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Back to Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy

Summary

Singapore has one of the toughest gun control laws in the world.  According to the Arms Offences Act, unlawful possession or carrying of firearms is punishable with imprisonment and caning.  Using or attempting to use arms when committing a scheduled offense is punishable with death. The death penalty may also apply to the offender’s accomplices present at the scene of the offense. 

Any person proved to be in unlawful possession of more than two firearms will be presumed to be trafficking in arms until the contrary is proved.  Trafficking in arms is punishable with either death or imprisonment for life and with caning.

Possessing any firearms or importing, exporting, manufacturing, repairing, or selling them, requires a license.  Licensing officers have the authority to refuse to issue a license, or to suspend or cancel a license without giving any reason.

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Introduction

Singapore has one of the toughest firearms control laws in the world, according to its former Minister for Law, Professor S. Jayakumar.[1] Jayakumar attributes the fact that Singapore has very few firearm offenses in a time when “we see rampant firearm offences as well as smuggling and trafficking in weapons in the region and elsewhere in the world” to the strict gun control laws, including a “mandatory death penalty for anyone who discharges a firearm in the course of committing a serious offence, even if no one is injured or killed.”[2]

Singapore’s primary statutes regulating firearms are the Arms Offences Act,[3] which relates to the unlawful possession of arms and ammunition and the carrying and using of arms, and the Arms and Explosives Act,[4] which regulates the manufacture, use, sale, storage, transport, importation, exportation and possession of arms, explosives and explosive precursors, and gives effect to the Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection. 

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Arms Offences Act

The Arms Offences Act, which was first enacted in 1973, states that the act shall have effect without prejudice to the provisions of the Arms and Explosives Act, or any other written law in force in Singapore relating to the unlawful possession of arms or ammunition.[5]

           Definition of Arms

An “arm” is defined by the Arms Offences Act to mean “any firearm, air-gun, air-pistol, automatic gun, automatic pistol and any other kind of gun or pistol from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged or noxious liquid, flame or fumes can be emitted, and any component part thereof and includes any bomb or grenade and any component part thereof.”[6]

           Unlawful Possession of Arms and Ammunition

According to the Arms Offences Act, any person who is in unlawful possession of any arm or ammunition shall be guilty of an offense and shall on conviction be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than ten years, and shall also be punished with caning with not less than six strokes.[7]

Any person who unlawfully carries any arm shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of five to fourteen years and with caning with not less than six strokes.[8]

Aggravated penalties apply if the offender of the above two provisions was previously convicted of a scheduled offense; such an offender is subject to imprisonment for a term of five to twenty years and caning with not less than six strokes.[9]

Committing any scheduled offense while armed is punishable with imprisonment for life and caning with not less than six strokes.[10]

           Using or Attempting to Use Arms

Subject to certain exceptions,[11] any person who uses or attempts to use any arm shall be guilty of an offense and shall on conviction be punished with death.[12] A person who uses or attempts to use arms is presumed to have intended to cause physical injury to a person or property until the contrary is proved.[13]

A person convicted of using or attempting to use any arm while committing or attempting to commit any scheduled offense shall be punished with death, regardless of whether he intended to cause physical injury to any person or property.[14] Moreover, each of his accomplices present at the scene of the offense who may reasonably be presumed to have known that that person was carrying the arm shall be punished with death, unless such accomplice can prove that he took all reasonable steps to prevent use of the arm.[15]

           Trafficking in Arms

Trafficking in arms is punishable with either death or imprisonment for life and with caning with not less than six strokes.[16] Any person proved to be in unlawful possession of more than two arms will be presumed to be trafficking in arms until the contrary is proved.[17] “Trafficking in arms” under the act means to import, manufacture or deal in arms in contravention of the provisions of the Arms and Explosives Act, or to lend, give, sell, hire or offer any arm to a person who is not licensed to possess such arm.[18]

           Exemptions

The provisions on unlawful possession of arms or ammunition under the Arms Offences Act do not apply to the following exempted persons:

(a)  a member of any visiting force lawfully present in Singapore or of the police force or of a volunteer force or local force constituted under any written law for the time being in force in Singapore, when the member is carrying any arm in, or in connection with, the performance of his duty;

(b)  any person who carries an arm as part of his official or ceremonial dress on any official or ceremonial occasion;

(c)  any person licensed or authorized to carry or possess an arm under or by virtue of any written law relating to arms for the time being in force in Singapore; or

(d)  a member of any organization or association specially authorized by the Minister by notification in the Gazette, when the member is carrying any arm in, or in connection with, the performance of his duty.[19]

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Arms and Explosives Act

The Arms and Explosives Act, originally enacted in 1913, stipulates licensing requirements for arms, explosives, and explosive precursors.  The Act also regulates related offenses, such as knowingly concealing firearms imported without a license, knowingly purchasing firearms from an unlicensed person, and offenses involving unmarked plastic explosives.[20]

           Definition of Arms

“Arms” is defined by the Arms and Explosive Act to include:

(a)  firearms, air-guns, air-pistols, stun guns, electronic dart guns, automatic guns, automatic pistols, guns or any other kind of gun from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged or noxious fumes or noxious substance can be emitted, and any component part of any such arms;

(b)  bayonets, swords, daggers, spears and spearheads; and

(c)  such weapon, accessory, or other article or thing, as the Minister may, by notification in the Gazette, specify to be arms for the purposes of this Act or any part thereof. [21]

The definition of “arms” in the Arms and Explosives Act differs from that in the Arms Offences Act in that it includes bayonets, swords, daggers, spears, spearheads and additional articles that the authorized minister may specify.

           Licensing Requirements for Firearms

In Singapore, any person who possesses, imports, exports, manufactures, or deals in firearms without a license shall be guilty of an offense.  The Police Licensing and Regulatory Department issues two types of licenses: long-term licenses valid for two years and short-term licenses valid for fourteen days.[22]

Under the Arms and Explosives Act, no person in Singapore may, without a license, have in his possession or under his control any firearms, or import, export, manufacture, or deal in them.[23] “Deal in” under the Act means repair, sell, keep, or expose for sale.[24] Exemptions from the operation of the Act include certain activities carried out by order of the government, members of military, and police in the course of their duty or employment, and the like.[25]

The Arms and Explosives Act allows the licensing officer to refuse to issue a license to an applicant if he determines that the applicant is not a fit and proper person to hold such a license or if issuing a license would be contrary to the public interest.[26]

Licenses issued under the Act are subject to conditions.  First, without any reason being given, the licensing officer may suspend or cancel a license.   Second, a license expires after such period as is prescribed.  Third, the license is generally not transferable.[27]

           Minister for Home Affairs to Prohibit Exportation by Notification

Under the Arms and Explosives Act, the Minister for Home Affairs may, by notification published in the Gazette, prohibit for a stated period the exportation of firearms from Singapore, either absolutely or to any specified country, territory, or place outside Singapore; permit their exportation or removal subject to such conditions, limitations, or restrictions as he considers necessary; or permit their removal from place to place within Singapore.[28]

            Penalties

Any person who has in his possession or under his control the proscribed firearms is liable on conviction to a fine and imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years.[29] Caning may also be imposed if the offender is proved to have possession or control of the arms, explosives, poisonous or noxious gas, or noxious substance for the purpose of committing an offense punishable under the Penal Code.[30] Importing, exporting, manufacturing, or dealing in the proscribed firearms without a license are also subject to a fine and to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years.[31] Knowingly concealing firearms that were imported unlawfully or without a license is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years and a fine.[32]

Prepared by Laney Zhang
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
February 2013

 

  1. S. Jayakumar, The Confluence of Law and Policy: The Singapore Experience, Address at the Millennium Law Conference, Singapore (April 10-12, 2000), cited in Chan Wing Cheong & Andrew Phang, The Development of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice in Singapore 13–14 (2001). [Back to Text]
  2. Id. [Back to Text]
  3. Arms Offences Act, Cap 14, Statutes of the Republic of Singapore  (rev. ed. 2008) (originally enacted as Act 61 of 1973), http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;ident=66818397-627b-4a3b-8e5a-77ed7dc882f0;page=0;query=CompId%3A66818397-627b-4a3b-8e5a-77ed7dc882f0;rec=0;resUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fstatutes.agc.gov.sg%2Faol%2Fbrowse%2FtitleResults.w3p%3Bletter%3DA%3Btype%3DactsAll#legis. [Back to Text]
  4. Arms and Explosives Act, Cap 13, Statutes of the Republic of Singapore (rev. ed. 2003) (originally enacted as Ordinance 9 of 1913), http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=Comp Id%3A6452e9c4-95f1-4a1f-a0d8-abe75f0c3c7b;rec=0;resUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fstatutes.agc.gov.sg%2Faol%2 \Fbrowse%2FtitleResults.w3p%3Bletter%3DA%3Btype%3DactsAll;whole=yes. [Back to Text]
  5. Arms Offences Act § 11. [Back to Text]
  6. Id. § 2. [Back to Text]
  7. Id. § 3(1). [Back to Text]
  8. Id. § 3(2). [Back to Text]
  9. Id. § 3(4). [Back to Text]
  10. Id. § 3(3). [Back to Text]
  11. The exceptions are those set forth at Penal Code, Cap 224, §§ 76-106, Statutes of the Republic of Singapore  (rev. ed. 2008) (“General Exceptions”), http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p; ident=3dd117ef-fda3-4694-9c59-01d19b65475c;page=0;query=DocId%3A%22025e7646-947b-462c-b557-60aa55dc7b42%22%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0;rec=0#P4IV_76- (other than the exception in section 95, which states: “Nothing is an offence by reason that it causes, or that it is intended to cause, or that it is known to be likely to cause, any harm, if that harm is so slight that no person of ordinary sense and temper would complain of such harm.”). [Back to Text]
  12. Arms Offences Act § 4(1). [Back to Text]
  13. Id. § 4(2). [Back to Text]
  14. Id. § 4A. [Back to Text]
  15. Id. § 5. [Back to Text]
  16. Id. § 6. [Back to Text]
  17. Id. § 6(2). [Back to Text]
  18. Id. § 2. [Back to Text]
  19. Id. § 10. [Back to Text]
  20. Arms and Explosives Act passim. [Back to Text]
  21. Id. § 2. [Back to Text]
  22. Singapore Police Force – Arms and Explosives, Singapore Customs, http://www.customs.gov.sg/ leftNav/trad/TradeNet/Singapore+Police+Force+-+Arms+and+Explosives.htm (last visited Jan. 15, 2013). [Back to Text]
  23. Arms and Explosives Act § 13. [Back to Text]
  24. Id.§ 2. [Back to Text]
  25. Id. § 3(1). [Back to Text]
  26. Id. § 21F. [Back to Text]
  27. Id. § 21G. [Back to Text]
  28. Id. § 9. [Back to Text]
  29. Id. § 13(3) & (4). [Back to Text]
  30. Id. § 13(5). [Back to Text]
  31. Id. § 13(2). [Back to Text]
  32. Id. § 22(1). [Back to Text]

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Last Updated: 02/28/2014