Ramnesh Sujanani, Guest Columnist
THERE WAS a time in Jamaica when very few people carried a gun, not even the average policeman, who managed with his baton. Private individuals could hardly get a licence and so, even within the reach of businessmen, guns were not available.
Later, the several political garrisons were known to buy and sell guns and bullets, more private licensed firearms became available in security companies thereafter, as more business-minded individuals needed the protection guns offered.
I can recall going into my business place in Parade, downtown Kingston, one Saturday morning around 9:30 a.m., 20 years ago, and bending down to pick up a newspaper from a vendor. I was held fast by four young men, one of whom prodded my side with a knife, ordering me not to move. The four men searched me with 'pats' to find out whether I had a firearm on my person. One asked "Where is the gun?", and I replied that I did not carry one. Indeed, then, and to this day, I do not carry such a weapon. Besides taking my money and car keys, they were looking for guns, which to the criminal in Jamaica are worth their weight in gold.
Many media reports relate to the problems of crime in our cities and towns, more often than not instigated by a group or gang. But this is not only in Jamaica; in the United States (US), government is trying to fight crime against criminals armed to the teeth with handguns, and assault weapons, and they have a legal right to carry them under their constitution law (Second Amendment). It is difficult to manage someone who is legally right to carry a gun, but not legal in using it.
The Newtown tragedy is a culmination of the process in the US. Twenty-six persons, six adult teachers and 20 students, were gunned down with a rapid-fire Bushmaster assault rifle, in Connecticut, approximately one week ago. The weapon was purchased by the assailant's mother in a US gun shop.
Less talk, more action needed
On Sunday night, President Obama spoke at an inter-faith service for the victims of the horrific elementary school shooting, as reported by the Huffington Post. Not surprisingly, it was an emotional and moving speech. But in the end, the fact is that none of what we are witnessing is surprising. Mass shootings have become a defining feature of modern America, (and probably in Jamaica). Yet, on the issue of gun violence, President Obama has shown a gift for eloquent rhetoric but no follow-up. What we need now is action - Will the president lead the way? Will Congress act? Or will we succumb to the fatalistic conventional wisdom that says we'll never be able to prevent this from happening again - and again and again? What do our security forces think? It is unlawful to carry a gun without a licence? Then where are the guns coming from?
In recent news in the United Kingdom (UK), Prime Minister David Cameron has called for a "tough but intelligent" approach to law and order, trying to find a middle ground to tougher sentencing and more rehabilitation of offenders. He advocates a "two strikes, you are out" policy for violent and sexual offenders. This means that the second offence results in life imprisonment for the criminal.
The Mail on Sunday reported that Home Secretary Theresa May is also set to unveil moves to tackle gunrunners who bring firearms into the UK for criminal gangs. There will be a new offence of possession of an illegal firearm with intent to supply, carrying a maximum life sentence - up from 10 years for black-market smugglers at present. We need to do the same in Jamaica: let the gunrunners know that our police have the same authority.
Until there is a permanent removal of the perpetrator from our community, the gun trafficker and his client will be without fear. At least, we may in time have a prepared law from Britain that we can use, but what we need now is a process to handle a gun crime, whether child or adult crime involving abuse with a firearm.
The circumstances have changed since 1980, as a result of the unauthorised use of firearms. Is it time to look at the Gun Court legislation once again?
Ramesh Sujanani is a businessman. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com