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EDITORIAL - We, too, must push for American gun control

Published:Tuesday | December 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The renewed debate in the United States over gun control does not belong to America alone. Other countries, including Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), should not be shy about engaging in it.

Of the CARICOM states, Jamaica, perhaps, has the largest stake in the issue. Although the number has declined recently, each year more than 1,000 persons are murdered here. This country's murder rate hovers at around 50 per 100,000 of population, one of the world's highest.

In Jamaica, where gun ownership is highly controlled, approximately 80 per cent of the homicides are committed with guns, mostly of American origin and smuggled into this country. Gun-fuelled criminal violence is not merely a law-and-order issue, but a matter that poses a grave threat to the country's political stability.

This newspaper is firm that the US does too little, within its own borders, to control these machines of death. It is against this backdrop that we welcome the re-emerging debate on the matter, ignited by last weekend's tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, where a lone attacker, with a semi-automatic gun, opened fire at a school, killing 26 persons, 20 of them six or seven years old.

not particularly unusual

Adam Lanza's mass murder was, unfortunately, not particularly unusual for the US, despite the sharp drop in homicides over the past two decades - from more than 24,700 in 1991 to around half that amount last year. The country's homicide rate is around four per 100,000.

Yet, this year alone, there have been six mass killings with, cumulatively, more than 100 victims, including 12 people shot dead and 58 others injured at movie house in Aurora, Colorado, in July, and seven shot and killed at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin the following month.

Pro-gun lobbyists like to cite the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms and argue that it is people, rather than guns, who kill. On that basis, they oppose the most basic control over gun ownership, including the ownership of assault rifles, clips that carry high numbers of rounds, and background checks on individuals before they are allowed to complete gun purchases.

Of course, such availability of guns in the US, with little or no control over sales or movement, facilitates the relative easy flow of firearms across porous borders into countries like Jamaica.

gun-control legislation

The Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, has promised to bring gun-control legislation when the new Congress convenes next month. President Barack Obama has also vowed to attack the gun-control issue.

"We are not doing enough," said Mr Obama, "and we have to change."

We welcome the sentiment. But that change should include a full, moral exercise of America's global leadership.

In that regard, Mr Obama should revive, and assert America's support for, the United Nations treaty on the trade in small arms, a draft of which the Obama administration allowed to flutter away this past summer, ostensibly while it studied the text. That treaty would force America to regulate the internal transfer of guns, which Jamaica and CARICOM must insist loudly to Washington is the right thing to do.

That there may be nearly 300 million non-military guns in the US may be America's business. It, however, becomes ours, when they leave America's borders and are used to kill our people.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.