Sun | Jul 22, 2018

Editorial: Obama's gun-control plan doesn't go far enough

Published:Thursday | January 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Barack Obama's announcement of new measures to curb gun violence in the United States was borne of exasperation with America's obsession with arms that has helped cement it as the most dangerous developed country in the world.

The ultimate trigger behind his executive decision, which was his fallback after seven years of spurned appeals to the GOP, has been the wave of mass shootings that have flooded the streets of America with blood.

The Columbine school bloodbath of nearly two decades ago, which many thought would have transformed the cavalier attitude to firearm possession and use, has faded in memory, giving rise to a crescendo of gunfire from assault rifles and modified handguns across the heartland.

Lobbyists from the National Rifle Association (NRA) have held a gun to the head of the Republicans, whose loss of support among maniacal hoarders of armoury might further imperil the party's ambitions of retaking the White House. That narrative centres on the propaganda of an existential threat, with ideological zealots weaving constitutional contortions that the Obama administration is trying to erode Americans' right to bear arms.

But that illogic appears grounded in the NRA and its allies making super profits at the expense of the security of the state. Talk of background checks to make it more difficult for mentally ill persons, who have been responsible for many of the multiple-murder cases, has been repeatedly resisted by a mob of trigger-happy cheerleaders. What makes their rhetoric so dangerous is that the pretext for private gun ownership has been used to validate possession of rapid-fire assault rifles, which cannot be justified as bona fide necessities for the defence of one's person in a civilian setting. Radicalised or mentally ill persons have gained easy access to such weapons, unleashing mass suffering in densely crowded settings like the Sandy Hook school massacre and the cinema shoot-up in Aurora, Colorado.

President Obama's reform bid, though, while clarifying the need for background checks and bolstering FBI and gun-control workforces and databases, leaves too many loopholes through which gun merchants can escape the cross hairs of the legislation. It calls for greater sanctions on licensed dealers, but vendors at gun shows or those conducting transactions via websites may still weasel their way out of accountability on the claim that they are hobbyists, a growing band of death merchants who sell high-powered weapons at astonishing rates. Since President Obama signalled recently that he was going to get tough on gun-purchase requirements, sales have gone through the roof. Just last month, approximately 1.5 million guns were sold.




On the domestic front, we believe that the optimism of shadow opposition spokesman on national security, Derrick Smith, that the new measures will staunch the flow of illegal guns to Jamaica, is misplaced. Reliable estimates indicate that the number of legal guns in the United States exceeds the population, with some assessments putting the number as high as 350 million, with countless million more illicit firearms on the streets.

Mr Obama's executive decision might succeed, eventually, in reducing the number of guns in the hands of mentally unstable people, but it skirts the issue of the US government's complicity in deadly guns leaving its ports and fuelling a crime wave here. Jamaica continues to endure a high murder rate, now at 44 per 100,000, with the body count climbing from 1,005 in 2014 to nearly 1,200, constituting a rise of 20 per cent. That's why we are disappointed that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller did not get any concrete, traceable commitment from Mr Obama, during his spring visit in 2015, that his government would have ramped up security at their ports. Jamaica does not manufacture guns, and police intelligence has consistently pointed to the US as the main source of illegal weapons that have washed on to our shores.

The US government ought to recognise that its porous borders and lax security regime have been allies in the internationalisation of American crime, with crippling consequences to Jamaica and other Third World countries that do not have the fiscal capacity or strong governance infrastructure to stem the tide. President Obama would do well to burnish his legacy by not only cutting gun violence in the US, but by being a catalyst for change in the security of the Caribbean and Latin America. There's no use sprucing up your frontage while your backyard lies in ruin.