Editorial | The gun czar in DC
A gun-trafficking czar in the US Department of Justice, to be created by the Joe Biden administration, is expected to add momentum to the growing calls by Caribbean leaders for help to staunch the flow of guns which continue to create unquantifiable human suffering in the region.
At a high-level meeting with CARICOM leaders in The Bahamas this week, US Vice-President Kamala Harris announced that in addition to naming a coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions, more than US$100 million will be spent to tackle gun and ammunition trafficking, help lessen the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, and support climate-change initiatives.
It has been a slow churn towards this level of bilateral cooperation. Prime Minister Andrew Holness has been pushing for CARICOM to petition the US as a group for help in this regard. In May 2019, CARICOM formally adopted the Caribbean Firearms Trafficking Priority Actions, which included reforms and regional engagements identified by US and Caribbean experts to effectively address firearms trafficking in the region.
Then in 2020, the Caribbean Firearms Roadmap was developed with US support. This framework sets out timelines and baselines for implementing the priority actions. To date, 12 Caribbean countries have drafted national action plans.
In March 2022, it was reported that Homeland Security-led international-controlled deliveries resulted in more than 100 firearm-related seizures in the region, which yielded 446 firearms and more than 188,000 rounds of ammunition.
With this latest announcement by Vice-President Harris, the US has given the clearest signal of its commitment to help individual countries implement priorities, plans and timelines in their efforts to tackle gun trafficking, which only aggravates conflicts and stifles development.
To be blunt, a firearm is nothing more than an instrument of death. Cutting off the supply of illegal weapons will certainly result in fewer gun deaths and less misery in these Caribbean islands.
In 2021, more than 13.8 million firearms were manufactured in the US, and it imports more than three million firearms annually. According to data from Statista Research Department, “the US is the only country on the planet with more guns than people”. In the US culture, gun ownership has come to mean a manifestation of individual rights and freedom.
Firearms suppliers are motivated by potential economic returns, and there is obviously a network of smugglers who will take advantage of the ability to bypass borders and exploit countries where enforcement is weak. It is estimated that handguns bought in the US can be sold for up to 20 times higher in Jamaica.
How will this largesse from the Biden administration be used to staunch the flow of guns? The critical aspect of the work must be to boost the investigative and intelligence-gathering capability of the police. Overworked and stretched as they are, the Jamaican police have never been able to paint a profile of the gun smuggler. It is that shadow in the dark that is able to avoid detection and facilitate the importation of weapons and ammunition through maritime ports. On the rare occasion that illegal guns have been detected, the importer remains in the shadow and usually no arrest is made.
Part of the fix must also include monitoring of shipments of food and household items which make their way through the ports. They have been known to contain rifles, handguns and ammunition, which suggest that shippers are not as careful as they ought to be in ensuring that cargo that passes through their facilities are not contaminated. And what of leisure vessels, are they inspected and monitored as they move through Caribbean waters?
Certainly, a more scientific approach is necessary to detect and understand the trafficker-supplier and end-users in this dangerous circle. The government is compelled to ensure that whatever amount is allocated to Jamaica must be used to acquire leading-edge technologies and tools to detect firearms trafficking, and apprehend and punish the man in the mask, who is behind this criminal enterprise.