Mon | Mar 8, 2021

Editorial | Reel in the big fish on guns

Published:Tuesday | January 19, 2021 | 8:01 AM

As this newspaper observed last week, Jamaica’s law-enforcement agencies are obviously in need of new strategies to stem the flow of illegal guns into the island. Either that or the national security minister, Horace Chang, should explain why they seem incapable of fulfilling his mandate of catching, and bringing to justice, not only the small fry and intermediaries, but the big people behind the gun trade.

With respect to a policy review, we repeat our suggestion for a task force of experts to propose new and workable ideas against smuggling. At the same time, the flow of guns from the United States to Jamaica should be pursued with urgency with Joe Biden’s administration, which takes office this week. The timing for such talks is propitious or at least better than it has been with any recent president.

The interpretation of America’s Second Amendment as an almost unfettered right of US citizens to own and bear arms has been an impediment to the sensible gun-control laws in that country – with dire consequences to countries such as our own. The ease with which Americans can buy guns makes it not difficult to accumulate the caches – such as the 19 firearms and 400 rounds of ammunition seized at the ports in Montego Bay last week – to be smuggled overseas. This is compounded by the fact that only a very low percentage of cargo exported from the United States is checked for contraband.

MORE RECEPTIVE

A confluence of circumstances, however, will likely make the Biden administration more receptive to entreaties that the United States be more aggressive in fulfilling its obligations under the United Nations convention against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons as well as for a more robust approach to gun control domestically.

The open display of weapons around, and inside, the US Capitol during the January 6 attempted insurrection, inspired by outgoing President Donald Trump, will probably have done more to frighten lawmakers and ordinary Americans than the myriad mass shootings at schools, and other places, in recent years.

Further, for the next two years, Mr Biden’s party members, Democrats, though with slim majorities, will control both houses of Congress. Even though difficult, there is a better chance to push legislation through the House and the Senate that will be signed by the president. And critically, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful gun lobby, is on the run.

In New York state, the NRA is under threat of being wound up over the allegations that its president, Wayne LaPierre, and top executives misused millions of dollars of members’ money for high living. The association’s attempt to circumvent New York’s action, by declaring itself bankrupt and moving to Texas, seems unlikely to be a smooth exercise. One donor, who has initiated a class action suit against the NRA, is seeking to join the bankruptcy proceeding, aimed at holding Mr LaPierre, and some executives, personally accountable for at least US$63 million. So a distracted and cash-strapped NRA is, at this time, unlikely to be as potent a political force in Washington.

JAMAICA MUST DO BETTER

But while Jamaica must press the Americans to do more on gun control, we, too, have to be better at finding, bringing to justice, and making an example of those among us who organise and finance the illegal gun trade. Or as Dr Chang put it in a parliamentary address in the summer of 2019: “Who we need to catch is not the man who they use to shoot people, (it’s) … the man who is organising this.” That remark was coincidental with the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard’s interception of a boat off the island’s southeast coast with nearly 2,000 kilogrammes of cocaine, believed to be destined for Haiti to be bartered for weapons. Haiti is part of the triangular gun/-narcotics trade with Jamaica and the US.

We share Dr Chang’s concern on multiple levels. At the time of his parliamentary remarks, the minister estimated that approximately 200 illegal guns make their way into Jamaica undetected each month. That is 2,400 annually, or over two-thirds more than what the police take off the streets each year. Additionally, guns are weapons of choice in nearly 80 per cent of Jamaica’s more than 1,300 annual homicides. Further, while there are the occasional gun hauls at the ports, the police very rarely arrest anyone for these finds. When they do, it is not the big fish. That begs the question of why and what it says about competence. Or anything else.

Hopefully, with the Montego Bay bust, things will change. Perhaps the police are now inspired to have better outcomes.