New campaign to surrender firearms starts October 1 on Sint Maarten

MARIGOT--Préfet Philippe Chopin on Friday officially launched the second weapons amnesty, this time in conjunction with the Dutch side that will begin with an intensive communication campaign starting on October 1.
 
Justice Minister Dennis Richardson, Solicitor General Taco Stein and Chief Inspector Benjamin Gout were among law enforcement officials representing the Dutch side at the bilingual press conference with the Préfet, joined by Chief Prosecutor Samuel Finielz from Guadeloupe and Commandant of the Gendarmerie Paul Betaille. Third Vice-President Wendel Cocks was also present representing the Collectivité.
 
The initiative was started by the French-side last year in the wake of the Fish Day shootings, but the campaign then was not considered successful with only six weapons handed in. This time, with the inclusion of the Dutch-side, hopes are renewed for better results.
 
The communication campaign will last for 15 days, after which time weapons can be surrendered at the Gendarmerie in Concordia, Marigot, or in French Quarter, and at the Solicitor General's office in Puerta de Sol Plaza, second floor, unit 37, Simpson Bay. It was recommended to hand in weapons on the side that you live on.
 
During this grace period, persons handing in weapons will not be pursued by the justice system. But as of early November, controls will begin in earnest on both sides and persons caught with illegal weapons will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. It was noted the penalty for possession of an illegal weapon is four years in prison on the Dutch side and five on the French side.
 
The campaign literature is published in four languages; French, English, Spanish and Creole and will be widely disseminated around the island. Print and broadcast media will also be spreading awareness of the campaign.
 
An increase of armed robberies and homicides or attempted homicides, where firearms are used, makes the campaign a necessity to stem circulation of weapons, the Préfet noted.
 
Minister Richardson described the increase in crime with use of illegal weapons as "a worrying development."
 
"After this amnesty our police controls will be intensified; I like to call it a clean sweep, to sweep the island for guns as much as possible, in cars, homes, everywhere," he said. "It will be tough."
 
Taco Stein agreed, remarking that the joint initiative is a very good one, since people become fearful of going out at night, and tourists getting caught up in threatening incidents are not conducive to the "friendly island" image.
 
"The police will act on information swiftly and without remorse to put violators behind bars and punishment will be severe. This is the opportunity now to drop off your gun and walk away free."
 
Stein also noted it is a crime on the Dutch-side to be caught with a fake or look-alike gun and possession of these will be severely prosecuted too.
Bracelets with the lettering "Stop, Drop and Go" have also been produced to be distributed around the island, signifying that wearers are supporting the campaign.
 
Prosecutor Finielz emphasised parents and families must also play a role in persuading their own children and siblings to give up their guns, and the guns of their friends. Community councils and associations also have a responsibility in this regard.
 
Stein and Richardson did not agree with a suggestion that illegal guns were more easily obtainable on the Dutch side than the French side, saying they seemed as easy to obtain no matter what side.
 
"Part of what we will be doing is working with customs to check goods coming into the country, at the port and airport," Stein disclosed. "The airport is where a lot of guns are being found in the luggage of people. We've had instances where French people travelling back to France and in possession of a legal weapon in their luggage, suddenly find they have committed a crime when they are caught on the Dutch side."
 
Responding to a question of why a cash incentive was not offered to persons handing in weapons, Stein said it had been agreed jointly with the French side that this would not be offered.
 
"We don't want people to profit from committing a wrong," he explained. "We don't want people to start collecting guns in order to collect money."
As far as gun control is concerned, Richardson stated his ministry is renewing existing gun permits, but to contain the number of legal guns on the island, all new requests are being rejected unless there are specific urgent circumstances to issue a gun license to that specific person.
 
The French side has its own specific procedures for legal gun permits by either "authorisation" or "declaration."
 
(The Daily Herald)

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