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Editorial: America's role in Jamaica's murders

Published:Saturday | July 18, 2015 | 7:00 AM

Policewoman Crystal Thomas died Tuesday while trying to live her organisation's motto, 'To Serve, Protect and Reassure', on a fateful bus ride in Kingston while she and others were heading home.

Constable Thomas is now part of the damning statistics of more than 600 Jamaicans murdered this year by thugs who have easy access to illegal weapons and ammunition. The gun is the weapon of choice for local criminals and is identified as an outgrowth of the illegal drug trade.

The data show that much of the firepower for Jamaica's violence comes from the United States. More than 80 per cent of the illegal guns that have been wreaking havoc in this country are manufactured in America, where lax gun laws facilitate purchase at flea markets, pawn shops, gun shows and, increasingly, via the Internet.

Just like the criminals who handled it, a gun has a history. A forensic officer can effectively map the movement and activity of each gun once the serial number is recoverable. When the serial numbers of confiscated weapons are fed to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), invariably, they are traced to American manufacturers.

Among those condemning the young constable's murder is US ambassador to Jamaica, Luis Moreno, as he pledged in a statement to "stand with the Government of Jamaica against lawless criminals".

We presume the ambassador is expressing solidarity with law-abiding citizens recognising that that has become worn by the orgy of violence that Jamaica has experienced for so many decades. He has seen close up the deleterious effects of illegal weapons on a small country state.

No reduction in flow of guns

CARICOM leaders have been speaking out about the negative effects of gun violence on countries of the Caribbean rim. However, the underfunded ATF has not reaped great success in its efforts to help the region in stemming the flow of drugs partly because American firearm owners, manufacturers, dealers and the Constitution are all tightly bound up together.

Guns are for killing people, and there are an estimated 270 million guns on American streets. In many states, one may buy a gun legally without ever showing any kind of identification. And in many cases, these guns find their way to the region, whether in food barrels, motor vehicles or in other goods.

Someone is profiting handsomely by peddling these instruments of death to Jamaican criminals. The big question is whether US gun manufacturers ought to share some of the responsibility for the mayhem being created in Jamaica by gunmen.

Does the United States government think it has a responsibility to help to staunch the flow of illegal weapons and ammunition to Jamaica?

It would be naive to think that if the trade in illegal arms between the US and Jamaica were to be diminished, it would put an end to violence in Jamaica. Whether we like it or not, violence is a by-product of our socio-economic background. In any event, trade in contraband will continue as part of the global system.

Ambassador Moreno must appreciate that the exchange of information among countries is essential to help combat the illegal arms. He should know, too, that the US is one of only three countries that has not ratified the Inter-American Convention Against Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials (CIFTA), which seeks to criminalise illegal transfers of arms and encourages the exchange of information among participating signatories. Perhaps he could make a giant contribution to this effort by urging the Obama administration to ratify the convention as a first step towards cooperation in this challenging issue.