These days, maniacal criminals are increasingly using guns as their weapon of choice as they disrupt the serenity of our once tranquil islands, going on murderous rampages, robbing families of loved ones and callously committing heinous crimes with no regard for the law.
That said, it is high-time that the government imposes a heavily promoted amnesty (28 to 30 days) for the turnover of illegal guns whilst instituting a no-questions-asked gun buy-back programme.
Although there will likely be challenges and valid concerns such as the uneasiness about people possibly using monies given for trade-ins to purchase weapons, genuine interest for public safety dictates that something must be done and that those fears, whilst likely, will not be predominant.
The wave of gun violence that appears to be sweeping across the streets of New Providence week after week has left many residents terrified by the thought that this small island is becoming like the Wild West as we are inundated constantly with reports of the grisly carnage caused by gun violence or told about high-speed chases and dramatic gun battles between rival gangs or of emboldened outlaws engaging the police in gun fights.
As of today, there have been nearly 100 murders for the year – most of which involved a gun. These days, gunshots are fired from cars – in broad daylight – on busy thoroughfares, in bustling and quiet neighbourhoods, in crowded nightspots and hoodlums have no qualms about nonchalantly engaging the police in shootouts. These guys do not discriminate and simply don’t care.
The growing trend of anti-social behaviour is rapidly leading to a state of social chaos, where boorish persons barbarously roam the streets like wild animals engaging in feral, homicidal behaviour to indulge their unabated anger. The senseless actions of uncivilised, dim-witted people are rapidly casting the Bahamas in the image of a crime-ravaged hellhole on the brink of social implosion.
It is no wonder that Bahamians – stricken by fear – have voluntarily chosen to live in virtual imprisonment, locked behind iron bars (windows), bolted doors and screens and sheltered behind iron gates. In their state of paralysis, law-biding Bahamians have become more distrustful and are swiftly arming themselves with cutlasses, shotguns, bats and other safety measures to ensure their security.
Admittedly, I am a licensed gun owner and I support the right of Bahamians to legally bear arms, particularly in instances such as hunting or self-defence. Moreover, I would support a greater issuance of hand gun licences to those Bahamians who meet the strictest of qualifications. As it stands, as a policy of the government, the issuance of hand gun licences is strictly within the purview of the Prime Minister.
The home invasion in Blair this week has left many Bahamians gripped by the fear that their sanctums – their earthly palaces – could be breached so callously, so viciously and blatantly when no-good social menaces run roughshod over our law-abiding citizens and ruin our society.
We have antiquated gun laws which need to be reviewed and updated to the point that qualified Bahamians can carry handguns. Frankly, in these times, I share the views of people such as Felton Cox (Junior) who are advocating for greater training and education of qualified Bahamians and who feel that restrictive government policies may be trampling on people’s rights to protect themselves. As a licensed shotgun owner myself, it sends shivers down my spine to know that a shotgun has almost become obsolete as a protective measure for businessmen and homeowners, particularly when one considers that the criminal element has handguns capable of firing numerous rounds, AK-47s and other powerful weapons that have no limitations and do not need to be reloaded as a shotgun must after five to eight shots (depending on type).
Indeed, responsible citizens could be assessed on a case-by-case basis and should be equipped to protect themselves as necessary or appropriate. While we pretend that there’s no real threat, the crime statistics clearly show that we’re walking down the same road as has already been travelled by so many of our Caribbean counterparts, where crime is out of control.
We should learn from the experiences of our Caribbean sister countries and try to pre-empt hijackings and kidnappings for ransom, which could potentially be the next step for the criminal element.
It is clear that there is a preponderance of high-powered weapons on the streets of our archipelago and these weapons turn lightweight punks into ruthless, callous killers. No barricades, alarms and camera systems can even the score.
We need to reconsider the reality of life in the Bahamas.
The Inter-American Development Bank has patently told us that the world no longer sees us as the peaceful God-fearing communities that we pretend to be, but as one of the most violent countries in the world. We no longer need to pretend our police officers shouldn’t be adequately armed or that responsible citizens shouldn’t have the option of protecting themselves.
Accountable, law-abiding community leaders, businessmen and persons of that ilk should, if they apply for them, be allowed to carry a handgun. Heck, if they could have a shotgun or rifle, why not a handgun? The criminals have armed themselves to the teeth and rather than using BB guns and slingshots, they are using military grade, high-powered weapons.
We should follow the example set by the Canadians and – outside of law enforcement officers – have two categories of people who are allowed an authorisation to carry, those being folks such as armoured truck guards and persons dealing with the transport of large amounts of cash and, secondly, those who need one for the protection of life and business.
Yes, even for those of us who own shotguns and rifles, we are in desperate need of practice areas, of shooting ranges.
I do not think that any qualifying person would mind paying the government $750 for a handgun licence or would object strongly that that figure is doubled and paid year over year. Right now, this is about us being able to protect ourselves in an extremely hostile environment and levelling the playing field. However, we understand that such a thing should be done with certain stipulations and qualifiers in place.
Anyone seeking a handgun should be able to pass a psychological exam, rigorous police vetting and undergo training. Frankly, such training could be overseen by retired police officers, for a period of two days to three weeks and licencees should be required to take refresher courses at a range every other year. It’s all about safety.
Frankly, when National Security Minister Bernard Nottage referred to the home invasion in Blair as “nothing new”, I thought that he was so dismissive and insensitive and his words nothing short of asinine. Moreover, was there an underlying insinuation: could it be intimated that he is saying that we’re making much ado about this because it is a “conchy joe” of Long Island roots who was gunned down as opposed to a dark-skinned fella from Bain Town?
Why should qualifying Bahamians, who have undergone the proper training and vetting, not be able to carry a handgun?
I have been told that but for a competent transportation, triage and treatment system, the murder rate for 2013 would have been about 200 people; that the number of murders accounted for this year has been truly modified by the response of the healthcare system and the various definitions of what constitutes a murder. As 2014 comes to a close, it seems that our fellow countrymen and women are being killed on a daily basis.
Undoubtedly, the spiralling street warfare in this country – particularly New Providence – is fuelled by the alarmingly high importation/smuggling and circulation of illegal firearms (from assault rifles to handguns) primarily from the United States, that has given raise not only to the lawless behaviour that we now see but also to a “black market” that profits on the trade of illegal weapons.
The easy accessibility of handguns (for the criminal minded) is a cause for consternation and a national issue that should be effectively addressed. Illegal firearm sales and smuggling operations within the archipelago has led to a number of killings of youngsters – most likely with drugs, money or women as the central figure of a dispute – and has created a breeding ground for the criminal element (drug traffickers, gangs, migrant workers, terrorists, organised crime, etc) to access these dangerous weapons and cause mayhem.
A few years ago, in a speech given at the CARICOM-US Partnership to Combat Illicit Trafficking in Arms Seminar in Nassau, National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest said that the illegal trade in small arms, light weapons and ammunition was creating an “illicit trafficking phenomenon” as the illegal migrant and drug trade has created a single criminal enterprise.
According to Mr Turnquest: “Such criminal enterprises are engaging persons across national borders in much the same way that legitimate multi-national businesses do, bringing serious distortion to the concept of globalisation.
“Whether arms in such enterprises are exchanged for money or for drugs, or are used to protect illicit shipments of persons or commit murders, assaults, robberies and other crimes; to intimidate and threaten and to enhance status, or other reasons, they contribute to the widespread availability of firearms in the region.”
The Bahamas is extremely vulnerable to the trafficking of nearly all illicit items – including small arms and automatic weapons – primarily due to its central location between the air and sea routes of North and South/Central America as well as Europe.
Whilst I believe that qualified Bahamians should be able to carry a concealed weapon – without having to be favoured by the Commissioner of Police or Prime Minister, who would then grant special permission – it is therefore imperative that we implement gun trade-in and buy-back programmes, similar to those adopted by places such as Buffalo (NY) and Atlantic City, to encourage people to fork over illegal firearms to the authorities.
Furthermore, a conscientious effort must be made to curb the importation of other potentially lethal weapons such as low power air pistols, replica guns and paintball guns. Sadly, it seems that our strict gun laws may only affect those law-abiding citizens, as thousands of handguns remain in circulation and outlaws are constantly packing heat, while striking fear into the hearts of already caged-in residents.
I would propose that such a programme is financed by an asset forfeiture fund, using seized money or money garnered from the auctioning of seized properties belonging to persons convicted of criminal acts such as illegal drug smuggling.
Frankly, the government, corporate partners and the Church could highlight such a programme using the airwaves, the pulpit, disc jockeys in clubs, marketing companies, etc, whilst also affixing a firm deadline that concludes both the amnesty and buy-back period.
Indeed, a gun buy-back initiative should be inclusive of a multi-pronged approach. Individuals turning in unlicensed firearms should be given gift certificates and/or, more so – in conjunction with a co-operating banking facility – these persons could be issued pre-paid cash cards in varying denominations, which bear the monies collected from their turnover of such dangerous weapons. There are some jurisdictions that even incorporate a guns-for-groceries approach.
For such a programme to work, the types of guns/ammunition and buy-back monies must be categorized – that is, $25 for all non-working guns (inclusive of pellet and BB guns); $80 for rifles/shotguns; $200 for handguns; and $350 for assault weapons (eg, Uzis, AK 47s, etc).
Indeed, whilst a gun buy-back campaign can yield mountains of guns, due care must be given not to have the approach bastardised by gun dealers and/or collectors who may wish to unload cheap or old guns at a profit and careful accounting must be taken of the guns collected at all gun buy-back outlets. The goal is to reduce the arsenal, particularly within the inner city, and effectively bring about a widespread disarmament across the archipelago.
The police should also check their databases to determine the number of gun owners who are not up to date with their licensing and get on with the business of seizing these firearms and apprehending them.
Instead of pontificating about petty political matters, the Church could have a huge impact in the fight against violent crime and the removal of unlicensed guns from the streets. There should be an amnesty period where unlicensed gun toters can feel protected if they take a gun to one of the many churches in our communities.
Furthermore, in taking guns off the streets, we must launch a practical, effective campaign that incorporates the government, the private sector and the public. There should not be a hint of the petty politics and political gimmicks portrayed by many self-serving politicians.
In the Bahamas we may soon need to establish an agency or department similar to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agency in the US, whose sole purpose would be to gain intelligence and crackdown on the illegal weapons trade. These days, it is imperative that the police force continue upgrading its armaments as I continue to see officers on the beat without bulletproof vests and carrying six-shooter (.38) revolvers that they hope would counter the sophisticated, high-powered weaponry of criminals who wear body armour and carry guns with magazines that hold 15 or more rounds.
Police officers must be heavily deployed in those boroughs with the highest instances of crime and must strengthen their relationship with certain communities, thereby bettering their intelligence-gathering abilities.
One would also wish that the police would have clearly set-out protocols for coming to one’s home at night. Whenever an officer shows up, he should always be in a marked police car, with a partner or several other identifiable/uniformed police officers, etc. Since persons are now apparently pretending to be policemen, Bahamians are not so trusting and will not just open our doors. The police must address this publicly.
I am amazed at how people put so much on Facebook and other social media outlets, showing a would-be robber the layout of their homes and, frankly, giving them a how-to guide about how to break and enter. Generally, we need to smarten up and remove some of these unnecessary photographs that heighten our vulnerability to the criminal element.