SINGAPORE - A proposed law on guns, explosives and weapons debated in Parliament on Monday (Jan 4) aim to further tighten controls and strengthen penalties for high-risk items such as automatic weapons.
They also aim to address new threats caused by technology shifts, such as 3D-printed guns and drones mounted with weapons.
Among the changes proposed under the Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Bill is to make the unauthorised possession of a digital blueprint of a gun or a gun part an offence, given the relative ease of manufacturing a working gun using a 3D printer and blueprint taken from the Internet.
The maximum fines for gun and explosive offences will also be raised to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for entities, up from $10,000, to match those for unlicensed activities involving explosive precursors.
The Bill also aims to address the threat of drones carrying guns, explosives and weapons, by making it clear that a person who controls a vehicle or vessel carrying such items, even if via remote control, is treated as possessing them.
A class licensing regime for low- or moderate-risk users and activities was also introduced to provide some regulatory control without the need for individual licensing.
Such users include students who handle air guns as part of their co-curricular activities in schools. With class licensing, such users need not be put through security clearance, and need not apply for or renew an individual licence periodically.
But a class licence can be suspended if certain conditions are contravened, such as if someone is convicted of an offence under a related Act, or if it is in the national security interest of Singapore to do so.
Introducing the Bill on Monday, Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan said that the Bill reinforces the Government's position that any handling of guns, explosives and weapons is "a privilege that is conditioned on the overriding need to ensure we meet the objective of public safety and security, and that strict controls are required to achieve this objective."
The Act seeks to replace the Arms and Explosives Act, the Explosive Substances Act and the Dangerous Fireworks Act. It also seeks to make amendments to other legislation related to guns, explosives and weapons.
Mr Tan said that in developing the Bill, offences and penalties across the various laws were rationalised to achieve greater coherence, consistency and clarity.
"Moving forward, regulatory breaches like non-compliance with licence conditions or unlicensed activities will be criminalised under the Bill, whereas actions with criminal intent will be offences under the other Acts and carry heavier punishments," he said.
Under the proposed changes, the Minister for Home Affairs will be vested with a new power to issue "security directions" when a situation requires a more expedient response than what modifying licensing conditions allow, such as if there is imminent threat to life or property.
The Minister can direct licensees and even those exempted from the Bill to immediately put in place enhanced measures, or to temporarily suspend, cease or scale down their activities for a period of time. This cannot be appealed and is limited to six months, with non-compliance being an offence, said Mr Tan.
The list of weapons to be regulated will be expanded to include throwing stars and knuckledusters, which are very unlikely to have common day-to-day uses, he added.
Gun accessories such as flash suppressors and silencers that can enhance the performance of guns will also be regulated under the Bill, with lower penalties than those for guns as they pose a lower risk.
Operating a shooting or paintball range without a licence will also be an offence. Currently, licences are not needed.
Mr Tan said that Singapore's consistent ranking as one of the safest places in the world was due in large part to the stringent laws to regulate dangerous articles such as guns, explosives and other weapons, as well as criminalising unlawful actions involving them.
The threat of extremist attacks remains very real, he cautioned, with serious incidents in countries with strict gun and weapon control laws.
"Many of these incidents were not carried out by military organisations or state-sponsored activists, but individuals with extremist views and sentiments, using guns or knives," he said. "We must not presume that these attacks cannot happen in Singapore."
The Internet has facilitated the trafficking and manufacture of guns, explosives and weapons, with it being easy to get online materials and instructions to manufacture them, he said.
The need to optimise resources to regulate a growing industry is another reason for the changes proposed in the Bill, said Mr Tan. The total number of guns, explosives and weapons licences has more than doubled from around 2,000 in 2010 to more than 4,000 last year.
The police must regulate this growing pool effectively, otherwise there is a risk of lapses going undetected, with potentially disastrous safety or security consequences, he added.
The maximum fine for guns and explosives were proposed to be raised to match those for unlicensed activities involving explosive precursors, which are chemical substances that can be made into explosives relatively easily.
The maximum fine for guns and explosives was only $10,000 previously, even though the degree of harm that can be caused is comparable to that of explosive precursors, said Mr Tan.
In addition, the Act allows the Home Affairs Minister to prescribe items as prohibited guns, explosives and weapons, with related-offences that will attract even higher fines of up to $100,000 for persons, and $200,000 for entities.
These are items which are identified as particularly dangerous or may be more readily concealed and would be particularly suited to unlawful use, such as certain types of automatic firearms commonly used by terrorists which are highly dangerous and clearly have no legitimate use, said Mr Tan.
"No licence will be granted for the handling of these items," he said.
Unauthorised possession of a digital blueprint for a gun or gun part would include physically owning a storage device with such a document, as well as a scenario where someone in Singapore stores such a blueprint outside the country, such as in an overseas cloud storage service.
But the intent is not to target those who could not reasonably be expected to have known that they possess such blueprints, such as someone who merely browses the Internet out of curiosity and finds a gun blueprint, which is temporarily stored in the browser cache, said Mr Tan.
The debate will resume on Tuesday, with more than 10 MPs expected to speak.