05 Jan 2021

Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Bill - Wrap-Up Speech by Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment

Introduction

  1. Mr Speaker, I thank Members for their views and for the strong support for this Bill.

     

  2. Many questions that have been asked. I shall address them in turn. First, on the 3D printing of guns, given the strong interest among Members on this topic. Following which, I shall address issues raised by the Members thematically.

     

    Unauthorised possession of 3D blueprints for manufacture of guns

  3. Many Members raised questions about Clause 13 which is on the new offence of unauthorised possession of 3D blueprints for the manufacture of guns or major gun parts.

     

  4. The divergence of views among Members shows that there is no straightforward answer to achieving an appropriate regulatory balance on this matter.

     

  5. On one hand, Mr Sharael Taha asked if the offence should be widened beyond guns and major gun parts to also cover gun modifications and attachments, and offensive weapons. Mr Melvin Yong also took the view that clause 13 should cover possession of digital blueprints for gun replicas. But on the other hand, Ms Yeo Wan Ling was of the view that 3D printed guns are unlikely to work in practice, and that clause 13 could have a chilling effect on innovative applications of 3D printing.

     

  6. To be clear, under present law, if you produce a gun using a 3D printer without a licence, you are committing at least two offences: unlicensed manufacturing a gun and possession of an illegal gun. The Bill does not change this basic position. What the Bill does is to address the new phenomenon where it is increasingly easy for anyone to seek out and acquire online designs and directions on how to make a gun, and using a technology that is increasingly accessible. But we are also careful to ensure the law is not over-reaching. We have limited Clause 13 to guns and major gun parts as we have assessed these to pose the highest risk, necessitating such strong controls. Major parts of guns are essential to the operation of a gun, such as the barrel or the trigger mechanism and which can be assembled to create a functioning gun.

     

  7. On the other hand, gun accessories are designed to be fitted to or attached to a gun for various purposes, such as to conceal its fire like a silencer or flash suppressor, and cannot work except in connection with an operative and functioning gun. They therefore pose a lower risk.

     

  8. As for weapons like swords and knuckledusters, they are less lethal and dangerous than guns, and therefore we think there is no necessity at this juncture to also control the possession of 3D blueprints for the manufacture of these weapons.

     

  9. On replica guns, while we agree that they can potentially be used to cause alarm, they cannot be used to cause physical harm per se and therefore similarly pose lower risks. But if such guns are used while committing certain offences such as during robbery or extortion, an offence would be made out under the Arms Offences Act, along with the Penal Code offences for the main criminal act.

     

  10. To address Ms Yeo Wan Ling’s point that 3D-printed guns are unlikely to function, and her concern on inhibiting innovation, as I mentioned in my Second Reading speech yesterday, the threat posed by 3D printed guns and gun parts is real. This point was echoed by other Members as well. There have been genuine cases and online videos demonstrating the use of 3D printed guns or gun parts, especially metallic ones.

     

  11. In this regard, we are not alone in addressing this new phenomenon. Other jurisdictions have also passed legislation that deal with the threat of 3D printing of guns. For example, New South Wales also passed laws in 2015 to criminalise the unauthorised possession of 3D blueprint for the manufacturing of firearms.

     

  12. Licensing the possession of such blueprints will enable the authorities to know who are involved in 3D manufacturing of guns, to ensure that proper security and practices are in place for handling dangerous articles that may potentially be produced as a result.

     

  13. But I also want to emphasise that items which do not fit the description of a gun under clause 3 of the Bill will not require a licence to possess or 3D print. Clause 3(4)(c) also makes clear that imitation guns are not considered guns for the purpose of the Bill. Therefore, the possession of 3D blueprints for the manufacture of such items will not require a specific licence under clause 13.

     

  14. On the impact on the NERF gun community, off-the-shelf NERF guns are clearly meant for recreational purposes and present little risk, given that the projectiles are foam-based, and are unlikely to cause injury if used properly. MHA does not regulate NERF guns today, and does not plan to do so at this juncture. Correspondingly, the possession of any blueprint of NERF gun parts will not be regulated.

     

  15. We will continue to assess how best to apply the right regulatory tools for the various items, in a way that is calibrated to the risks involved, so as not to hamper innovation unnecessarily.

     

  16. Mr Sharael Taha and Mr Melvin Yong raised questions pertaining to the enforcement of this offence. Police will enforce in a practical and reasonable manner, based on information received, for example from members of the public.

     

  17. In this regard, we agree with Mr Sharael Taha that the community and family members and friends play an important role, such as flagging out potential lone wolves 3D printing guns illegally with intent to cause harm. Information can be provided to the authorities, and will be treated with strict confidence.

     

  18. I also acknowledge Mr Jamus Lim’s point about addressing the underlying motivations behind criminal activity. The Government never loses sight of the need to do so and I thank the Member for his views.

     

  19. Members also raised questions on the import of guns: how we deal with 3D-printed guns that can escape metal detectors, and the threat of guns and weapon parts imported into Singapore via parcels which are deceptively mislabelled as something else.

     

  20. First, to clarify, the import of a 3D-printed gun, whether metallic or not, still requires a licence.

     

  21. Our postal regulations also make it unlawful for a person to send by post or to deliver by post any gun or weapon. There are robust checks at our checkpoints to detect threat objects, including gun or weapon parts and 3D-printed guns and Mr Shahreal Taha shared an example earlier on. Incoming parcels are inspected, with the help of technologies other than metal detectors, such as X-Ray machines. Certain persons of interest, such as those flagged up by intelligence agencies to be of security threat, may also be subject to further checks. Enforcement officers at the checkpoints may also conduct random checks, to deter and detect any security threats.

     

  22. Notwithstanding, we recognise that there is no fool-proof system to fully prevent the import of gun and weapon parts. To complement the already robust measures at the checkpoints, we have a stringent enforcement and regulatory regime inland, as well as severe penalties under the Bill for unlicensed supply, storage and possession of GEW. This will be a strong deterrence against potential offenders.

     

  23. Mr Melvin Yong asked for the circumstances under which a person or an organisation would be authorised to possess a 3D blueprint of a gun.

     

  24. We recognise that there are legitimate reasons to possess digital blueprints of guns in Singapore, such as conducting scientific or law enforcement research. The Bill is not intended to impede such activities.

     

  25. Parties that wish to undertake such activities can apply for the appropriate licence, or seek special approval from the Minister for Home Affairs under Clause 13(2)(c). They will then have to adhere to licensing or approval conditions, such as requiring that the blueprints are securely handled and not be left easily accessible by uninvolved persons.

     

  26. On the questions raised by Mr Sharael on the need to impose export controls on certain types of 3D printers, and by Ms Joan Pereira and Mr Melvin Yong on whether MHA intends to regulate 3D printers:

     

  27. These issues fall beyond the scope of the Bill, which does not deal with 3D printing in itself or 3D printers per se. I seek the Member’s understanding that this will have to be studied in detail with the relevant agencies and dealt with separately.    

     

    Definition of ‘store’

  28. Having addressed Members’ queries on 3D printing, I will now move on to Members’ comments on other clauses. Mr Louis Ng asked about the definition of ‘store’ in clause 2, which is one of the regulated activities covered by the Bill.

     

  29. Paragraphs (c) and (d) in the definition are extensions beyond what would be the exhaustive paragraphs (a) and (b) of the definition of store. They are meant to clarify the situations under which the possession of a certain number of articles or for a certain period for purposes outside of what is in paragraphs (a) and (b) will constitute storage, and not possession for the purposes of the Bill.

     

  30. The thresholds of 12 for guns and major gun parts, and 24 continuous hours for explosives and explosive precursors, were determined based on MHA’s operational assessment of the increased risks associated with these higher quantities or longer time of GEW being held in one’s possession.

     

  31. The thresholds are necessary for regulatory certainty. Otherwise there is no difference between storing and possession of these items, which has to be regulated differently because of the appreciable risk difference of these activities.

     

  32. To elaborate, if the thresholds are exceeded, the licensee may be required to implement more extensive storage-specific safety and security measures, such as CCTV requirements and hardened walls. These are over and above the requirements typically placed on licensees who possess a single gun, or handle explosives or explosive precursors for a very short period of time.

     

  33. We acknowledge that with any defined threshold, persons may seek to operate at the margins to avoid taking on additional regulatory burden. But this is a necessary trade-off between meeting our security objectives and providing stakeholders with clarity on the rules. To assure this House, regardless of the quantity or duration of possession of such items, a licence will already be required for the possession of these items, setting out basic safety and security conditions that must be adhered to.

     

  34. If these quantity or time thresholds need to be revised subsequently due to changes in threat assessment, clause 2(2) of the Bill allows for downward adjustments to be made through Regulations.

     

    Definition of ‘weapons’

  35. Next, on the definition of ‘weapons.’ Mr Louis Ng also asked if the term is intended to cover imitation, replica or ornamental weapons.

     

  36. Imitation or replica weapons are not regulated under the Bill, as these are unlikely to be effective in causing injuries or death, and therefore pose too little risk to warrant tight regulation. The way the Bill has been drafted places only an exhaustive list of actual weapons to be regulated in the First Schedule.

     

  37. Conversely, ‘gun’ has a broad, descriptive definition in the Bill, and therefore to avoid doubt, the Bill makes clear that imitation and replica guns are excluded.

     

  38. Notwithstanding, the use of an imitation weapon to threaten or cause fear of injury or death to others would likely be an offence under other Acts, such as the Penal Code.

     

  39. Ornamental weapons, however, are covered under the Bill. These include ornamental swords and daggers. These items have potential to be misused to cause harm due to their sharp tips or blades. But we also recognise that the overall safety and security risk posed by these items is low, as long as they are kept safely and securely within dwelling places for the purpose of display.

     

  40. Therefore, possession and storage of these items will be considered for class licensing. This would be a light-touch approach that mitigates the risk of misuse of such items, without being overly onerous.

     

    Licensing shooting range operations and costs to stakeholders

  41. Moving on, I will touch on licensing of shooting range operations and costs to stakeholders. We note Mr Derrick Goh’s suggestion to manage the inconvenience and costs to stakeholders.

     

  42. I must reiterate that, when we design the regulations and processes, safety and security will remain our topmost priority. But within this objective, we are also mindful to minimise regulatory burden as far as possible.

     

  43. Specifically, prior to granting or renewing a shooting range operation licence, there are certain procedures which are fundamental to ensuring the safe conduct of activities that need to be carried out. These include inspecting the range premises to ensure the robustness of safety and security measures, and security vetting of key persons. These inevitably take some time.

     

  44. Where possible, Police have streamlined procedures and processes to make things easier on licensees and applicants. For example, Police have digitalised the entire licensing application and renewal process, reducing administrative burden and unnecessary waiting time. However, activities such as range timeslot booking are managed by the range operators, and are not within the control of the regulator.

     

  45. On the issue of compliance cost, range operators have generally implemented most required measures on their own accord today, such as the installation of CCTV systems and setting up access controls into and out of the range premises. We therefore do not expect the introduction of shooting range licences to impose significant additional costs in the immediate term on these operators.

     

  46. In addition, to help manage costs for operators, we will introduce a new licensing model, where if an applicant seeks to conduct related activities, he will only need to make one application to the regulator, to obtain the set of different licences for these activities. The cost of this one application will be lower than the total of having to apply individual licences for each regulated activity.

     

    Variation for class licences

  47. Next, on class licensing, Mr Derrick Goh asked for assurance that class licensing will not apply to higher risk categories or situations. Mr Vikram also asked about the steps that Government will take to keep class licensees informed of requirements under a class licence. Relatedly, Mr Louis Ng also asked if variations to class licences will be published in forms more readily accessible to the public than the Gazette.

     

  48. To Mr Derrick’s question, as class licensing is less stringent than individual licensing from a security standpoint, MHA’s intent is to apply class licensing only to lower-risk activities, such as air gun shooting in school settings.

     

  49. To Mr Vikram’s question, under Clause 56, class licensing conditions will be published in the Gazette, which is publicly accessible. Police will also reach out to groups that will be class licensed to make them aware of their regulatory obligations.

     

  50. To Mr Louis Ng’s question, the short answer is yes. Variation of class licences will also be published on Police’s website; and Police will reach out to affected class licensees, where feasible, to inform them of the changes.

     

    Compliance Officers

  51. On the issue of appointment of Compliance Officers raised by Mr Melvin Yong, Mr Louis Ng and Ms Sylvia Lim, to assure this House, Compliance Officers will be required to undergo training and assessment by the Police Licensing Officer. Only qualified Compliance Officers will be authorised to conduct site inspections on behalf of a Licensing Officer.

     

  52. In addition, they will not be allowed to exercise more intrusive enforcement powers such as seizure, search and issuance of composition.

     

  53. The Police Licensing Officer will also conduct audit checks on Compliance Officers to ensure that they are proficient in carrying out their duties.

     

  54. Given these safeguards and in line with the minimum age for other security-related work such as security officers, MHA has assessed that the minimum age of 18 is appropriate, and there is no need to set a higher minimum age at this juncture.

     

    Security clearance

  55. Ms Sylvia Lim raised several questions regarding the security clearance regime, under clauses 43 and 45 of the Bill.

     

  56. First, on the need to security clear close associates. While close associates may not handle GEW directly, they need to be security cleared because of the security risk associated with the indirect influence they can exert over the operation of the entity and on the regulated activities that the entity conducts.

     

  57. The threshold of 5% equity interest or voting rights to qualify as a close associate is similar to that for determining a ‘substantial shareholder’ under the Companies Act, and is currently used by the Police for the purpose of evaluating the fit and proper criteria. As setting a lower threshold would make it more onerous for businesses, MHA assesses that the 5% threshold is sufficient and balanced, based on the current circumstances. The threshold can be reviewed from time to time, depending on the threat environment. So, shareholders who hold 5% and above will have to be security cleared.

     

  58. Second, on whether the Licensing Officer, or LO has discretion to still grant security clearance if a person fails one or more criteria under clause 45(1). The answer is yes. The clause does allow the LO to give such weight to the factors, as he considers appropriate, when assessing the security clearance of a person.

     

  59. Third, on the security clearance for foreigners, such as arms dealers for short-term trade fairs. The Police Licensing Officer performs security vetting on all licence applicants, whether foreign or local. Specifically for foreigners, the Police Licensing Officer will request for relevant documents to show proof that they have been duly licensed or authorised by the source countries to handle the GEW. To further mitigate the security risks associated with imported guns and explosives, all movement of such high-risk items in Singapore must be escorted and guarded by armed auxiliary police officers, thereby minimising the chances of the items being misused or mishandled.


    Security directions

  60. Mr Zhulkarnian asked about security directions under Clause 64. First, on the circumstances for which security direction may be issued. As mentioned in my earlier speech, security directions issued by Minister can be used where there is imminent threat to life or property.

     

  61. A possible scenario is where there is an ongoing or suspected terrorist incident, such that for public safety reasons, licensees and even those who are exempted from holding GEW licences must immediately enhance their security posture or completely shut their premises for a specified period to prevent the terrorists from getting their hands on guns and explosives.

     

  62. In such a scenario, issuing a security direction would be critical to mitigate the threat first, given that the matter is of such urgency and magnitude that there is not enough time for regulations to be amended or new regulations to be made, and for due process under clause 63 or licence conditions to be modified.

     

  63. Secondly, Mr Zhulkarnain also asked if a security direction would apply to a ‘close associate’ of a licensee. The answer is no. A security direction can only apply to a licensee, class licensee or person exempted from the Act. They are ultimately responsible for the regulated activity and are best placed to take necessary action to comply with the security direction. It would be ineffective and disproportionate for a security direction to apply also to a close associate.

     

  64. To Mr Zhulkarnain’s question on whether it is possible to seek judicial review against a security direction, given that a security direction is non-appealable under the Act, the Bill does not contain a privative or ouster clause, and so yes, a person who is aggrieved by exercise of power can seek judicial review.

     

  65. On the need for asset preservation, the Member need not be concerned because a security direction is aimed at dealing with a particular situation and is valid only for a period of up to six months. Asset disposal or destruction would not be an appropriate response in a security direction.


    Crimes involving imitation guns

  66. I will now progress to other issues raised. Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked for the statistics on crimes involving imitation guns.

     

  67. There are only a handful of such cases - nine cases were reported in the last 10 years, of which seven resulted in conviction for offences under the Arms Offences Act or the Penal Code.

     

  68. Using imitation guns to commit certain scheduled offences such as robbery and extortion continues to be a serious offence under the Arms Offences Act. The offender can be jailed for up to 10 years and be liable for caning of no fewer than three strokes.

     

    Licences issued for self-protection purposes

  69. Ms Sylvia Lim also asked for the number of gun possession licences issued for self-defence that are still in force.

     

  70. There are currently 19 gun possession licences in force, issued to personal security officers of certain embassies, for security reasons and protection. In the past, the Police used to issue gun possession licences to private individuals, such as arms dealers, for self-protection; but this is no longer practised today.

     

    Countermeasures for drones

  71. Mr Melvin Yong asked on the defences and counter measures against drone attacks.

     

  72. SPF will work closely with CAAS to deal with the threat of weapons-mounted drones. This is because section 7B of the Air Navigation Act today makes it an offence to operate a drone with prohibited items carried on it. Weapons, guns and explosives are prohibited items. Clause 97 updates the reference in the Air Navigation Act to refer to this new Bill.

     

  73. We have developed some capabilities, and are testing more methods to counter drones used for illicit purposes. However, I will not be able to share more due to the sensitivity of the operations.


    Dealing with online harms

  74. Lastly, Mr Zhulkarnain and Mr Gan Thiam Poh raised the concern of access to harmful online content relating to GEW, terrorism and other materials.

     

  75. I agree these are important issues raised. However, preventing terrorism-related use of GEW is but one aspect of the Bill. There are more specific and focused laws like the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act and the United Nations (Anti-terrorism Measures) Regulations to address the threat of terrorism.

     

  76. This Bill works alongside other laws to keep the threat of online harms at bay. That said, the threat of online influence lies outside of the scope of this Bill. Members may consider filing specific parliamentary questions for this to be addressed holistically.


    Conclusion

  77. Mr Speaker, I hope I have addressed Members’ concerns. The Bill is a crucial piece of legislation that will go a long way to continue to ensure safe, secure and responsible GEW handling in Singapore. Once again, I thank Members for their strong support for this Bill.

     

  78. Sir, I beg to move.
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