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Senator Anthony Vieira speaks during the debate on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, 2021, at yesterday’s Senate sitting.

Those who already own pepper spray before the new law on this device begins will have six months to seek a permit for it from the police.

And the spray may be sold at pharmacies among other places ahead.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi spoke about these issues in the Senate yesterday, as he piloted an amendment to the Firearms Act to facilitate pepper spray use.

The amendment provides for permits for importation, manufacturer and production of the spray and another permit for people to have it. Each permit costs $50. It’s for self-defence only. People won’t be allowed to transfer or give it to others.

The process first involves the submission of applications to police.

The approved applicant then goes to a seller. To sell the spray, pharmacies will apply to a pepper spray dealer and must meet security checks.

The spray will be administered to customers via prescription formats, where records of the holder will be kept.

Al-Rawi said Government was aware people already have pepper sprays.

If people have the spray before the coming into force of the new law, he said a six-month “bring in” provision is being instituted for them to apply for a permit from the Police Commissioner.

He said he might be mindful to extend the period a bit more.

Al-Rawi said T&T has some of the world’s hottest peppers—the Scorpion pepper—and the production of the spray can create a manufacturing industry.

Those prohibited from getting permits will be people who have been charged, as well as convicted on firearms issues and on bail matters from burglaries to sex offences. The court will decide on persons involved in domestic violence issues. Al-Rawi said domestic violence matters were “he say/she say issues with very dangerous consequences.”

Al-Rawi also said the Firearms Act will be expanded in a couple of months to deal with issues including control of deliveries.

Al-Rawi said Government was fighting the battle against heavy weapons on its own, as the Opposition did not want to support this.

Independent Senator Anthony Vieira, however, said he didn’t like the amendment, felt it was disingenuous, condescending to women and disproportionate.

If it was for self-defence, he felt it so convoluted and bureaucratic, it may be beyond the reach of women who need it.

He said unless women have the time, money and resources to deal with the bureaucratic requirements to access, they would not get the things they desperately need.

Al-Rawi said the process wasn’t bureaucratic and wasn’t like a firearm licence application.

Vieira said it was possible to weaponise household products, from insecticide to gasoline and it might be easier to get guns, cutlasses or knives. He said pepper spray should be as easy to acquire.

He said he wasn’t “dissing” Government’s approach but there was a lack of data showing it would be used to commit crimes beyond snatch and grab situations. He said its benefits outweighed the risks.

He said the focus must be the objective of whether the device would be a sword—such as for law enforcement use—or a shield for women. He noted law enforcement uses military strength spray.

Vieira advocated using three per cent pepper potency, saying if the “slight pepper” can suffice, the spray should be liberalised, as he felt the bill was too cumbersome and disproportionate.

“If the consideration is as a weapon, you may be missing the big picture and may want to reconsider.”

Noting the spray is legal in 50 US states and there were no reports of a crime epidemic or fatalities, he questioned why people couldn’t give it to loved ones for protection.

UNC senator Jayanti Lutchmedial expressed concern that Parliament and officers had to come out during the COVID period to deal with the pepper spray issue, which the UNC requested since 2017. She said the device could be a rape deterrent.

Lutchmedial said the acquisition process will be punishment for people and permit approval would add to the CoP’s workload.

Illegal importation of the spray must also be considered. She slammed the Government’s criticism of the Opposition, saying nothing was done to secure the southwestern peninsula.