Parliament: Replica weapons excluded from new law to regulate guns, explosives and weapons

SINGAPORE – A new law to regulate guns, explosives and weapons in Singapore will not apply to replica weapons because they pose too little risk to warrant tight regulation, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan on Tuesday (Jan 5).

Nerf guns, which can be bought off the shelf for recreational purposes and are unlikely to cause injury if used properly, are also excluded from the Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Bill, which was passed in Parliament.

But ornamental weapons such as daggers and swords will be considered for class licensing. Mr Tan said this is a “light touch” approach which will apply only to lower-risk activities such as air gun shooting in schools, as such licensing is considered less stringent than individual licensing.

Previously, the Arms and Explosives Act – which has been replaced by the new law – required all persons conducting activities related to guns, explosives and weapons to be either individually licensed, or to be exempted, which means they will fall outside the Act.

Thanking members of the House for their support, Mr Tan said: “The Bill is a crucial piece of legislation that will go a long way to continue to ensure safe, secure and responsible GEW (guns, explosives and weapons) handling in Singapore.”

The new Bill was aimed at further tightening controls for guns, explosives and weapons, and strengthening penalties for high-risk items such as automatic weapons.

Other than guarding against extremist attacks that could use such items, the Bill was also meant to deal with advancements such as 3D-printing of gun or gun parts with designs taken from the Internet, as well as the threat of armed drones.

The unauthorised possession of a digital blueprint for a gun or gun part has been criminalised under the Bill. Maximum fines for gun and explosive offences have been raised to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for entities, up from $10,000.

A total of 11 MPs spoke during the debate on the Bill on Tuesday, raising concerns that ranged from whether digital blueprints for weapons such as knuckledusters should similarly be outlawed, how license applicants are assessed, and whether innovation in 3D printing would be stifled.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked if replica and imitation weapons are covered under the Bill, and Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked if the possession of digital blueprints for gun replicas would be criminalised.

In his round-up speech, Mr Tan said an exhaustive list of weapons regulated is spelt out in the Bill, which includes axes, spears, crossbows, throwing stars and bayonets. Replica weapons are not regulated as they are unlikely to be effective in causing injuries or death.

But the use of an imitation weapon to threaten or cause fear of injury or death to others would likely be an offence under other acts such as the Penal Code, he said.

The unauthorised possession of digital blueprints was limited to guns and major gun parts as these were assessed to pose the highest risk, necessitating strong controls, he said, adding that there was no need to control the possession of blueprints for weapons like swords and knuckledusters at the moment as they are less dangerous.

Ms Yeo Wan Ling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said that those in the 3D printing community, such as researchers, hobbyists and inventors, have pointed out that 3D-printed guns are unlikely to function as they cannot withstand the pressure of firing a bullet.

She said that regulation of 3D printing should be done cautiously, otherwise a “chilling effect” might be produced on the use of such innovative technologies.

Mr Tan replied that the threat of 3D-printed guns and gun parts is real. “This point was echoed by other members as well. There have been genuine cases and online videos demonstrating the use of 3D-printed guns or gun parts, especially metallic ones.”

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Singapore is not alone in addressing this phenomenon, he said, citing a law in the Australian state of New South Wales passed in 2015 to outlaw the possession of digital blueprints for firearms.

As for whether industrial-grade 3D printers would be regulated because of their potential to print a fully-functional gun, Mr Tan said such issues are beyond the scope of the Bill, which does not specifically deal with 3D printing or printers.

Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) asked how a licensing officer assesses information submitted in applications, especially from foreigners, such as those who need short-term licences for trade fairs.

Mr Tan said the police licensing officer will request for relevant documents from foreign applicants to show that they have been authorised by their countries to handle guns, explosives and weapons.

Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC) asked for more clarity on the situations where the Home Affairs Minister could exercise his new power to issue security directions.

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Under the new Bill, the minister can issue such directions when a situation requires a more expedient response than modifying licensing conditions allows, such as if there is imminent threat to life or property.

This is limited to six months, with non-compliance being an offence. Although such a direction is non-appealable, a person aggrieved by exercise of power can still seek judicial review.

Mr Tan said a possible scenario is when there is an ongoing or suspected terrorist incident. Licensees and even those exempted from holding licences must step up security measures or shut down their premises for some time to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on guns and explosives.

“In such a scenario, issuing a security direction would be critical to mitigate the threat first,” he said, as there would not be enough time for regulations to be amended or new ones made.

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