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Rising crime pulls trigger - More Jamaicans rushing to arm themselves

Published:Wednesday | December 30, 2015 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett

The country's escalating murder rate and a lack of faith in the security forces to keep citizens safe have been cited as two of the factors behind a 14 per cent jump in the number of Jamaicans issued with a firearm licence this year.

At the same time, anthropologist on social violence Dr Herbert Gayle, who made the assertion, is warning that more firearms in the hands of citizens could present a "major risk" for more violence.

Yesterday, the Firearms Licensing Authority (FLA) revealed that up to the end of last month, 3,980 gun licences were issued this year, 489 more than in the corresponding period last year.

The latest Periodic Serious and Violent Crime Review compiled by the Jamaica Constabulary Force also shows that up to last Saturday, 1,192 persons were reported killed this year, a 20 per cent increase over the corresponding period last year, which has pushed the country's murder rate up to 44 per 100,000.

While acknowledging that an increase in the number of firearms issued to citizens could signal that more persons are acquiring property, Gayle suggested that it could also be a sign that more persons now believe that the security forces are not able to adequately protect them and are prepared to take responsibility for their own safety.

"People usually panic [and] buy weapons. Once there is a spike in murders, you normally see an increase in demand for [firearms]," Gayle asserted.

"Losing faith [in the security forces] might be strong, but people don't feel protected, they don't feel safe, and when this happens, people are going to buy weapons to protect themselves," he continued.




Chief Executive Officer of the FLA Dr Kenroy Wedderburn indicated in an email to The Gleaner yesterday that the firearm licences issued this year were to people across the "different strata", who listed the protection of life and property, training, and "sports usage" as their main reasons for applying.

But citing the wave of gun violence across the United States as an example, Gayle cautioned that having more weapons in the hands of citizens could create more problems.

The University of the West Indies lecturer did not single out Jamaica, but asserted that very few countries across the globe put gun licence applicants through what he called extremely stringent psychometric assessment.

"It's not like everyone who has a gun is going to be stable," he reasoned.

In the Jamaican context, Gayle said one of the dangers for licensed firearm holders is that they tend to "advertise themselves".

"If people have weapons and they are mature about it, it's not a problem. But when people have weapons - and the weapons holders are getting younger - and advertise them, you set yourself up because the wrong set of people might come for it," he reasoned.

"If you never had a weapon, you would behave yourself. Man cuss you off at the stop light, you gone 'bout you business because you know you don't have anything (weapon) on you," he added.

As a result, Gayle wants to see licensed firearm holders trained in how to manage their weapons.