearms.

“There are also a lot of minors that do shooting and why not have the adult accompany them have the authorization for the firearms so they are responsible for it instead of changing the law.”

In terms of the discretion from the Minister, Police Commissioner said there could be reasons for the Minister to authorize illegal firearms legally for the use police force.

“Questions that the law is vague and too broad that gives authority to the Minister, in 2 (a) reasons could be for Police use and could be a high power rifle that is outside of the three authorized (guns) by law and it has to go through the Minister for approval,” said the Commissioner.

“Also the 9 millimeters handgun carried by Police those are authorized by law and Minister. Those are unlawful ammunitions and weapons but lawfully obtained for use police work…the Minister can allow illegal firearms lawfully for security reasons.”

The three lawful guns that are legal in Samoa is shotgun of 12 – 16 gauge, 22 rifles which can be lethal action and air rifle.

All still require license from the Police Commissioner and any types that does not match the three weapons need permission from the Minister.

According to Fuiavailiili the only weapon that is used at the competition that is unlawful is a small pistol.

Others that spoke about the bill is Associate Minister of the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, Salausa John Ah Ching. The M.P. sought some assurance that the firearms will only be used for the purpose of the games.

While he acknowledges that it is great the amendment is being done but pointed out as the sport continues to attract younger athletes, young Samoans need to be aware of their own safety.

“I just want to make sure that the athletes will return with their firearms,” said the M.P.

“The amendments need to be clear that the only time the firearms are used is during trainings and then have it locked up at the Shooting Association office and have the President give authorization when they sign in and out to ensure it is align with the law.

“There are a lot of well-respected men who participate in this sport and their children too are following their footsteps and we will see more under 21 persons participating in this.”   

M.P. for Fa’asaleleaga no.1, Gatoloaifa’ana Amataga Gidlow shared the same concern.

She said the amendments need to reflect that the athletes have to take their firearms with them when they return to their country of origin.

Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti emphasised that the Samoa Shooting Federation should have a joint responsibility and accountability in the matter.

He said since Police are taking responsibility of registering, documentation and monitoring of the firearms the Shooting          Federation should be held accountable for safekeeping of firearms being brought in the country.

The Commissioner assured that Police will be at the international airport for transition of the firearms to police which will also be kept at the armoury.

Firearms from athletes will be kept at the armoury and will be taken to the shooting range by police officers during practice and game days.

“We have a plan already,” he said. “They can’t take it with them at their hotels. It will be brought back to Police station locked up and would have to sign in and sign out.

“As for return of firearms we have plans for that too. No guns will be sold here and any firearm that came into the country will have to return to wherever it came from and these firearms are documented and managed at all times.

“Police will be involved at all times during the transfer of firearms.”

M.P. for Anoama’a Sisifo, Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo suggested that the law should note athletes and those clients mentioned by the Commissioner in bringing in firearms.

“My other recommendation is when issuing permits should also include conditions and to follow the plans you have mentioned.

“Also the firearms are brought in for the games and there should be an expiry date for the permit following the games.”

Fuiavailiili agrees. He said there are conditions in which the permits are issued on, and there are also regulations that will come later on for the amendment that will cover other areas asked by the M.Ps.

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