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Local authorities welcome US gun crackdown

In some cases, guns sold in the United States (US) have been used in the commission of violent crime in The Bahamas within 24 hours, according to Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Dr. Raymond King.

King spoke with The Nassau Guardian following an announcement yesterday by Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Miami Anthony Salisbury that US officials have noticed a marked increase in the number and caliber of firearms illegally trafficked into Haiti and the Caribbean.

Salisbury said, “Not only have we seen a marked uptick in the number of weapons, but a serious increase in the caliber and type of firearms being illegally trafficked. We have been ramping up our efforts to stem the flow of illicit weapons into Haiti and the Caribbean.”

Salisbury noted that not only has the number of illegally trafficked weapons increased, but more heavy artillery – in some cases, weapons that can be used as anti-aircraft weapons – are being smuggled into the region. He said the US is committed to stamping out the trade in these weapons but added that authorities needed civilian assistance to do so.

Commissioner of Police Clayton Fernander said the increase in firearms smuggled into The Bahamas from the US is evident.

He pointed to the arrest over the weekend of an individual who had collected a package from a courier service which contained four pistols and ammunition.

“You could see it,” he said.

Fernander welcomed the US crackdown.

“That’s the way to go,” he said.

“They understand the business and how these weapons are leaving the US, and traveling all the way down, not only to The Bahamas but also to our region and they see that, so that’s where the partnership comes in to try to identify these individuals and put them where they belong, because [the illegal guns] are getting on our streets, getting in the hands of criminals and they are being used in the commission of these offenses, especially the murders. Most of our serious crimes, the individuals are using firearms.

“So, we support [the crackdown] in a big way because [these illegal guns are] trickling down through our country.”

King confirmed the defense force has also seen an increase in the flow of weapons from the US.

“From the maritime perspective, we know there is a nexus between illegal firearms and drug smuggling,” he said.

“We have worked diligently with the police marine unit as well as the US Coast Guard and OPBAT (Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos) in pursuit of go-fast vessels. And thus far, we have seen some increase. The data supports it.

“United States laws are a bit liberal. They manufacture weapons. We don’t. The commissioner has demonstrated that weapons smuggled into the country, sold in the United States, within 24 hours, in some cases, have been used in crimes in The Bahamas.”

While the focus of the US authorities’ crackdown appears to be the horrific, bloody gang violence in Haiti, The Bahamas and other countries including Jamaica continue to see rising incidence of gun-linked homicides.

The problem for The Bahamas and its neighbors in the region include demand fueled by gang and drug wars – as recently noted by both Fernander and King – and what appears to be a lax Florida marketplace for gun sales.

Local statistics show that more than 90 percent of guns confiscated and used as murder weapons in The Bahamas can be traced back to American manufacturers and gun shops.

In fact, former Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle reported in June that “literally all of the illegal weapons that we have recovered are traced back to” either Florida, Atlanta or Texas.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police’s 36th Annual General Meeting and Conference at Baha Mar in May, Prime Minister Philip Davis said, “We are saying to the Americans that they need to do more. Whereas we don’t want to get involved in their domestic issue of the right to bear arms, we are concerned that purchasers of guns are not just buying it to bear but rather to export and to traffic.”

Police statistics show that the number of homicides by firearm in The Bahamas increased from 33 percent in 2006 to 58 percent in 2020.

In 2021, police seized 277 firearms in The Bahamas.

Of the 119 murder victims recorded in 2021, 104 died from gunshot wounds.

Up to yesterday, police had reported 88 homicides for 2022.

Fernander stressed that an illegal firearms task force established to address the issue will work, and that all the law enforcement agencies are working as a team to “try to clog those holes that are open”.

King was also bullish on the task force.

“All of us are seeking to stem that flow by bringing our collective efforts to bear and to work along with the Royal Bahamas Police Force,” he said.

“All of our sister agencies, persons, were identified to form that task force to maintain a 24-hour watch, and to share any and all intelligence coming in as relates to illegal firearms coming into the country.”

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