The gun lobby in the United States of America is fond of telling those fighting to improve gun control in that country that “guns don’t kill people, people do”. We do not agree.
A heart-wrenching front page news story in last Sunday’s New York Times drove home the frighteningly irresponsibility of that claim. The report recounts the role of an American gun in multiple killings on the streets, bars and homes of Clarendon, Jamaica. This report could have been written about gun violence and killings in The Bahamas.
The story will bring knowing nods from Bahamian policemen fighting gun crime on our streets. As in Jamaica, accounts of rented guns making the rounds of multiple shootings and killing on our streets, with different triggermen, are told and retold here in The Bahamas. And the difficult and often losing battles of our law enforcement agencies – whether customs, defense force or the police force – against the invasion of illegal, unlicensed weapons across our borders closely resemble the Jamaican experience.
Guns, legal ownership of which is closely controlled in The Bahamas, sometimes enter The Bahamas legally on cruising yachts or via private aircraft before making their way into the criminal underground having been sold, stolen or lost.
Some guns make their first entrance illegally, sometimes disassembled and concealed in personal luggage, buried in commercial freight, in courier packages and on mailboats.
At times, licensed local gun owners are victims of house break-ins during which registered weapons are stolen and thereafter enter the criminal world. And of course the same applies to owners of illegal, unregistered weapons who also fall victim to burglars who seize their guns.
Some weapons, particularly assault-style weapons, accompany human traffickers and traffickers in illegal or controlled drugs and other substances into and through The Bahamas. Like the drugs themselves, these weapons sometimes become the currency for payment for services to Bahamian partners and facilitators in the illegal trades.
As in Jamaica, the guns of Bahamian crime are almost always American in origin – not surprising when one learns that three of the largest gun manufacturers worldwide are American. And, further, hardly surprising when one takes into account our proximity to the U.S. mainland from which consumer goods are overwhelmingly sourced for this country.
Bahamian police, as do their Jamaican counterparts, and routinely track seized guns with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (AFT) with a view to identifying the original point of purchase of a gun. Most offending guns, we are informed, are purchased legally in the United States, notably in Florida, Texas and Georgia, before making their never quite traceable way into the hands of Bahamian criminals.
A 2017 IDB-sponsored survey of crime in our region studied the role of the availability of firearms in crime. Writing for InsightCrime, Mimi Yagoub noted, “In the countries with the highest homicide and common crime rates (Jamaica, Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago), the greatest percentage of murders involved firearms. Latin American and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest handgun ownership after Africa.”
Gun violence is taking a heavy toll on the lives of our people.
They kill and they maim.
Our police advise that some eight out of every 10 homicides are the result of a gun.
It is striking to read the view of a Jamaican gang leader on the impact of guns on killings in his country. He says: “I mean, with or without guns, we still fight. But the guns make it deadlier.” We believe the same applies here in The Bahamas.