Jamaica Gleaner

America’s next step to stop gun flow


WE TAKE at face value America’s acknowledg­ement that the flow of illegal firearms into the island is an “enormous problem” for Jamaica, and Washington’s willingnes­s to do something about it. But while recent guncontrol legislatio­n in the US is a step into the right direction, that of itself will not sufficient­ly address the issues faced by Jamaica and other Caribbean countries where American-made firearms fuel crime.

Washington must now support the law with robust, front-facing initiative­s to prevent, or seriously dent, the illicit ‘export’ of small arms from the US.

As Barbara Feinstein, deputy assistant secretary of state for Caribbean affairs, noted on her visit to Kingston last week, Jamaica faces a serious crisis of crime. Each year, more than 1,000 people are murdered here, at a rate of nearly 50 out of 100,000 people. There are also over 1,000 shooting incidents in which people might have been injured, but did not die, and communitie­s are intimidate­d.

Over 70 per cent of Jamaica’s murders are committed with guns, which are not made in the island. Overwhelmi­ngly, they are manufactur­ed in the United States and smuggled here, and elsewhere in the region, where they cause mayhem. The illegal firearms trade is facilitate­d by their easy availabili­ty in the US, on the grounds that Americans supposedly have a constituti­onal right to bear arms.

In the past, America’s focus in helping countries like Jamaica has been primarily on training domestic law-enforcemen­t officials; the after-the-fact tracing of guns used in crimes in these jurisdicti­ons; and partnering with local law enforcemen­t in the investigat­ion of transnatio­nal crimes, especially those that affect the United States. The flow of narcotics to the US or the fleecing of American citizens of money through lottery scams are the priorities.

The mid-year passage of the so-called Bipartisan Safer Communitie­s Act, in response to the country’s rash of mass killings with high-powered guns, is a window of opportunit­y for Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean to press the Americans to do more. Those partners will, hopefully, include Great Britain, whose overseas territorie­s in the Caribbean, too, are increasing­ly victims of crime committed with Us-made guns. In this regard, Britain should leverage its ‘special relationsh­ip’ with the United States to muster urgency on the matter that it has not managed in the past.

To be clear, America’s new law – its first guncontrol legislatio­n in three decades – is primarily inward-looking. It will, among other things, cause background checks of prospectiv­e gun-purchasers under the age of 21, and block the sale of firearms to people convicted of abusing intimate partners. It also makes it illegal to produce guns without serial numbers, as well as tightens the rules for interstate and internatio­nal trade and traffickin­g in guns.

Specifical­ly, from this country’s standpoint, it makes it unlawful to “ship, transport, transfer, cause to be transporte­d, or otherwise dispose of any firearm to another person in or otherwise affecting interstate or foreign commerce, if such person knows or has “reasonable cause to believe that the use, carrying, or possession of a firearm by the recipient would constitute a felony”. Similarly, “It shall be unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person, including as a juvenile ... intends to sell or otherwise dispose of the firearm or ammunition in furtheranc­e of a felony, a Federal crime of terrorism, or a drug traffickin­g offense.”


These are important legislativ­e restrictio­ns. Gunsellers will be obligated to consider the peril of being convicted of a crime, and jailed for up to 15 years if someone, randomly and without context, purchases guns and then these weapons fall into the hands of criminals. There is a greater obligation for gun-sellers to know their customers.

But, little will happen if the rules, especially those with the potential to benefit countries like Jamaica, are not aggressive­ly policed.

Moreover, with millions of guns floating around the United States, trafficker­s can find loopholes around these regulatory requiremen­ts. That is why multiple filters are required, including more inspection­s at ports, to detect attempts to illicitly ship guns abroad. This is one area where the Americans have for a long time been too lax in their gun-control efforts. It is something to be seriously addressed.

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