Mon | Dec 5, 2022

Orville Taylor | Bullets don’t make decisions

Published:Sunday | October 2, 2022 | 12:52 AM

Last week both on air and in this column, I went to great pains to discuss the use of deadly force protocol. There is a simple formula; assume that you may be asked afterwards as to whether or not you could justify the shooting if the purported...

Last week both on air and in this column, I went to great pains to discuss the use of deadly force protocol. There is a simple formula; assume that you may be asked afterwards as to whether or not you could justify the shooting if the purported attacker is your brother, son or even yourself in the same situation. The answer must be, “I had absolutely no choice.” Anything less than that, then the individual who fires his weapon against another has to answer a question of manslaughter or murder. It’s that simple. My heart goes out for the parents of that young Wolmerian who died at the hands of his father. No parent should have to bury any child whatsoever, least of all one whose death he himself caused.

Only the shooter knows exactly what the steps were, or what led to the fatal decision. However, the guidelines issued by the UN, the constabulary and myriad judicial decisions, are designed to protect not only the victims but the individual who carries the weapon of destruction. It is of little consequence that the suspect or attacker is known, unknown, of unsound mind, a criminal or someone who moments earlier made an attempt to do harm. The simple questions are: was there an immediate threat to life and is there any way in which less than deadly force could have been used to avoid the attack or repel the assailant? That decision is not one to be taken lightly.

When you accept the basic notion that all life is sacrosanct, then the likelihood that you will take a life inadvertently will be significantly reduced.

Having the ability to take another life, whether by discharging one’s firearm or using one’s fists, is a great burden. Martial artists learn a defensive block and parries before being taught to break bones and deadly strikes.


An elected member of our government has, perhaps as a self-inspired knee-jerk reaction, called for the mass arming of the population. Fact is, given the psychological profiles of many firearm holders, there are already too many out there who ought to return their gun licences.

This is Jamaica, land of wood and water, although given the numbers, we can say land of homicide and guns. For the last two decades, we have averaged more than 1,300 killings per year.

Our neighbours up north have a Second Amendment to their Constitution. They have the right to bear arms. Somehow, it has not protected them; because with a homicide rate of 4.7 per 100,000, you are four times more likely to be killed in America than in the comparable democracy, the UK, whose rate is 1.17 per 100,000.

Moreover, the average British cop is not even close to being fully armed. Now, we might want to argue that America has larger land mass and domestic producers of firearms. Thus, access to guns is much easier. Overall, American gun laws are just too lax.

Often policymakers are out of touch with reality and, despite the evidence, carry a narrative. As the Jamaican member of Parliament spoke, I remembered a shortage of Jamaican favourite fruit/vegetable when we were trying to make a pot of soup. Despite only two green lady fingers placed in the shape of a V, one fanatic was insisting that “nuff okra deya!” I almost agreed this time.


In the USA, which has the most liberal gun-owning laws in the Western world, gun suicides comprised more than 54 per cent of all killings by the gun in 2020. True, black-on-black murders are higher than the overall homicide rate, with some black dominant cities. Never mind the epidemic of mass shootings, almost exclusively by white males. Although scary, they do not constitute a very large chunk of killings. Yet, it might be surprising that non-murder homicide is a large category in the USA. Among countries in the comparable income and developmental level, America’s accidental death by gun rate quadruples all the others.

Let’s get scared a bit. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, American gun suicides increased more than 10 per cent and gun murders rose by more than 15 per cent. Simply put, the evidence is not there to support giving more crazy people guns to kill others and themselves.

Maybe, as we pussyfooted around with the social work, sociological and psychological warnings at the beginning of the COVID-19 onslaught, we were largely unprepared for some of what we are seeing now.

We have an increased percentage of the population that has become paranoid, antisocial and incapable of adjusting to dealing with others.

Some 20 per cent of Jamaican households are men living alone, without a co-residential spouse. Never mind the jokes; a good spouse is a man’s right hand. Without the stabilising impact of a partner, a percentage of those men living alone have no backing when faced with external or internal psychological trauma.

In a country with a dearth of living space, many domestic relations have become strained, people are on edge and many have crossed over. Abused people abuse others and scared people do silly things.

We don’t need more guns. We need more attention to the mental states of potential gun handers.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to and