Let's talk about the crime in the Virgin Islands and the solutions that our politicians have suggested to bring it under control.
We have heard the governor proclaim that he hates guns.
Those charged with combating crime have established a task force to be on the front line of waging the war against the epidemic of violent, gun-related crimes infecting our paradise. Project "Exile" was implemented with much hoopla.
The Legislature has sent a law to the governor that increases the penalties for illegal firearm possession. These measures are designed to eradicate illegal firearms in the territory.
Their intentions are honorable; however, these measures do nothing to close a gaping loophole in the V.I. Code that handcuffs the police from (l) stopping those individuals suspected of possessing firearms, (2) conducting a search of that individual to determine whether or not they in fact are in possession of a firearm and, if they are, (3) determining if they have a license.
This loophole in the V.I. Code was exposed in August of 2000 by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals – the court that represents the next-to-last court of final appeal in the Virgin Islands, subordinate only to the Supreme Court of the United States – when it declared " … it is not a crime to possess a firearm in the Virgin Islands – even when standing in a crowd."
The court made the declaration in deciding that the police had violated a young man's constitutional right to privacy when, acting on an anonymous tip, they approached him and seized a Jennings Long Rifle .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol, model J-22, concealed in his clothing in the middle of the J'Ouvert Carnival celebration.
The Code currently states: "Whoever, unless otherwise authorized by law, has, possesses, bears, transports or carries either, actually or constructively, openly or concealed, any firearm, … loaded or unloaded, may be arrested without a warrant, and shall be sentenced to imprisonment of not less than six months nor more than three years and shall be fined not more than $5,000."
There lies the loophole. The police can only approach an individual when they have a reason to believe that he is committing a crime. The police, in stopping the young man, did not determine beforehand that he was not authorized by law to possess the firearm. Therefore, the court opined that they had no reason to approach him and search him. If he was authorized by law to possess a firearm, he was not committing a crime.
The V.I. Code should state "Whoever has, possesses, bears, transports or carries either, actually or constructively, openly or concealed, any firearm, … loaded or unloaded, may be arrested without a warrant, and shall be sentenced to imprisonment of not less than six months nor more than three years and shall be fined not more than $5,000." That language would make it a crime to be in possession of a firearm by everyone.
Those individuals lawfully in possession of a firearm, those authorized by law, e.g. peace officers, military personnel, and those private citizens who have been lawfully licensed by the Government to possess a firearm, should be granted an exemption from prosecution by the next paragraph.
If we are to take firearms out of the hands of those unlawfully in possession of them, we must amend our laws to make possession of a firearm a crime in the Virgin Islands.
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