Thu | Nov 23, 2017

Orville Taylor | The iceberg below the gun find

Published:Sunday | October 22, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Not every crime statistic is meaningful in its own right. So, for example, when two weeks ago the commentators were shrieking and accusing the devil of all sorts of crimes, because the reports of abuse against children had increased, I sucked my teeth. It is not that child abuse is unimportant to me. Nothing could be 'father' from the truth. However, a rise in the number of recorded cases of child abuse could be nothing more than an increase in vigilance and social responsibility. Simply put, more people are willing to be snitches and speak up.

However, when police find and confiscate firearms and ammunition, that is imposing and irrefutable evidence. Whoever might have assisted them in uncovering the cache of 19 assorted firearms and still-uncounted hundreds of rounds of ammunition at our ports did the country proud. Every gun prevented from entering into the hands of criminal elements or being removed from them is a big deal. Many of the firearms, which the police seize during operations, feature in multiple homicides and shootings, not to mention robberies and other major crimes. Guns are responsible for close to 70 per cent of all homicides in Jamaica.

Cynics might speak of the find being the tip of the iceberg, and it represents only a small fraction of the guns that are out there. This might be true, but even one gun taken out of the reach of the underworld is an important statistic. One 9mm pistol can kill 12 people or more with one magazine. My back is too old for somersaults, and there is no part of the Jamaican word 'puppalick' that I like. And certainly, I will not be literally patting the police officers on their backs. However, when a constabulary, working under adverse conditions and with external and internal reasons to 'drop arms', still makes a major bust, we must applaud.

 

'GET THE GUNS'

 

Moreover, since the Get the Guns campaign was launched by then Commissioner Carl Williams and his senior team in September 2015, more than 1,500 guns have been recovered. Indeed, compared to last year, the cops have actually done 35 per cent better. From 499 illegal weapons in 2016, Officers Dibble have raked in 275 more for a total of 674 this year and counting. When they finish tallying the bonanza of last week, then the 15,667 rounds of ammo would doubtless have increased, having already more than doubled the 2016 figures of 7,238 rounds.

We do not make guns in Jamaica, with the exception of the occasional 'one-pop' home-made shotgun, and I would bet a large sum of money that the majority of guns that are used in the commission of crimes in Jamaica are either made in or imported from the United States (US). Thus, if the argument is that the police only tip the iceberg, which using the analogy from Archimedes' formula of 90 per cent being below the surface, the number of guns and rounds coming in from 'farrin' should be frightening.

America-originated guns kill far too many persons annually, and not just the more than 1,200 per year we have averaged over the past decade. A big part of the war on terror, domestically here in Jamaica and internationally within and outside of the US, has to be gun control.

For the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun-rights groups in America, who spent more than US$5 million on the Trump campaign, more regulation of the ownership and sale of firearms is a four-letter word. Chris Cox, chief lobbyist of the NRA, said, after the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, "In the face of threats against their constitutional freedoms, NRA members and Second Amendment supporters rallied to elect a pro-gun president."

For his part, and to his credit, President Trump has given his nominal commitment that, "Terrorists should not be able to buy guns, legally or illegally. Period." Yet, as with politicians of all colours and races, there is often a wide gap between speech and action and an even larger one between ideas/beliefs and reality.

The firearm industry in the US is worth an estimated $51 billion and employs more than 300,000 Americans. It is big money.

Still, the less-popular statistics are that between 2000 and 2015, it was the weapon of choice in 67 per cent of almost 200,000 homicides by civilians, and 84 per cent of the more than 6,000 (under-)reported killings by law-enforcement officers. Although it accounted for a small fraction, 1.3 per cent of deaths overall, 60 per cent of all Americans who committed suicide used a gun. At 13.26 per 100,000, America has the 41st highest suicide rate in the world. Jamaica's is one of the lowest at 1.4 per 100,000. We love life; we just don't value those of others.

More than 300,000 Americans shot themselves to death. This is almost 10 per cent of the stable population of the country. Indeed, the just under 534,000 gun deaths and shootings during the period is estimated to have cost more than US$200 billion to the American economy, around 1.4 per cent of US gross domestic product in 2012. In short, it might have benefited a small number of owners, but it is costing the country and the world dearly.

Importantly, apart from the 9/11 attacks where the weapon of choice was aeroplanes, domestic terrorists, usually misnamed madmen or lone wolves have been the major protagonists in an unrecognised war on democracy. The Las Vegas murderer, who coldly killed 59 people and injured another 500, and Dylann Roof, who, with ice in his veins, calmly snuffed out the lives of nine worshippers in the AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, are themselves only the tip of the international iceberg.

Digging deeper, a sad case of irony is that American weapons do find their way into the hands of terrorists, including ISIS and Boko Haram. According to NBC, there is a thriving Central/West African arms black market. Guns distributed by the American government during the Cold War in the period up to 1990, and now by 'unregulated' Americans, might have featured in the killing of the patriotic troops in Niger.

We all lose when the guns are loose.

- 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.