All well-thinking Jamaicans should be paying close attention to the gun control debate in the United States.
It’s been taking place for decades, experiencing highs and lows periodically. But the gun debate has taken on new wings since the mid-December massacre of 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Immediately after that shooting, newly reelected President Mr Barack Obama, a longtime advocate of gun control, insisted that “we can’t tolerate this anymore” and set up a task force headed by his vice-president, Mr Joe Biden, to probe the issue and make recommendations.
Moving swiftly, Mr Biden and his team have come up with a raft of very predictable proposals; including the reinstatement and strengthening of a ban on new assault weapons in private hands, expanded background checks on those wishing to buy guns and ammunition, and tighter regulations governing sales.
As expected, the conservative right has responded angrily, falling back — as they have done on many occasions previously — on the right entrenched in the US Constitution for Americans to bear arms.
Of course, the issue is not straightforward. There is an economic aspect. Millions of guns, worth billions of dollars, are manufactured, bought and sold in the United States annually; and the weapons industry is a significant employer of labour.
Expert negotiator that he is, Mr Obama — a master of the middle ground — is well aware that compromise will be necessary if he is to get support from the Republican party in strengthening control of guns and ammunition in the United States. Hence his recently expressed empathy with rural America and their traditional attachment to guns as well as his appeal to his own supporters to listen to the case of the gun lobbyists.
Mr Obama will have achieved a major coup should he be able to pull the two sides closer together and in the process secure tighter controls and regulations over offensive weapons. Not all the desires of the gun control lobby will be achieved immediately. But life, after all, is a process that must be taken step by step.
For us in Jamaica, the wider Caribbean and Latin America, tighter controls on the sale of guns and ammunition in the United States would presumably have a positive impact on our efforts to control crime, since the US is the source of the bulk of such weapons in our midst.
For decades, pleas from Jamaica and its neighbours for the USA to bring a greater control on the flow of guns and ammunition from that country have been largely coldshouldered by the American authorities.
Yet notwithstanding any economic benefits of weapons trafficking to the American economy, it’s obvious that in the long run that great country will be better off if its poor relations to the south have less of a crime problem and therefore greater stability than is now the case.
Even as we keep our fingers crossed, hoping for tighter gun controls in America, the situation seems opportune for our regional governments to renew the lobby for Washington to proactively act to stem the flow externally.