Sun | Dec 8, 2019

Orville Taylor | Leaking guns is not just us

Published:Sunday | November 17, 2019 | 12:17 AM

I don’t know how much Spanish the Hispanic American Ambassador speaks, but in Jamaica his name Tapia means ‘stop here’ or ‘hold on’. Of course, in Spanish, it means ‘a wall’ but his role is that of a bridge.

His is an intriguing story of how poor minorities can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Reading his biography, many of us who can identify with poverty, struggle, and personal ambition with the desire to uplift oneself and one’s family, can’t help but admire him.

Ambassador Donald Ray Tapia embodies the American dream. Now a ‘gazillionaire’, he was born in a one-bedroom house in Detroit and through sheer focus and dedication, went through the military, insurance, business, and commerce, and became an extremely wealthy man who rubbed shoulders with presidents.

A philanthropist who keeps giving like the Energizer Bunny, only the biggest of detractors would think that he is unconcerned about the lives of ordinary citizens in the place where he resides. After all, in Tapia’s own home city of Detroit in Michigan, where the 2018 homicide rate of 39 per 100,000 is close to that of Kingston with 54 per 100,000, there are too many lives lost through intentional homicide.

Just over two months after landing on the blessed Jamrock, Tapia, on the heels of an American Admiral, who warned us about our closeness with China, slapped us on the wrist about our gun homicide rates. He lives here now, and in his own words, “when I see 1,600 murders a year, that’s five a day, no matter how you look at it. People get killed uselessly by guns ... . It is something that weighs on my mind.”

Nothing new, Ambassador

There is nothing at all wrong with the ambassador’s statement. But there is nothing new that he is telling us, either. Our homicide rate needs lots of work and much of it is pure social science; not security. Jamaica has to change its culture of devaluation of life and reduce its propensity to violence. True, we have aggressiveness written into our rebellious and world-class sprinting DNA. However, we have to prevent it from turning into the ‘evil mind’, the intention to carry out the murderous action; the very same mens rea, which it took my attorney friend a month to get it that I understood the concept.

Doubtless, it is not just about guns. For example, when in 2014 Jamaica saw a reduction in homicide to the two-decade low of 1,005, it was followed by a rise in non-gun attacks, many of which were domestic, in 2015. Nevertheless, the availability of a firearm makes the killing of an ‘adversary’ much easier. After all, it is difficult for a machete wielder to chop you across a gully, through a board wall, a grille or your car door. Therefore, the ambassador is spot on.

Today, more than 80 per cent of all homicides are committed with firearms. Reduce the number of guns available to the young would-be killers and you will see homicides fall faster than the Jamaican dollar. It is that simple.

Yet, perhaps unwittingly, he has opened a discussion which he might not want at this time, but one that is indispensable. More than 60 per cent of the guns used in Jamaica originate from the USA. Now, inasmuch as he has made an important disclaimer about them reaching here from circuitous routes, it does not absolve the American administration of its primary but inconvenient responsibility.

True, some “don’t come directly from the US” but less than one per cent of the approximately 357,000 containers from Port Miami in 2018 were fully examined, only 10 per cent X-rayed. This simply means that there was not enough scrutiny. Our American friends have the capability of helping us to improve the surveillance. I am certain that they do not want to see the Chinese assisting in inspecting and tracking American shipments, which I believe they are very capable of doing.

It is a simple no-brainer. If guns are easily obtained in the USA, where a minority consider their Second Amendment right to bear arms as being without restriction and corresponding obligations; then they will end up in the wrong hands.

An hour’s drive from the Houses of Congress in Washington, DC, the city of Baltimore, with 51 per 100,000, has the second-highest homicide rate in the country; statistically the same as Kingston.

ALL LIVES MATTER

Guns kill a lot of Americans inside the USA. Americans are 25 times more likely to die by the gun than other nations of similar socio-economic profiles. Between 1999 and 2017, gun-related deaths increased relatively steadily from around 28,000 to more than 38,000. While homicides dipped slightly in 2018, suicides have continued to trend up. More than 50 per cent of all American suicides are carried out with the gun. Suicide is a big problem, with more than 24,000 in 2018 compared to around 17,000 in 1999.

Looking on the ‘dark’ side of the data, one needs little reminder that internationally and between both Jamaica and the USA, black youth are over-represented as both victims and perpetrators. Almost all Jamaican killers and victims are black. In the USA, black people are 10 times more likely to be victims of gun crimes and murders in particular.

It is to be noted that many American firearms do find themselves in the hands of murderous anti-American terrorists, who engage American servicemen and women in their patriotic war on terror. Around 18 per cent of American troops is black. I do not know what the percentage is right now, but if even one American gun kills even one American, fighting for global democracy; then that’s one too many and it’s sheer irony.

As I said in my last column, protecting our border is not only a Jamaican problem. It is an American imperative as well. America needs to take the bold political move and pay closer attention to gun ownership and trade in America.

American scientific polls, including ones from Quinnipiac University and CNN, show that 70 per cent of potential American electors want stricter gun control laws.

I stand with the ambassador and the American people; because all lives matter.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.