New National Arms Commission in the Making – LiNSAC, Senate Deliberate Expanding Small Arms Commission

Predicated on a letter from the President of the Republic of Liberia, proposing amendments to the Liberia National Small Arms Commission (LiNSAC) Act and the Firearms and Ammunition Control (FACA) Act, the Senate Committee on Defense, Security, Intelligence and Veteran Affairs, met with LiNSAC Chairman Atty. Teklo Maxwell Grigsby and his team on Friday, June 10, 2022 for them to explain why the Senate should change the Liberia National Small Arms Commission into the proposed National Arms Commission, and as well amend the FACA.

The nearly one-and-a-half hours long deliberation saw LiSAC Chairman eloquently explaining to the highly critical senate committee a myriad of reasons why the two acts need to be amended. Starting with the LiNSAC Act, Atty. Grigsby provided a background to the Act.

According to Att. Grigsby, the Liberian Constitution of 1847 did indeed include a provision under Section 12 for citizens to hold and bear arms.

“Under Section 12, citizens of Liberia had the constitutional right to hold and bear arms. By 1956 Liberia enacted the Firearms Traffic Act which provided statutory provision for the registration of civilian arms, and that lasted until 1986.

“By 1986 Liberia had a new constitution. The drafters of the 1986 constitution did not include the provisions for Section 12. In law when something is omitted, you cannot claim right. So, by 1986, Liberians could not claim bearing arms as their constitutional right. However, our administration was still lawful because there was a statue of the legislature. In 2006, Madam Sirleaf issued an executive order prohibiting civilian possession of firearms. However, that executive order had an exception, which was to allow state security who can lawfully bear arms possess firearms; and those involved with hunting as a vocation could also bear firearms,” the LiNSAC boss stated.

He disclosed that by 2012, after many consultations with ECOWAS, at the protocol, moratorium, ECOWAS Convention in 2009, Liberia for the first time established the Commission in 2012 by law, even though there were inter-ministerial committee, and work done prior to that act; there were executive orders passed as well, which gave the current chair the power to collaborate with others, to put instrument in place for the control of small arms.

“But there was a statue in 2012 which created this Commission that we are about to talk about today. Since then, the Commission has worked to regulate and ensure the effective control of firearms both in the public sector in the hands of the state sector, and the private sector which will have to do with civilians, specifically hunters,” Attorney Grigsby said.

The well-articulated Small Arms Commission chief noted that the law to a greater extent restricted the commission to monitor small arms, which by universal definition are ascribed to any portable machine gun that can be carried by one person; and light weapons, portable guns that can be carried by two or more people.

“However, that law did not cover fully conventional arms which should include heavy artillery of the armed forces in peacekeeping operations and other tankers. Thankfully, by 2014, Liberia through the chair acceded to the United Nations Global Arms Trade Treaty that created an obligation for Liberia to regulate convention arms. And after the signing of that treaty, the Liberian legislature ratified that treaty. The treaty obligates member states to establish national competent authority to regulate conventional arms. Currently, the Commission’s inspection does not include conventional arms used for peacekeeping operations by the Armed Forces of Liberia. And the reason for that is the initial mandate provided to the Commission limits it to regulate small arms and light weapons. 

“We have therefore proposed that this Legislature investigate the United Nations Global Arms Trade Treaty and expand the mandate of the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms, thereby creating the Liberia National Commission on Arms, to regulate all conventional arms including small arms and light weapons. For us to have the draft before you, we had to hold consultations with the legislature, we met the relevant committees of the legislature, we extended several invitations to the Committee on Judiciary, the Committee on Security, Defense and Intelligence,” Atty. Grigsby said.

Expounding further on the processes that led to President George M. Weah writing the senate praying for amendment of the two acts, Grigsby said, “We were blessed with the presence of some of the senators, and in their wisdom, we included the document we have now. We had extensive interactions with the media, held several roundtable discussions to include their views about arms control and the work of the Commission. We had consultations with civil society, we received support from ECOWAS and EU for technical partner expertise who provided us two international consultants, in collaboration with a national consultant to draft the instrument that is before you. We had to hold further consultations with the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Advisor to the Office of the President, to ensure that the law and the proposals we are making are consistent with other national laws. Upon the approval of the Minister of Justice and the Legal Advisor to the President, we were privileged to have the president endorse the proposal, and it has since been transmitted to the national legislature.”

Senate Grilling

Addressing a senator’s concern about whether the Commission expanding its mandate from small to all conventional arms would entail structural adjustments, Commissioner Grigsby said the creation of a new Commission and scrapping the old one cuts down spending, citing the example of Zambia. He said, forming a new entity would require 20-25% structural adjustments, instead of maintaining two entities which would require 100% structural adjustments.

For example, he rationalized that including the AFL within the new mandate would require seconding experts from the Commission to work along with the AFL to regulate, monitor and supervise issues relating to arms control within the AFL. With a staff structure of 83, the Commission would then require 7 additional staff to cover this mandate; compared to having a new Commission which would require 30-40 additional staff.

Explaining further to the senators on the reasons why the issue of tenured position was addressed in the amended Act, Commissioner Grigsby indicated that it was not done to exclusively benefit his administration but all other Commissioners that will follow after him.

Citing as a clear example of how the executive could disregard the authority of the Commission once its head is not tenured and therefore works at the whims and caprices of any president, the LiNSAC boss disclosed how in 2016 the previous government imported firearms in gross disrespect to the ECOWAS Convention.

“I also had situations where I had the Ministry of Justice to ensure some people close to the Office of the President turn over their firearms within 72 hours or they will be prosecuted. The current law doesn’t allow for non-security personnel to possess firearms. But if they do, you need the Commission to tell them, return the firearm or be arrested,” Grigsby stated, averring that a tenured Commissioner would execute his or her mandate without fear or favor.

With regards to the Firearms and Ammunition Act (FACA), Commission Grigsby said the act is not self-regulatory. Unlike the act that creates the Arms Commission, the FACA basically reflects on two institutions – the Commission and the LNP.

“When Liberia signed the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms, Liberia made the decision to domesticate the Commission by the enactment of his law, which essentially deals with issues relating to small arms, light weapons. But the ECOWAS Convention became insufficient by the introduction of the UN Global Arms Trade Treaty which requires state parties to enact laws that regulate trade, transfer, transshipment of conventional arms.

“Currently, we’ve worked with ECOWAS as a national expert to develop a model law for the amendment of all laws on arms control in West Africa, to incorporate provisions of the Arms Trade Treaty. The amendment before you is intended to allow Liberia to fully domesticate the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. We have included in this proposal several key components including the National Control List. We also included the Technical Review Board because the trade of arms will require licensing, exportation and transportation of arms.

According to Atty. Grigsby, the National Control List includes a listing of all heavy and large caliber artillery that will fall under the inspection of the Commission.

“With the domestication of the Arms Trade Treaty, by the enactment of this proposal, all conventional arms in the possession of our army will be regulated and controlled by authority of the Commission,” the NaSAC boss.

“On page 12, we are proposing a Technical Review Board. The previous FACA empowered the Commission to license people in collaboration with the LNP. It is does not require the Commission to create a Board for review. But the entity makes it an obligation to have the membership committee of the review board to address the concerns of licensing on trade. So, we’ve proposed the membership of the Review Board to include a fair representation of the Liberian society, mainly civilians,” Grigsby stated.

Who should bear firearms in Liberia?

One of the critical areas of discussion centered around the right to bear firearms, a position that was highly articulated by Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon who rationalized his need to bear arms as constitutional, moreover, given his role as a critical voice against government excesses.

However, Atty. Grigsby professionally reasoned and reiterated that the 1986 Constitution omitted that provision of the 1947 Constitution, and as such, the Commission supports prohibition of arms to the civil population, especially given the country’s past tumultuous history of armed conflict.

“We maintain as a policy direction that we are happy that since Liberia exited the war years, we have a big success story that there has not been a relapse to war. Though there have been minor exchanges of firearms in parts of the country, there have been no major incidents. We want to attribute this to the restriction on the possession of firearms. We still don’t want to create gun problems. We are insistent on maintaining the restriction.

On the possession of firearms, we maintain that those in security should continue to possess firearms. There should be rigorous SOPs and policies of those units to guide the possession of arms. Hunters should benefit from the exemption because it’s a means of livelihood for them,” Grigsby noted.

Monitoring, control and effective regulation

The LiNSAC boss agreed that under the current arms law only security people and hunters should have firearms, which has been the practice for the last 20 years.

“But sadly, people with state authority have provided firearms to people who are not active in the security units. Because the arms are registered in the security unit, we cannot go to the homes of individuals and inspect them,” he said, noting this as a serious gap in monitoring, control and regulation which the amendment of the two acts should address.

Added benefits

According to Attorney Grigsby, when the two acts are amended, Liberia stands to benefit, naming game hunting as one area that could generate revenue for the country. Acknowledging that game hunting is currently practiced in Liberia, it is not yielding the required economic benefit because it is not monitored.

“There have been no arrests of people involved in game hunting. This makes the Commission look like toothless bulldogs. Game hunting should be brought under the control of the Commission,” he said.

With the FACA proposal, the Commissioner said the creation of recreational facilities in the form of shooting ranges is also highly considered. “This also brings in added revenue to the country and helps to track firearms,” he said.

He noted that there are currently 200,000 registered hunters in 15 counties.

The senate hearing concluded with River Gee Senator Conmany Wesseh applauding the work of Atty. Grigsby and his team for ably informing the senate committee about why the two acts need to be amended.

“What you’ve done for our committee is extraordinary. We thank you and your experts who presented here today. We are edified by what we’ve seen and heard. You will hear from us shortly,” Senator Wesseh stated, to rapturous applause from his colleagues.

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