03 Nov 2020

Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Bill

1. The Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Bill was introduced for First Reading in Parliament today.

 

Background

 

2. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) regulates arms, explosives, explosive precursors (EPs), noxious gases and substances, and certain weapons [collectively referred to as Guns, Explosives and Weapons (GEW)] under the Arms and Explosives Act (AEA). Due to the safety and security risks GEW pose, persons or entities that wish to conduct activities involving these items are required to be licensed or exempted.[1]

 

3. As the security landscape evolves, there is a need for MHA to review the AEA, to ensure that the regulation of GEW remains robust and effective, to deal with new threats and challenges:

 

(i) Threat of terrorism remains high and poses risk of violence in Singapore. GEW can be used by lone wolves and extremist groups to carry out an attack in Singapore;

(ii) Technological changes pose new challenges to enforcement. The emergence of technologies such as 3D-printing and drones, and greater ease of access to information on the manufacturing of illegal GEW on the Internet, has made it easier for persons with malicious intent to cause harm; and

(iii) Need to optimise resources to regulate a growing industry. The number of GEW licensees has increased in recent years.[2]

 

Key Provisions of the Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Bill

4. The Bill will strengthen the regulatory regime and minimise the safety and security risks posed by GEW, while ensuring a calibrated regulatory and enforcement framework for these items, under the new Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Act 2021. The AEA, Dangerous Fireworks Act and Explosive Substances Act (ESA) will consequently be repealed, and related laws such as the Arms Offences Act (AOA) and the Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons Act (CESOWA) will be amended. The key features of the Bill are set out below.

 

Tighten control over higher-risk GEW (i.e. guns and explosives)

5. The Bill will raise the maximum fines for unlicensed activities involving guns and explosives from $10,000 to $50,000 for persons, and $100,000 for entities, to match the current maximum fines for unlicensed activities involving EPs. This is because the degree of harm that can be caused by guns and explosives is comparable to that of EPs.

 

6. Higher fines of up to $100,000 for persons, and $200,000 for entities, are provided for offences relating to prohibited GEW, which are particularly dangerous due to their design or construction.[3] Examples of prohibited GEW include guns of a certain calibre (e.g. anti-tank guns), which are highly dangerous and have no day-to-day uses. The Singapore Police Force (SPF) will not issue licences for prohibited GEW, as these typically do not have legitimate uses in Singapore.

 

7. The Bill will criminalise the unauthorised possession of any digital blueprint for the manufacture of a gun or a major part of a gun, to mitigate the threat posed by illegal manufacturing of guns with 3D-printing technology.[4]

 

8. In addition, the Bill will allow SPF to appoint qualified persons as compliance officers to exercise certain enforcement powers, to conduct inspections on low-risk GEW licensees.[5] This will allow SPF to optimise its resources to focus on higher-risk GEW. These compliance officers will be trained and supervised by SPF. The investigation and enforcement of regulatory breaches will continue to be handled by Police officers.

Improve overall compliance and enhance SPF’s operational effectiveness in regulating GEW

(a) Enhance enforcement powers

9. The Bill will enhance SPF’s enforcement powers to allow Police officers to perform enforcement checks more effectively. Examples include powers of entry and powers to inspect premises and all modes of conveyances (e.g. vehicles, aircrafts and vessels).

 

(b) Expand scope of regulation to cover risk areas

 

10. A class licensing regime will be introduced for certain users involved in GEW activities that pose low or moderate risks; they will not be required to be individually licensed. For example, users of air guns for purposes of sports shooting conduct their activities in controlled settings and pose low risk. Nevertheless, there is still a need to ensure that such users adhere to safety and security conditions, and are subject to regulatory action in the event of any non-compliant behaviour.[6] The introduction of a class licensing framework allows SPF to impose regulatory conditions on such lower risk groups, and imposes lower regulatory compliance costs than individual licences.

 

11. The Bill will also allow SPF to issue licences for the operation of shooting ranges, with conditions to ensure the safe operation of the ranges. The repair and disposal of GEW will also be specified as regulated activities.

 

12. In addition, the current list of regulated weapons will be expanded to include other dangerous weapons, such as throwing stars, knuckledusters and machetes.[7]

 

(c) Greater regulatory flexibility to handle evolving situations

13. The Bill will empower SPF to modify licensing conditions during the licence tenure or issue directions to licensees to address safety or security concerns associated with regulated GEW activities, address new threats swiftly, or tighten regulation of errant licensees.[8] In addition, SPF may issue directions to former licensees, for example, to direct them to store their stock of GEW at an approved location, to ensure that these items are kept safely upon licence expiry, suspension or revocation.


14. If there is serious and imminent threat to life or property arising from GEW-related activity, the Minister for Home Affairs may issue security directions valid for up to six months (with a one-time extension of up to six months if necessary) to direct licensees, class licensees and exempted persons to enhance their measures or to temporarily suspend, cease or scale down their activities immediately. Given the serious nature of the consequences that may arise from these activities, there will be no avenue for appeal for such directions.

 

Ensure a calibrated and coherent regulatory and enforcement framework for GEW

15. The Bill will rationalise the offences and penalties across GEW-related Acts to ensure that the penalties are commensurate with the egregiousness of the crime.[9] For instance, regulatory offences with no malicious intent are provided for under the regulatory Act, while offences with criminal intent are covered under other GEW-related Acts and attract higher penalties (e.g. caning).

 

16. Regulated weapons (footnote 7) such as swords and daggers, and gun accessories such as magazine adapters, are currently regulated in the same way as guns (e.g. firearms and air guns), and unlicensed activities involving these items attract the same penalties as guns, even though the risks are comparatively lower. The Bill provides for a calibrated regulatory approach, by specifying regulatory controls, offences and penalties that are specific to regulated weapons, distinct from the regulation of guns. The penalties for gun accessories will also be lower than those for guns and major gun parts, as gun accessories do not cause significant harm on their own.[10]

 

17. The Bill will also streamline the regulatory framework for fireworks, which are considered explosives, by repealing the Dangerous Fireworks Act and regulating activities involving fireworks under the new Act.

 



[1] The activities regulated are the manufacture, use, sale, storage, transport, import, export and possession of GEW. Persons or entities exempted under the Act do not require licences, such as members of the Singapore Police Force, the Singapore Armed Forces, and the Auxiliary Police Force, in the course of their duty or employment.

[2] More arms licences have been issued for sports shooting.

[3] The Minister for Home Affairs may prescribe items as prohibited GEW, if it is expedient for public safety to do so. Individual offenders will be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years.

[4] This covers circumstances where the person is not licensed or exempted, and has the digital blueprint in his possession, i.e. stored in a computer or data storage device, or has control of the blueprint in a computer possessed by others. Notwithstanding this, it is a valid defence if a person comes into possession of the digital blueprint unknowingly or unsolicited, and has taken reasonable steps to destroy or surrender it to SPF.

[5] These persons must meet certain criteria such as having suitable qualifications or experience. There will be safeguards specified in the Act on the circumstances under which these compliance officers may exercise their powers, such as ensuring that there is no conflict of interest between the compliance officers and the licensees they inspect.

[6] Possible regulatory actions include the varying or addition of class licensing conditions, and the suspension and cancellation of their class licence.

[7] There are currently five regulated weapons under the AEA, i.e. bayonets, swords, daggers, spears and spearheads.

[8] This is subject to due process, whereby the SPF Licensing Officer (LO) will inform the licensee of his intention to modify the licensing conditions or to issue the directions, and provide the licensee with an opportunity to make written representations to the LO against the proposed modifications or directions. Licensees who are aggrieved by the LO’s decision may appeal to the Minister for Home Affairs.

[9] Other GEW-related Acts which criminalise the misuse of GEW are the AOA, and CESOWA. The ESA will be repealed, as similar offences relating to explosive substances (e.g. the use of explosive substances to endanger life or property) are already provided in the CESOWA.

[10] The maximum penalties for unlicensed activities involving gun accessories and regulated weapons are imprisonment for a term not exceeding 24 months and a fine of up to $20,000 for individuals, and a fine of up to $40,000 for entities. Higher penalties will apply for offences involving prohibited gun accessories and weapons.

 

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