Senate hearings begin on new Puerto Rico weapons law
SAN JUAN – The Public Security Committee of the Puerto Rico Senate began holding public hearings Thursday to analyze Senate Bill 439, which would create a new weapons law in accordance with the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, and validating the carrying of and possession of weapons as an individual right protected under the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
The legislation proposes reducing the cost for vouchers for a weapons license to $50, eliminates the $78 expense corresponding to the purchase of internal revenue stamps to request a license to carry a weapon, payment of a federal seal or membership in a shooting club, the requirement and cost of the three declarations for the licenses, the requirement to present the request to carry arms before the prosecutor’s office and the court, the 120-day waiting period for the weapons license to be granted, which with the new law, would be granted immediately upon completion of a criminal records check.
In addition, it establishes a term of no more than 10 days to issue or deny the license to carry weapons and eliminates the field investigation process that is currently used as part of the criteria for granting a license to carry weapons.
During the hearings, the Public Safety Department (DSP by its Spanish initials) appeared, whose secretary, Héctor Pesquera, was excused, but not before sending a negative memorandum through his representative, Estrella Mar Vega, in which he differed with the legislation in the definitions of “authorized agents and arms dealers,” the use of silencers, or noise suppressors, the use of a shared electronic system, the reciprocity of licenses from the 50 States, the elimination of requirements and low cost to acquire licenses to carry a weapon. Also at the hearings were members of the Puerto Rico Police Bureau (NPPR by its Spanish initials), attached to the DSP.
Amid the negative report, the author of the measure, Sen. Nelson Cruz Santiago, asked the NPPR representatives to evaluate the amendments, submit them and participate in the process to improve the law.
The committee chair, Sen. Henry Neumann, requested the Police deliver within five days a report that includes the applications filed so far, the average number of applications filed annually, the average time to issue certifications and the detailed use of funds received from fines and payments.
“In general terms, there are no major additional changes [versus the current law]. Part of this is the costs, which are much lower than at present and, in a certain way, discriminates against those who do not have that financial capacity, and also streamlines the process to obtain a carry license and it will not be necessary to wait 120 days. Philosophically, there is agility, less bureaucracy, less cost. These are the core changes, not cosmetic,” Neumann said.
However, the position of the DSP was firm against the risks a revision to the law could have.
“This would be very worrying and would make citizens take justice into their own hands,” Vega said.
As demonstrated by the NPPR, a study conducted in 2017 by the Pew Research Center reflected data such as more than 80% of U.S. citizens want to increase controls on the purchase of firearms; more than half of them describe armed violence as a very serious problem in the country; 89% of those surveyed want measures to prevent people with mental illness from buying weapons; and 83% support prohibiting the sale of weapons to those who are on government watch lists for suspicious activities or people who are banned from traveling on commercial airlines.
In the same way, those testifying assured that Puerto Rico has recently been shaken by massacres from people using firearms. However, the senator refuted that all these events involved illegal long guns, which have nothing to do with the legislation being considered.