Legislation calls for psychological testing for gun owners

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Potential gun owners in the Virgin Islands may soon have to undergo psychological testing if a bill expected to go before the V.I. Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety advances and is signed into law. Two other bills expected today are efforts to clarify language in the V.I. Code concerning synthetic marijuana and assault rifles, according to the bills' sponsor, Sen. Sammuel Sanes.

The committee initially was set to review them in April, but they were continued to today's meeting on St. Croix.

While testimony was not given regarding the bill concerning firearm licenses in April, the bill received the support of the V.I. Attorney General's Office, according to prepared testimony submitted to the committee prior to the postponement of the bill's discussion.

The bill would amend Title 23, Chapter 5 of the V.I. Code.

"Clearly, this new requirement is a good thing. However, we recommend that the bill should indicate that the evaluation be made by a licensed psychologist or licensed psychiatrist," according to the prepared testimony.

The proposed amendment also received the support of Denese Marshall, a local, licensed clinical psychologist.

"In recent months, we have witnessed several incidents in the United States that have involved mentally unstable individuals who have gained access to high power weapons that eventually injured and killed many innocent people, including children," Marshall wrote in her April letter to the committee.

Attorney Michael Sheesley, also the owner of Tactical Arms, a federal firearms license-holder in the territory, opposed the bill.

Sheesley argued in his submitted testimony that the proposed amendment would be redundant because the V.I. Code already prohibits people who have been determined to be mentally defective, or who have been committed to a mental institution, from possessing firearms.

Additionally, the application for a firearm already requires applicants to provide a police record, he said in his submitted testimony. He also suggested that most of the people who commit crimes in the territory are not licensed to carry firearms, so the bill would be irrelevant to the issue at hand.

The bill also includes more stringent requirements for licensed carriers' storage of firearms.

The other bill addressing firearms is a bill that would revise the terminology regarding "machine guns," according to Sanes.

Currently, the code prohibits the use of machine guns in Title 14, Chapter 113, which prohibits the unlicensed possession of an assault rifle.

"Some of the language we have in the V.I. Code is kind of antiquated," Sanes said.

Sanes is proposing that the Senate change the code's use of the word "machine gun" to assault rifle in order to cover a larger scope of weapons, he said.

The other bill that Sanes is proposing is an act amending Act 7472, which criminalizes the use of synthetic marijuana - a chemically produced drug that mimics the effects of marijuana, Sanes said.

The revision to the act would make it clear that simply adding or taking out certain chemicals will not make the production of synthetic marijuana legal, Sanes said.

"In other words, whatever you use, it's illegal," he said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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