Sun | Oct 2, 2022

Letter of the Day | Do we have a right to protect ourselves?

Published:Wednesday | June 29, 2022 | 12:10 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

The savagery now gripping Jamaica is unprecedented. The Government and the police are doing what they can, with what they have. The PM and administrators are bound within the confines of human rights oversight at home and abroad to maintain our citizens’ constitutional rights.

The criminals, meanwhile, have no such qualms, and violate our right to peace and safety with disdain … leaving our country crime-ridden, and all of us in a position of grave vulnerability and fear.

The question is then, do we the citizens of Jamaica have a right to protect ourselves?

The state of New York was, up to last week, among only a handful of US states known as a concealed-carry firearm “May Issue” state. That is, officials held discretionary power over who was approved or denied a concealed-carry firearm licence.

Ownership of a licensed firearm in Jamaica is still considered a privilege. We have no constitutional right to such ownership. Applicants are required to show, among other things, “a good reason” for owning a firearm. Approval of a permit is still discretionary.

The US Supreme Court has stated that New York, along with the handful of previous “may issue” states, will now be forced to present clearly defined, non-discretionary criteria for issuing concealed firearm permits.

Our system here in Jamaica is exactly like what previously obtained in New York. And it was exactly this discretionary power of licensing officers which was struck down by a Supreme Court decision. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that “they know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after first having to demonstrate to government officers some ‘special need’.”

“Shall Issue” firearm permit regulations are based on a set of clearly defined, objective-based, non-discretionary criteria.

“May Issue” firearm permit regulations are based on the ultimate exercise of someone’s discretion or the discretionary decision of a group of persons.

It should be clear by now that discretionary powers – for anything – can easily, and usually, lead to an abuse of those powers or corrupt practices? Didn’t we all see and hear about the numerous alarming issues arising out of probes into the Firearm Licensing Authority?

CHANGE THE SCRIPT

Changing the actors while giving them the same script will not give you a new story. If we want a different story, we need to change the script, not the actors. If we want a different outcome, we need to change the system, not the people!

What we need in Jamaica is “Shall Issue” firearm permit regulations – a set of clearly defined, objective-based, non-discretionary set of criteria for issuing firearm permits.

I am confident that we can craft a set of transparent, objective criteria for issuing firearm permits that is well thought out to properly include only law-abiding, responsible citizens. And I am also confident that we can properly exclude persons who are criminal minded or otherwise previously disqualified based on past behaviour.

One thing is certain in Jamaica: remove the discretionary powers and we remove the opportunities for corruption and malpractice.

Do we the citizens of Jamaica have a right to self-protection? If the answer is yes, then why is the issue of firearm licences based on a discretionary system? Why do applicants have to show “good cause”, and have that justification adjudicated? Why do we still need to rely on discretionary powers of licensing officers?

The right to bear arms in Jamaica may not be in our Constitution, but we should still be able to hold our policy administrators to good, logical, clear thinking.

And if we do not have a right to self-protection, then why not?

 

SHELDON NEIL