V.I. residents will be able to own Tasers and other electric stun guns, after taking a safety course through the V.I. Police Department, if a bill approved in committee is enacted into law.
Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly introduced the bill, [Bill 31-0141] sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes, saying she had considered getting a small electric stun device for self-defense and found out they are against the law.
Rivera-O’Reilly said the bill will create a pathway to allow people to own and use them for self-defense, after passing a background check and taking a safety course.
Police, Department of Justice and commercial security agency officials testified in support of the bill, suggesting some amendments, saying Tasers and similar devices are much less dangerous than a firearm or even pepper spray.
Police Commissioner Delroy Richards asked senators to imagine a bus driver dealing with a serious situation on a vehicle and the havoc that would take place if he or she sprayed pepper spray, affecting numerous passengers.
Juan Bravo, chairman of the board of Ranger American of the Virgin Islands, a private security firm, said his parent company helped introduce the devices in Puerto Rico and helped train Puerto Rico police in using them.
"The introduction of these devices have reduced by almost 90 percent the use of firearms by our security force," Bravo said. "You can all imagine the many advantages that this reduction represents in may aspects. This could also be a reality here in the Virgin Islands where we could greatly reduce our armed security offices and replace these firearms by less lethal devices," he said.
Sen. Kenneth Gittens questioned whether training and licensing people to own Tasers would put a burden on the V.I. Police Department. Other senators expressed concern about whether Tasers or stun guns could be used by criminals.
Richards said he "strongly believed that if the bad guys wanted to possess Tasers they already would." He also said he supported the bill because it could help reduce the demand for firearms for self-defense.
"Weapons of deadly force; if we can reduce that and reduce it significantly, we will help a lot. That is why I am supporting this," Richards said.
On the burden of performing background checks, Richards said, "We don’t have to perform a full background check. If we can at least do an NCIC check I think that would suffice." NCIC is the National Crime Information Center, a digitized criminal information database accessible to police departments.
"Would it create an undue burden, financial hardship or extreme heartburn for your department?" Rivera-O’Reilly asked Richards.
"I don’t believe it would create extreme hardship. The only thing I would want to clarify what sort of background check," Richards said. He said he would urge members to vote for the bill.
The committee amended the bill to remove electric stun devices from the criminal statute for carrying a dangerous weapon and to place the definition in the section of law regarding licensing weapons.
Voting to send the bill on to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for more consideration were: Rivera-O’Reilly, Sens. Jean Forde, Justin Harrigan, Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Novelle Francis. Gittens voted no. Sanes was absent.