We are not ready for a gun amnesty

Letters to the Editor

We are not ready for a gun amnesty

Thursday, July 11, 2019

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Dear Editor,

Prime Minister Andrew Holness recently stated that the Government is considering a gun amnesty. In this initiative individuals would be paid to turn in illegal guns or information that lead to recovery of same.

It is common knowledge that Jamaica has a gun problem, more specifically an issue with the proliferation of illegal firearms being used to commit crimes.

I believe there needs to be a shift in focus towards preventing illegal guns from entering the country. The guns for drugs trade between Jamaica and Haiti is booming. There are numerous unregulated sea ports or points of entry via our coastal waters where these transactions are taking place. The coast guard and the country's security forces have struggled to defend our borders from gun trafficking.

Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang recently said that cost is a prohibitive factor in the efforts of securing our borders. He quoted the cost of a sea craft at one billion Jamaican dollars and an aircraft at almost four billion dollars, both of which were recently purchased to aid in the fight against the gun and drug trade. We cannot, however, look for excuses when the country is under siege by heartless killers armed with high-powered weapons. More needs to be done.

The legislation needs to be amended to impose harsher penalties for those convicted of gun trafficking. Make no mistake about it, guns are used to kill. Any person involved in bringing illegal guns into Jamaica is facilitating murder and should be punished.

Amendments to the Firearms Act were announced to have been approved by Cabinet in June 2018 and were to be tabled in Parliament. It would be welcome if the Government would act with as much fervour in getting this amendment passed as they did with the recent “NIDS Bill”, as this is a matter of utmost importance to the security of Jamaica's citizens.

The major find in Miami of a container with over 100 guns destined for Montego Bay in December 2017 was another nine-day wonder. One arrest was made; however, the person was later released and the incident was allowed to simply blow over. One has to wonder how many containers of guns successfully made their way here only for their contents to get into the hands of ruthless criminals.

More thorough inspections of inbound containers at the official wharves and ports are necessary.

A recently published interview with agents from the Homeland Security Investigations in Miami outlined how Customs officials treat with outbound containers. It highlighted that due to the sheer volume of shipments leaving their ports, in most cases they only performed cursory scans of containers. Port officials said that fewer than one per cent of the roughly 357,000 containers that left Port Miami last year were fully examined. This means the possibility of guns being smuggled undetected is very real. The onus is on us to protect our country and citizens, which means stringent measures need to be employed at our ports to thwart attempts at gun-running.

The argument has also been put forward that if a gun amnesty were to be implemented criminals would take advantage of it by turning in old guns to make money to fund their illicit activities. With the current state of the country and the apparent ease of acquiring an illegal gun this is a valid concern. Only after ensuring that our borders are secure should we even begin to consider employing a gun amnesty.

Payton Patterson

Talk Up Yout advocate


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