Editorial | Jamaica should join gun suit
As this newspaper previously encouraged, and Keith Rowley, the Trinidad and Tobago prime minister, now suggests, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments should join Mexico’s lawsuit against American firearm marketers for the illegal flow of guns into their countries.
If CARICOM can’t mount a coordinated effort to do so, Jamaica, being among the worst of the regional victims of American-made guns, should seek an arrangement with Port of Spain on the matter, but be prepared to go alone if necessary.
Mexico previously sued several of America’s biggest gun-makers, claiming US$10 billion, for the mayhem caused by an estimated 880,000 firearms (around two per cent of guns manufactured in the United States) that illegally crossed the border for use by Mexican drug cartels. In 2019 alone over 17,000 homicides in Mexico were linked to the illegally trafficked guns manufactured by companies, such as Smith & Wesson, Sturm, Ruger & Co, Beretta USA, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, Colt’s Manufacturing Co, and Glock Inc, all of which were named in the old lawsuit.
Mexico argued that not only were gun-makers reckless in their approach to the sale of firearms, but consciously imbued their weapons with motifs to make them culturally attractive to members of drug cartels.
However, last October Mexico lost that case in a US federal court. The judge, F. Dennis Saylor, argued that US law shielded gun-makers from damages “resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse” of their products.
“While the court has considerable sympathy for the people of Mexico, and none whatsoever for those who traffic guns to Mexican criminal organisations, it is duty-bound to follow the law,” Justice Saylor wrote in his ruling.
The Mexicans are appealling that judgment. Yet, they have filed a second case, this time primarily targetting gun dealers/sellers, as opposed to gun manufacturers, in border areas of Arizona.
In part, the dealers are accused of facilitating ‘ghost’ acquisition of weapons – selling guns to people in the United States, where ownership of firearms is legal, but knowing full well that the firearms are really heading to Mexico. A new law in the United States made ghost sales illegal.
“We are suing them because clearly there is a pattern,” Mexico’s foreign relations secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, said in October of the targetting of gun dealers, “We contend that it is obvious that there is weapons trafficking and that it is known that these guns are going to our country.”
Now, Mexico, according to Dr Rowley, wants CARICOM members to be party to the suit. Dr Rowley said Trinidad and Tobago is giving serious consideration to the request – Antigua and Barbuda had attached itself to the previous case – but would prefer if CARICOM acted in concert.
He said in Port of Spain this week, “I want CARICOM to speak with one voice to our major trading partner, to our friend in the north, with one voice, to say to them that America must do more to prevent guns coming from America into our country.”
It wouldn’t be bad if in sending that message some of the culprits, gun manufacturers and dealers, can be made to bear a financial cost for the reckless manner in which they conduct their business, to the detriment of the security and social stability in Jamaica and other countries.
This Caribbean has among the world’s highest homicide rates, with Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago at the top of the rung.
Last year, 1,498 people were murdered in Jamaica, pushing the island’s homicide rate to around 54 per 100,000. Trinidad’s Tobago’s record of 605 murders pushed its ratio to just shy of 40 per 100,000.
Guns are the weapons of choice in the vast majority of the murders, over 70 per cent, in Jamaica. These weapons are not manufactured in the Caribbean. But the crime and insecurity they breed are drags on the region’s economy, annually robbing Jamaica, by some estimates, of about five per cent of GDP.
America’s internal political dynamics has for too long constrained its policymakers from taking effective action to stem the flow of guns from the United States to countries like ours. The Caribbean lacks the leverage to force Washington to shift its posture.
The region, however, can attempt to hit the gun manufacturers and their marketers/sellers where it hurts, in their pocketbooks, via the courts. Even if the region loses these cases, they are one way to help focus attention on what, for the Caribbean, is a real crisis.