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Griffith looks to make pepper spray legal

Saturday, February 22, 2014

National Security Minister Gary Griffith is considering legalising the use of pepper spray as a personal safety measure for citizens. He says the time has come for law-abiding people to be given the opportunity to defend themselves. Griffith made the statement during a phone interview with the T&T Guardian on Thursday as he agreed with a proposal from the Police Social and Welfare Association to consider legislative amendments to allow women to carry pepper spray for safety during Carnival celebrations. 



Griffith said he was “considering the use of pepper spray for citizens as a personal safety measure for at-risk members of the citizenry.” He told the T&T Guardian there might be some opposed to the idea but he believed it was a non-lethal weapon that citizens could use for protection. He added: “There may be some groups that may say that it may be used by the criminal elements but the criminal elements use all the firepower they have right now that they are using.


“I think that it is time that the law-abiding citizens are given some type of opportunity to defend themselves. The pepper spray is the most subtle type of defensive weapon that can be used without causing any permanent after effects.” Griffith said pepper spray, when used on a would-be attacker, would “give the victim enough time to actually escape from criminal elements.” 


He also issued a media release in which he contended that the use of pepper spray by law-abiding citizens “will allow them, once the law is amended, to legally equip themselves in a manner that can save and preserve rather than destroy life.” Griffith, in his release, said that would be a measure to protect law-abiding citizens who did not have guns, and pepper spray was known throughout the world as a self-defence item. 


It added: “It is being used by law enforcement agencies as a non-violent way to control dangerous situations. “This self-defence item has evened the playing field for those who may not be as physically strong as the attacker who they need protection from. Anyone who is either unable or unwilling to use force is still able to protect themselves in dangerous situations with pepper spray.” 



Association’s proposal

The T&T Guardian obtained a copy of the proposal sent to Griffith on February 11 by Police Social and Welfare Association president Insp Anand Ramesar, in which he called for consideration of legislative changes to allow possession of pepper spray to enhance personal safety, especially for women, during Carnival. The proposal said that “too often our strategies for promoting public safety have been limited to the activities of the protective services and other government agencies. 


“Given the current criminal landscape and the public’s fear of crime, it is necessary to expand the process of public safety to include safely and discreetly equipping at risk groups, such as women citizens, with the opportunity to avail themselves with non-lethal, yet effective, opportunities that would improve their chances of securing their personal safety when faced with a threat.”


Ramesar, in a phone interview yesterday, said pepper spray would also help alleviate the “dependency syndrome” that women always have to run to the protective services and other agencies for help when they were victims of domestic violence. He said the pepper spray offered women “a first line of defence” when faced with threatening situations.


“When you go to the statistics, whether it is from 2000 to 2010, the number of women who have been the victims of rape, sexual assault and robbery is sufficient to give consideration to this proposal with a view to providing a legislative framework that would allow women to have access and possess a non-lethal mechanism for the provision of their personal safety, and in a lot of instances, the personal safety of their children,” he suggested.


Ramesar said under the present legislation there were challenges for people to be in possession of pepper spray. The association had met with Griffith, he said, and preliminary discussions focused on legislation, namely the Firearm Act, which deals with possession of a noxious substance or administering a noxious substance, such as pepper spray. Pepper spray, he said, was a non-lethal mechanism and it would not kill someone “but it will stop them in their tracks and will allow the would-be victim to escape and seek assistance.”


Ramesar admitted the legislative changes necessary might not be possible in time for Carnival but believes the National Security Council and Government should pursue the initiative as a permanent consideration for women and their personal safety.



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