YOUNGSTERS as young as 16 will be allowed to be equipped with pepper spray for their personal protection, said Stuart Young, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, speaking on Wednesday. The House of Representatives debated the Firearm (Amendment) Bill 2021 to regulate pepper spray.
He began by saying the legislation was not a knee-jerk reaction but came after the Government had requested a position paper early last January from the Office of Law Enforcement Policy, of the Ministry of National Security when he had been minister. Young cited the document.
“The first point that struck me was the effect of pepper spray – acute eye pain, temporary blindness and acute ocular discomfort, respiratory symptoms including wheezing, soughing, shortness of breath, rashes, blisters and burns. It concludes in that part, ‘it is therefore a dangerous weapon.'”
He said research has associated pepper spray with a few deaths, but with all victims having underlying medical conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or that death was due to positional asphyxiation after deployment by law enforcement.
“So let us not fool ourselves, even as we take a decision here today to give access to pepper spray to persons as young as 16 years old, that this is not something that is potentially dangerous.”
Reading out the pros and cons of the device, Young was concerned pepper spray could give bearers a false sense of security. He said the Government had opted for liberalisation of access and said this would take the country into a new realm but was being done after rigorous consultation.
Young denied concerns by Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein about a bureaucratic process to access it. The minister said anyone over 18 years old who is not a prohibited person – such as someone with pending charges – could apply to their local police station which can approve it, without the application going to the Police Commissioner such as for a firearms licence.
He said access for 16 year olds had been much debated.
“Persons between the ages of 16 and 18, your parent or guardian can apply for that licence for you or give authorisation.
“I’d like again to put down a marker here and issue a caution to citizens and more importantly to parents out there as they consider going down that road. The population needs to be cautious as we liberalise pepper spray.”
Young said it was not a panacea to crime and criminality, where mindsets needed to be reformed.
“I caution parents when taking the decision to arm their children because it is a dangerous product, pepper spray.”
Young disagreed with Hosein saying this product was “for women.”
He said, “It’s not only for women in society. There is no gender prohibition here. So anyone over the age of 18 who is not prohibited can get it.
“Any boy or girl between the ages of 16 to 18, once their parent or guardian says they can, they have access to it.”
He cautioned people who might feel empowered by it and had concerns that people might be attacked with it. “So please get the necessary training if you’re going down this road.”
Young said the bill mandates pepper spray not in use to be carefully stored, as he warned that children can be very curious.