July 12, 2001 – A bill dramatically increasing penalties for gun possession was unanimously approved by the Government Operations, Planning and Environmental Protection committee Thursday.
The bill comes on the heels of federal and local VI Project Exile, which was launched Tuesday and will send anyone committing a gun crime or possessing an illegal weapon to a mainland prison.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Emmett Hansen II, will increase the fine for illegal gun possession from $1,000 to $5,000 and imprisonment from two years to five years maximum. Second offenses go from a fine of $2,000 to $10,000 and imprisonment of not more than 15 years.
If an illegal firearm is carried by a felon or used in a crime of violence the fine goes from $10,000 to $25,000, with imprisonment from 15 to 20 years. A machine gun used in a violent crime is raised from a fine of $12,000 to $50,000 with 20 years imprisonment.
Though they did not appear at the hearing, the territory's top police brass sent letters strongly endorsing the bill.
Attorney General Iver Stridiron testified on the measure, pointing out language in the legislation which could cause confusion, which Hansen and other senators addressed in several amendments. Stridiron, who helped spearhead the Exile program, heartily endorsed the measure overall.
Appearing with Stridiron was a Garden Street resident who spoke eloquently for her neighborhood. Pastor Toy Barbel Smith of the International Gospel Center of St. Thomas told the senators she was heartsick to hear the Garden Street area called the "worst in St. Thomas to live in."
Garden Street, a once peaceful neighborhood, has been the scene of two recent gun murders and other street violence.
"People are afraid to come out at night," Smith said, "but nobody is going to run me from where I live." Smith is a member of the recently formed Garden Street Neighborhood committee. "Certain people have been attacking my vehicle," she said, "but I am not afraid. God will take care of me. Although it's guns the bill is about, it's actually about people."
Hansen lamented, "Guns have become fashion accessories. It's sad we have to rehabilitate from without. I can't make anyone behave any more than I can make anyone love me."
The amended bill also imposes stiff fines for bringing unlicensed firearms into the territory, and includes an amendment by Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel sharply increasing the fine for not reporting a licensed firearm from $100 and a six-month jail term to $5,000 and three years imprisonment.
Though Hansen was pleased about the legislation, he said it was "the most unfortunate piece of legislation I've brought forward."
The only senators not signed on as co-sponsors on the bill were Adelbert Bryan, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Norma Pickard-Samuel, who Hansen said will no doubt sign on before the bill reaches the Rules Committee, where it is now headed.
Attending the meeting were committee members Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole, chairman, Carlton Dowe, Adelbert Bryan, Celestino A. White Sr., David Jones and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg. Sen. Roosevelt David was excused.
Non-committee members present were Sens. Hansen and Pickard-Samuel.
It was a remarkably cordial meeting about a violent subject. The senators put aside their differences and did the business at hand.
Money from the fines will go into a police crime fighting and equipment fund.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here