Fri | Dec 6, 2019

Editorial | Sensible US gun laws good for ties with Jamaica

Published:Monday | August 12, 2019 | 12:22 AM
Gladstone Taylor/Multimedia Photo Editor Rana Saoud, an agent of Homeland Security Investigations, handles a Kel-Tec high-powered assault rifle, one of more than a hundred firearms seized in Miami in 2017 and which were destined for Kingston.

If Horace Chang is right, upwards of 2,400 illegal guns will enter Jamaica this year. And based on the trend of recent years of law-enforcement officials seizing around 700 guns annually, only around 29 per cent of the inflow will be taken off the streets. Put another way, the replacement of illegal guns happens at nearly two and a half times the rate of their removal.

Jamaicans, of course, have always known of our problem with illegal guns. But Dr Chang, the national security minister, forced the country to frontally face the shocking reality of the numbers during his recent parliamentary statement about the seizure of nearly 2,000 kilos of cocaine off Jamaica’s southeast coast, which he linked to people who also import guns “by the hundreds”.

“So even when you get (seize) a hundred, we are not going anywhere,” he said.

The flow of illegal guns to Jamaica is not an intellectually abstract issue. They cause mayhem. Indeed, over the last decade, more than 13,000 people have been murdered in Jamaica, for an annual average of 1,300, or an average homicide rate of 48 per 100,000, which is among the world’s worst.

Nearly 11,800, or 90 per cent, of the murders committed in Jamaica from 2009 to 2018 were with the use of guns. That translates to close to 1,200 gun murders a year. The broad statistics are unlikely to change much in 2019.

Jamaica, however, manufactures neither the guns nor bullets used in these murders. Few of those that are seized by law-enforcement officials are the crude home-made type. They are usually sophisticated weapons manufactured in technologically advanced factories, which, mostly, are in the United States, no matter the immediate country from which they came.

This brings us to the responsibility borne by the United States for the annual bloodletting in Jamaica, and the obligation which we place on Donald Tapia, who will soon be Washington’s new man in Kingston, to campaign for something to be done about it. His timing may be propitious.

Mr Tapia, 81, from the state of Arizona, we assume, is Hispanic. At least, he used to run the state’s largest Hispanic-owned business. At the time of his nomination, he talked about focusing on US-supported energy projects for Jamaica.

Early opportunity

Given Donald Trump’s vulgar nativism and racist slurs against people of colour, and countries with populations who look like the vast majority of citizens of Jamaica, this newspaper has suggested that Mr Tapia, a political appointee to his diplomatic post, deserves, as Mr Trump’s envoy, only a polite welcome from Jamaicans until he proves that he deserves something warmer. He, in this regard, has an early opportunity at vindication.

If Mr Tapia intends to earn the pleasure of Jamaicans, he will lend his voice volubly for America to do more to control the unregulated/illegal outflow of guns from the United States to countries like Jamaica, where they are used to kill large numbers of people. Specifically, he must not only engage the State Department on the matter, but also lobby Republican members of Congress and the Senate, to whom he is likely to have contributed, in support of gun control, to which many are resistant.

The recent killing of 31 people, mostly Latinos, in the cities of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, by, at least in one case, a white supremacist has refocused attention in the United States on sensible measures for gun control, including serious background checks and cooling-off periods before citizens are allowed to buy guns on the basis of a constitutional right to bear arms. There are also calls for a ban on ownership of high-powered assault weapons by civilians.

This easy access to guns by America’s citizens is one avenue through which some of their weapons find their way to Jamaica. A more responsible approach to gun sale and purchase in the United States, therefore, will benefit Jamaica. If Mr Tapia is serious about helping Jamaica, he must join the campaign, of which President Trump claims, for now, to be in favour.