Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Editorial | Don't only shoot the breeze on illegal guns

Published:Saturday | April 29, 2017 | 4:00 AM

The gun is at the centre of Jamaica's runaway crime problem. The rate of murder by the gun in Jamaica each year easily outpaces that experienced in many countries with larger populations than ours.

Expressed in stark terms, in 366 days in 2016, more than 1,000 Jamaicans were murdered by the gun. This was also true for 2015 and 2014, and 2017 appears on target to pass the 1,000 mark.

Added to that, there are police killings and suicides with the gun. Gun casualties have become a daily staple of the news. And once again, guns are back in the news. This time, it is the handling of legal guns that has hit the headlines.

A stern warning has come from National Security Minister Robert Montague telling licensed firearm holders that they will lose their licences for reckless use of their weapons.

We can understand the minister's concern guarding against the improper discharge of weapons and maybe them getting into the wrong hands. It is, however, important that the minister's warning moves the conversation towards a deeper analysis of the gun culture of what appears to be a trigger-happy population. Even young athletes celebrate their victories by mimicking the trigger finger and persons out to have a good night on the town fire off a few rounds to indicate that they are happy in what is acknowledged nationally as the gun salute so popular at concerts and dances.

There are about 40,000 licensed firearm holders in Jamaica. They include owners who indulge in sporting activities, but the vast majority are presumably seeking to protect life and property. And yes, there are indications that the reckless use of their weapons has resulted in tragic incidents from time to time.

 

STRICT LAWS

 

Gun ownership is regulated by the Firearms Licensing Authority and there is every indication that Jamaica's love affair with the gun has rendered efforts at control very difficult. There are, in fact, strict laws covering the possession, ownership, storage and use of firearms, and licences are issued based on competency tests.

Various incidents have highlighted the improper handling of weapons, including inappropriate storage that carelessly allows access to children, sometimes with fatal results. The police themselves have been involved in controversial shootings that have called their very training into question. And there have been incidents where high-profile owners have lost their guns in unusual circumstances.

The truth is that the intractable problem of crime and violence is not created so much by licensed gun owners but by those who illegally gain access to weapons and ammunition with the sole intention to plunder and murder.

There may very well be a need to regularly review the issuance of gun licences to ensure the original competency of owners is still there and to determine their mental status.

However, we feel the focus should be on the smuggling of guns and ammunition because we believe success in such efforts will have the greatest impact on crime in the country and, ultimately, save lives.

Smuggling guns and ammunition must be one of the easiest and most lucrative underground activities. Occasional police finds of guns and ammunition have not led to the capture and prosecution of major masterminds behind this nefarious activity.

Clearly, more investigative and prosecutorial muscle needs to be put into efforts to dent the flow of these weapons, most of which have been traced to the United States of America.

From a public-safety perspective, we feel the conversation on guns must be placed squarely on the table.