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More guns not the solution

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Like recent calls for the resumption of hanging, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s recommendation that citizens be allowed to carry guns to protect against criminals is a knee-jerk response to the continued escalation in murders.

The issue of gun control always elicits strong responses for and against, particularly with the bloody start to 2017 with more than 50 murders recorded within just the first month. There is hardly anyone in this country who isn’t keenly aware of the deadly and dysfunctional role that guns have been playing in this nation.

Although there are strict gun control laws in this country, there has been a steady increase in firearms murders, with significant escalations since the dawn of the 21st century. Before 2000, firearms were used in less then one-third of the murders recorded in this country. At present they account for the majority of such crimes.

This surge is directly connected to the trafficking of narcotics through the Caribbean which has made firearms more easily available. Intelligence sources have long pointed to the fact that the transnational criminal gangs, who have had their operatives embedded in T&T for more than two decades, have been facilitating supplies of arms and ammunition to protect their contraband shipments. While not the only source of the illegal arms flooding the country, this is the main one.

In addition, in recent months there has been a significant increase in smuggled firearms getting in through this country’s porous coastal borders via Venezuela.

These are facts that should be well known to Mrs Persad-Bissessar who, as a former prime minister, once chaired this country’s National Security Council.

The reality is that there are no easy answers to the issue of crime or gun control. However, there is as large body of evidence showing that countries with tighter gun control laws have far less violence and fewer deaths. Gun homicide rates are significantly higher in the United States where citizens have the right to bear arms. In comparison, the United Kingdom permits shotguns and rifles only to those who can pass through an arduous police-administered licensing process and ownership of handguns is prohibited.

In the US, 60 per cent of all murders are caused by firearms compared to six per cent in the UK. That supports the argument that the harder it is for someone to get their hands on a gun, the less likely they are to commit a gun crime.

More liberal firearms laws may not be the solution for T&T considering the many challenges that already exist with law enforcement and crime detection. If it is already so hard to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, think of how much more local policing resources will be tested if they have to also now set up monitoring systems to ensure legal guns are not acquired by people with a history of domestic violence, substance abuse and severe mental illness.

Calls for the return of the hangman and for citizens to be allowed easier legal access to firearms might score points in some quarters but there are too many studies that show those approaches do not solve the problem.

Instead, more attention needs to be paid to the legislative adjustments that can be made now and laws which need to be more strictly implemented. These measures can have a more dramatic impact on national security.

Greater focus should be placed on law enforcement strategies aimed at drug dealers, gang members and violent criminals—the people more likely to commit firearms murders—as well as the areas in which they operate.

In the ongoing search for solutions to T&T’s guns and criminality crisis it would be all too easy to resort to the usual tried and failed strategies. It would be more useful to develop new interventions and continually monitor their effectiveness until an approach is found that works best with T&T’s unique social, historic and geographic challenges.


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