Saturday, October 29, 2011

Frankly, the easy accessibility of handguns in The Bahamas is a cause for consternation and a national issue that should be effectively addressed... Illegal firearm sales and smuggling operations within the archipelago has led to a number of killings of youngsters—most likely with drugs, money or women as the central figure of a dispute... and has created a breeding ground for the criminal element (drug traffickers, gangs, migrant workers, terrorists, organized crime, etc) to access these dangerous weapons and cause mayhem

The Great Gun Trade-In


THESE days, maniacal criminals are increasingly using guns as their weapon of choice as they disrupt the serenity of our once tranquil islands, going on murderous rampages, robbing families of loved ones and callously committing heinous crimes with no regard for the law. That said, it is high-time that the government imposes a heavily promoted amnesty (28-30 days) for the turn over of illegal guns whilst instituting a no-questions-asked, gun buy-back programme.

Although there will likely be challenges and valid concerns such as the uneasiness about persons possibly using money’s given for trade-ins to purchase weapons, genuine interest for public safety dictates that something must be done and that those fears, whilst likely, will not be predominant.

The wave of gun violence that appears to be sweeping across the streets of New Providence week after week has left many residents terrified by the thought that this small island is becoming like the Wild West as we are constantly inundated with reports of the grisly carnage caused by gun violence or told about high-speed chases and dramatic gun battles between rival gangs or of emboldened outlaws engaging the police in gun fights.

As of today, there have been 109 murders for the year 2011, most of which involved a gun. These days, gunshots are fired from cars—in broad daylight— on busy thoroughfares, in bustling neighborhoods, in crowded nightspots and hoodlums have no qualms about nonchalantly engaging the police in shootouts.

The growing trend of anti-social behaviour is rapidly leading to a state of social chaos, where boorish persons barbarously roam the streets like wild animals engaging in feral, homicidal behaviour to indulge their unabated anger. The senseless actions of uncivilized, dim-witted persons are rapidly casting the Bahamas in the image of a crime-ravaged hellhole on the brink of social implosion. There is no wonder why Bahamians—stricken by fear—have voluntarily chosen to live in virtual imprisonment, locked behind iron bars (windows), bolted doors and screens, and sheltered behind iron gates. In their state of paralysis, law abiding Bahamians have become more distrustful and are swiftly arming themselves with cutlasses, shot guns, bats and other safety measures to ensure their security.

Admittedly, I am a licensed gun owner and I support the right of Bahamians to legally bear arms, particularly in instances such as hunting or self-defense. Moreover, I would support a greater issuance of hand gun licenses to those Bahamians who meet the strictest of qualifications. As it stands, as a policy of the government, the issuance of hand gun licenses is strictly within the purview of the Prime Minister.

'Black market'

The Bahamas, a country with a recently proposed regime for implementing stricter gun laws, has seen a proliferation of guns/ammunition on its streets that I’m told is easily accessible and for hire to any deranged criminal. Undoubtedly, the spiraling street warfare in this country—particularly New Providence—is fuelled by the alarmingly high importation/smuggling and circulation of illegal firearms (from assault rifles to hand guns) primarily from the United States, that has given raise not only to the lawless behaviour that we now see but also to a ‘black market’ that profits on the trade of illegal weapons.

Frankly, the easy accessibility of handguns is a cause for consternation and a national issue that should be effectively addressed. Illegal firearm sales and smuggling operations within the archipelago has led to a number of killings of youngsters—most likely with drugs, money or women as the central figure of a dispute—and has created a breeding ground for the criminal element (drug traffickers, gangs, migrant workers, terrorists, organized crime, etc) to access these dangerous weapons and cause mayhem.

A few years ago, in a speech given at the CARICOM-US Partnership to Combat Illicit Trafficking in Arms Seminar, held in Nassau, National Security minister Tommy Turnquest said that the illegal trade in small arms, light weapons and ammunition was creating an “illicit trafficking phenomenon” as the illegal migrant and drug trade has created a single criminal enterprise.

‘Engaging Persons’

According to Mr Turnquest:

"Such criminal enterprises are engaging persons across national borders in much the same way that legitimate multi-national businesses do, bringing serious distortion to the concept of globalization."

"Whether arms in such enterprises are exchanged for money or for drugs, or are used to protect illicit shipments of persons or commit murders, assaults, robberies and other crimes; to intimidate and threaten and to enhance status, or other reasons, they contribute to the widespread availability of firearms in the region.”

The Bahamas is extremely vulnerable to the trafficking of nearly all illicit items—including small arms and automatic weapons—primarily due to its central location between the air and sea routes of North and South/Central America as well as Europe.

It is therefore imperative that we implement gun trade-in and buy-back programmes, similar to those adopted by places such as Baffalo (NY) and Atlantic City, to encourage persons to fork over illegal firearms to the authorities. Furthermore, a conscientious effort must be made to curb the importation of other potentially lethal weapons such as low power air pistols, replica guns and paintball guns. Sadly, it seems that our strict gun laws may only affect those law-abiding citizens, as thousands of handguns remain in circulation and outlaws are constantly packing heat, while striking fear into the hearts of already caged-in residents.

I would propose that such a programme is financed by an asset forfeiture fund, using seized money or money garnered from the auctioning of seized properties belonging to persons convicted of criminal acts such as illegal drug smuggling.

Frankly, the government, corporate partners and the church could highlight such a programme using the airwaves, the pulpit, disc jockeys in clubs, marketing companies, etcetera, whilst also affixing a firm deadline that concludes both the amnesty and buy-back period.

Indeed, a gun buy-back initiative should be inclusive of a multipronged approach. Individuals turning in unlicensed firearms should be given gift certificates and/or, more so—in conjunction with a cooperating banking facility—these persons could be issued pre-paid cash cards in varying denominations, which bear the monies collected from their turn over of such dangerous weapons. There are some jurisdictions that even incorporate a guns-for-groceries approach. For such a programme to work, the types of guns/ammunition and buy-back monies must be categorized—that is, $25 for all non-working guns (inclusive of pellet and BB guns); $80 for rifles/shotguns; $200 for handguns; and $350 for assault weapons (eg, Uzis, AK 47s, etc).

Reduce arsenal

Indeed, whilst a gun buy-back campaign can yield mountains of guns, due care must be given not to have the approach bastardized by gun dealers and/or collectors who may wish to unload cheap or old guns at a profit and careful accounting must be taken of the guns collected at all gun buy-back outlets. The goal is to reduce the arsenal particularly within the inner city and effectively bring about a widespread disarmament across the archipelago.

The police should also check their databases to determine the number of gun owners who are not up to date with their licensing and get on with the business of seizing these firearms and apprehending these persons.

Instead of pontificating about petty political matters, the church could have a huge impact in the fight against violent crime and the removal of guns off of the streets. In fact, there should be an amnesty period where unlicensed gun toters can feel protected if they take a gun to one of the many churches in our communities.

Furthermore, in taking guns off the streets, we must launch a practical, effective campaign that incorporates the government, the private sector and the public. There should not be a hint of the petty politics and political gimmicks portrayed by many self-serving politicians!

Gain intelligence

In the Bahamas we may soon need to establish an agency or department similar to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agency in the US, whose sole purpose would be to gain intelligence and crackdown on the illegal weapons trade. These days, it is imperative that the police force continue upgrading its armaments as I continue to see officers on the beat without bulletproof vests and carrying six-shooter (.38) revolvers that they hope would counter the sophisticated, high-powered weaponry of criminals that wear body armour and carry guns with magazines that hold 15 or more rounds.

Police officers must be heavily deployed in those boroughs with the highest instances of crime and must strengthen their relationship with certain communities, thereby bettering their intelligence-gathering abilities.

Published: October 29, 2011 in the column Young Man’s View in The Tribune’s ‘The Big T’
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