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New Firearms Amendment Act bypasses COMPOL

GeneralNew Firearms Amendment Act bypasses COMPOL

Photo: Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams

Firearms (Amendment) Act 2023 strips Police Commissioner of powers to approve licenses for firearms and ammunition; licensing approval now assigned to Firearms and Ammunition Control Board.

BELIZE CITY, Tues. Nov. 14, 2023

The Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, has been stripped of his powers to sign and approve firearm licenses, after the Governor General of Belize, Her Excellency Dame Froyla Tzalam, signed into law the Firearms (Amendment) Act 2023.

The Act, which was assented to by GG Tzalam on November 9 and Gazetted on November 11, has officially transferred authority to the much-anticipated Firearms and Ammunition Control Board, which will now be tasked with approving gun licenses.

According to the Act, the Board now has the legal authority “to issue and revoke firearm licenses, certificate or permit; to reform the regulatory structure in respect to firearms and ammunition” in Belize.

The Board now has the power to receive, screen, and process firearm applications. They will also be tasked with designating and approving firearm safety instructors, and prescribing the procedures of application for (and considerations relevant to) the designation of Firearm Safety Instructors.

The Board will also be tasked with receiving and investigating complaints concerning breaches of any term or condition of a firearm authorization, ensuring general compliance with the provisions of the Act, and conducting audits of firearms and ammunition. They will also conduct reviews of the issuance and denials of licenses, launch inquiries and investigations, and develop and implement a digital management of firearms and ammunition systems for Belize.

According to the Act, the Board shall be appointed by the Police Minister (of Home Affairs) and will only be comprised of members who have experience, training or expertise in the area of firearms or ammunition. Members will include a selected representative of the Commissioner of Police, a representative of the Magistracy, and a Chief Executive Officer of the Government of Belize.

Members, however, will need to meet certain criteria to be eligible for appointment, such as being a citizen of Belize and being 18 years of age or older, and being of high integrity. Additionally, they should not be the owner of, or have any connections to, a shooting range, firearms dealership, private security firm, or a facility providing training in firearms.

Also, once approved, persons who are members of the Board shall conduct themselves in such a way as not to place themselves in any position in which they have, or could have, or be perceived to have, a conflict of interest.

The new amendments now require that first-time gun license applicants and every person applying for the renewal of a gun license, submit a certificate of competence from a Firearm Safety Instructor upon application for, or the renewal of, a license. This, however, will not apply to persons who are applying for the renewal of a Farmer Gun License.

Under the new amendments, the Police Minister (Home Affairs) can also create regulations for the application and licensing of Firearm Safety Instructors, and for the certification of competence of applicants. He can also recommend the necessary training required of applicants for the type of license that they are applying for.

Under the new regulations, the Minister may also prescribe fees for licensing of Firearm Safety Instructors, issuance of a certificate of competence of applicants or license holders, and any other matter for which fees are required to be prescribed.

Last week, the Commissioner of Police told one media house that, as far as he knew, the amendment to the law had still not been signed by the Governor General, but that it was scheduled to be done in the coming days. “Once that is done, then the Commissioner has no more authority to sign a gun license approval or denial,” he had stated.

The changes to the Firearms Act come on the heels of extensive media coverage that uncovered what could only be described as shady dealings within the Belize Police Department as it relates to the issuance and approval of gun licenses.

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