Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Orville Taylor | Careless guns, wrong hands

Published:Sunday | November 6, 2016 | 11:00 AM

You may think that this is a recanting of my position last week regarding the acquittal of American citizen Patrick Powell of the murder of Khajeel Mais or any other comment I have made about the homicide and guns in this country.

After all, here we are consumed with 'the murder of the century' and how wicked the Jamaican justice system is, when we should be trembling in our shoes and taking anti-diarrhoeal medication given that Hillary Clinton only has a single-digit lead over Donald Trump.

This is Jamaica, the land of wood, guns and water, where people kill poor people every day and 'nutn no come outa it'. When it is not police, with their legal guns, it is criminals with untraceable firearms that disappear like a stone ball in a crackhead's pipe.

True, the recent revelations by our Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) are as embarrassing as trousers with the 'L' stitch in the seat, which was ripped out in public and we all feel a collective shame that a revolver, owned by the former accused since 1990, and approved by a senior police officer, is nowhere to be found.

More damning is that somewhere in the records of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), there was a second licence issued to Powell, for another firearm already owned by a female police officer, with lots of Ps in her names. With so many Ps in the wrong place, it's no wonder the case smells like a ram goat, because this double-barrelled registration is in clear breach of our Firearms Act.

By the way, Patrick is neither related to Patricia nor Assistant Commissioner Ealan, and there is no evidence of him being connected to the sub-10 club.

These Powell-related faux pas show why the FLA was indispensable and was a wonderful idea, long overdue when it was established in 2006, three years after Powell obtained the permit for his 9mm Glock, which has similar specifications as the weapon that killed Mais.

Moreover, one can choose between the words 'incompetence' and 'dereliction' within the JCF, although there are those who suggest that there was corruption. The fact is, in a partially ad hoc system where senior cops routinely use their untrammelled discretion to issue gun licences, firearms will invariably find their way into the wrong hands. And when this occurs, homicides will increase and who get killed are young black men. Although we have no record in the FLA's database of the specific Glock that killed Mais, he is not an exception to the rule; he is, in fact, the norm.

Inasmuch as there has been a change in the trend in the last year, around 70 per cent of murders in Jamaica during the period 1990 to 2015 have been by guns. And the magical 70 also refers to the percentage of shooters as well as victims. And despite the plethora of bleaching and gender-bending 'spangie' pants they wear, they are typically originally well-melanised male youth of noticeably African descent.

Now, I cannot enumerate the number of illegal firearms given to youth, their fathers, uncles and grandfathers by Jamaican politicians since the late 1960s, but a former senior police sub-officer estimated that in 2002, there were more than 65,000 legal firearms in Jamaica.

With the rate of annual increase, this figure must have passed 100,000 by now, and the FLA perhaps still has not completed its slow and back-breaking process of getting the unique signatures of every gun. There are simply too many guns in Jamaica in the wrong hands, and this includes 'legal' crooks.

In my humble opinion, given the conversations I have had with police and military ballistics experts and my training in behavioural sciences, a good half of legal gun owners in Jamaica shouldn't even own a water pistol.

 

TRACING WEAPONS

 

Thankfully, the FLA will eventually be able to trace every spent shell and bullet to its gun of origin, and with the cooperation of the Americans, we should be able to even backtrack the illegal guns in Jamaica to the vendors in the USA whose first- or second-hand sellers might have knowingly sold guns to criminals to export to Jamaica.

Nonetheless, this kind of oversight, which is what President Barack Obama and Clinton have been advocating, is what Trump and the Republicans have dishonestly called taking away the First Amendment right to bear arms.

And here's the Trump card. Gun homicides in the USA have been trending down since the 1990s, from around 15 per 100,000 to around 11. Interestingly, despite the frequency of mass shootings such as in Charleston by Dylan Roof, they account for less than two per cent of shooting deaths. So, white wackos do not kill a lot of people. In fact, 77 per cent of the gun deaths of whites have been suicides.

However, black youth comprise six per cent of America's population. Yet they account for 50 per cent of murders. At least 80 per cent of gun killings of blacks are murders. More than 70 per cent of black murder suspects are youth and 78 per cent of victims are youth as well.

And if you think the JCF and FLA are lax, a large number of the guns which kill America's black youth are not in a proper database and are not easily traced. Worse, less than 10 per cent of guns 'lost' by Americans are ever recovered.

Careless gun control or lack of it leads to the death of scores of black men in both countries. I will bet my last bit of skin colour that there is a large cadre of social scientists, statisticians and law-enforcement officials in that country who know this like the back of their fists, and Trump and his backers don't have to grope too hard to find these data, while pusillanimous congressmen and women refuse to finger the real source.

So, it's global; black lives don't matter.

• Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in 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.