If gun control worked, Jamaica would be a true tropical paradise. The island nation has incredibly restrictive gun control laws, with fewer than 45,000 legally owned firearms among the nation’s 3-million residents, but the nation’s homicide rate is one of the worst in the world; 47 homicides per 100,000 people in 2018, compared to the U.S. homicide rate of 5 per 100,000. Of course, to hear anti-gun activists explain it, the reason for Jamaica’s violence is simple: it’s the lack of gun control laws in the United States that’s leading to violent crime in Jamaica. As the New York Times opined last year:
The Jamaican authorities, who estimate that 200 guns are smuggled into the country from the United States every month, routinely ask American officials to examine some of the weapons they seize in raids, during traffic stops or at the ports.
Of the nearly 1,500 weapons the A.T.F. checked from 2016 through 2018, 71 percent came from the United States.
The figures are similar in Mexico, which has been lobbying the United States for more than a decade to stop the illegal guns flowing south. By some estimates, more than 200,000 guns are trafficked into Mexico each year, many to feed the vast criminal networks fighting over the multibillion-dollar drug trade to the United States.
But here in Jamaica, the killings are rarely driven by such enormous profits. The drug trade has fallen from its heyday, organized crime has been fractured and most of the historic kingpins have been killed or imprisoned.
Instead, the guns in Jamaica are often used in petty feuds, neighborhood beefs and turf wars that go back decades, to when political parties authored the majority of the country’s violence.
The answer, according to the New York Times, is for the United States to adopt the same gun control laws that have been ineffective in reducing violent crime in Jamaica. Only by cracking down on legal gun ownership in the United States will we be able to crack down on shootings in places like Kingston or Portland.
The problem with that mentality is that there are likely far more guns circulating in the illicit market than there are criminals in Jamaica who want them. Rather than focusing on the supply of firearms, authorities need to focus on the demand for guns among prohibited persons in Jamaica. Unfortunately, a recent story in the Jamaica Gleaner shows that both police and the public are fixated on the inanimate object rather than the people using it.
Its first known murder in Jamaica was committed nine years ago.
The last time the Jamaican police found evidence of its use was four years ago through spent shells found at the scene of a double murder in Portland.
The two men killed in that incident are victims number six and seven of this killing machine, according to police investigators citing the result of ballistics tests.
The seven murders linked to this mystery weapon are spread across five police divisions. The victims include a Portland native who had migrated to The Netherlands in search of a better life, and a Jamaica College (JC) past student who had vowed to take care of his grandmother so that she could enjoy her golden years.
Apart from clues suggesting that it is a 9mm pistol, police investigators conceded that very little is known about the make and model of this killing machine, how it entered the island or the murderers who have possession of it.
“It would be like one of those guns you’d call a ghost. It pops up at crime scenes and then it disappears,” a senior investigator who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak about the case told The Sunday Gleaner.
“And it is still out there. It has not been located.”
Seven murders, one gun. Here’s a question that the paper never asked, as far as I can tell: how many suspects for those seven murders? Throughout the entire story, the emphasis is placed entirely on the gun itself. It’s as if the people pulling the trigger are completely incidental to the crime. Here’s another example:
National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang said it was “difficult to determine” the number of ‘ghost guns’ being tracked by the JCF, but insisted that his priority is getting them off the streets.
“The statistics on that I wouldn’t seek because it doesn’t carry a lot of weight. What carries weight is the gun and how many people it kills. So, you know that particular gun, so you need to find it,” Chang told The Sunday Gleaner.
If the nation is really “awash” in illicit firearms thanks to U.S. gun laws, than finding this particular firearm isn’t going to do much, is it? The people pulling the trigger would be easily able to replace this gun with another, after all. What’s really needed is an effort to go after the flesh-and-blood human beings who are actually responsible for the hundreds of murders that have already occurred this year, and the hundreds more that are likely to take place.
It’s the lack of enforcement of the law in Jamaica, not a lack of gun control laws in the United States, that’s truly responsible for the high rate of violence on the island, according to one crime victim.
Teri Nichols, the widow of one of two American missionaries brutally murdered in St Mary four years ago, believes the absence of any deterrence and a lack of confidence in the judicial system are at the heart of Jamaica’s crime problem.
Harold Nichols, 53, and Randy Hentzel, 48, were shot and chopped to death in a horrific killing that made international headlines.
“A lack of confidence in the constabulary force means there is no community trust in the laws that are supposed to protect the citizens,” Teri told The Sunday Gleaner last week.
“I still can’t wrap my brain around a foreign citizen being murdered in cold blood and nothing is done about it. I can’t imagine the pain Jamaicans feel over losing loved ones to violence and then, to make it worse, have no hope for justice.”
You could ban every gun in the United States tomorrow and it wouldn’t change the violent crime rate in Jamaica at all. It sounds like what the country desperately needs is some real criminal justice and policing reforms, including focused deterrence efforts and meaningful sentences for violent offenders. Until there are swift and sure legal consequences for illegally using a gun in the commission of a violent crime, the country can’t begin to seriously address its problems. The answer isn’t more gun control in the United States, it’s a functioning law enforcement and criminal justice system in Jamaica.