Age verification checks on e-commerce portals being considered for items like axes, says Desmond Tan

Mr Desmond Choo had asked if existing measures were enough to restrict young people from accessing offensive weapons.
Mr Desmond Choo had asked if existing measures were enough to restrict young people from accessing offensive weapons.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Age verification checks on e-commerce platforms are being considered when people buy axes and other items with a wide range of uses, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan.

The Government is also working on expanding the list of regulated weapons but will need to strike a balance in controls as any item can be used as a weapon, including commonly used everyday items, he added.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 3), Mr Tan said in the past three years, 131 youth under 18 have been arrested for possession of offensive weapons.

Mr Tan was responding to questions from Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC), who had asked if existing measures were enough to restrict young people from accessing offensive weapons.

Last month (July), a Secondary 1 student at River Valley High School was killed during school hours. A Secondary 4 student from the same school was arrested by police and has been charged with murder. Both boys did not know each other. An axe was seized as evidence, and early investigations suggest it was bought online.

Six weapons under the Arms and Explosives Act (AEA) are regulated by the Home Affairs Ministry (MHA), said Mr Tan. They are: swords, spears, spearheads, daggers, bayonets and certain dangerous bows and arrows.

He added that people who handle such weapons must follow safety conditions, and sellers are obliged to maintain transaction records while owners are required to store them securely.

In January, MHA introduced the Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Act (GEWCA), which will replace the AEA when it comes into force at the end of the year (2021).

"Under the GEWCA, the list of regulated weapons will be expanded and subjected to greater controls," said Mr Tan.

"In determining which items to include, we have to find an appropriate balance, as almost any item can be used as a weapon, including those used in daily life like kitchen knives and choppers."

While highly dangerous items such as guns and explosives must be tightly regulated, Mr Tan said that it is different for other mixed-use items that have normal legitimate uses.

"We may want to impose some controls, but need to consider carefully exactly what, so that we do not over-regulate."

Responding to a point by Mr Choo about tightening the supply of offensive weapons and imposing age verification checks on them, as well as on mixed-use items, Mr Tan said that this is something that the Government will constantly review to assess the appropriate level of controls.

He added that the Government is considering requiring some e-commerce platforms as well as bricks-and-mortar retailers to take "reasonable steps" to conduct age verification checks to make sure underage people do not have access to these items.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, MHA said sellers will be regulated under GEWCA.

"The exact regulatory conditions are still being considered, but may include requiring platforms to take reasonable steps to prevent clearly underage individuals from buying them," said an MHA spokesman.