Gun crime is everyone’s business

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Gun crime has vaulted to the top of the news once again.  This happens every time there is a senseless killing, or use of a firearm in the perpetration of a violent crime.  Most recently, businessman and father Campbell Jackson was gunned down on George Street, Green Bay.  His son Jari Jackson and a resident, Tevin George were also shot but survived the attack.  This came just one or two days before a couple reported being shot at, while in their car in the same Green Bay area.  Luckily for them, they escaped injury.
In response, we have seen a somewhat bipartisan response to the out of control gun situation in our bit of paradise.  The minister responsible for public safety, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin has reported that the government is mulling a number of ideas on how to address the issue of illicit guns on the streets in Antigua & Barbuda and has admitted that those in authority are concerned about the state of affairs.
While that is refreshing to know, it highlights the reactionary nature of our culture when dealing with serious matters.  It is not today that gun crime has been an issue in our nation – it is a well-known issue that has been having a devastating effect on our society for a long time.  Every time something serious happens and it involves a gun, we hear about how serious the issue is and all the grand plans that are being mulled by those in authority.  A few days later, the seriousness seems to slip a few notches and the proposed solutions move from being mulled to being shelved.
Like every time before, the authorities and the Police have stepped forward to acknowledge that there is a serious issue with the illegal importation of guns into the country and worse, the increased use of firearms by criminals.  This time around, the minister sought to give some comfort to the nation by giving the illusion that something tangible is being done.  He said, “Our intelligence shows us that we have to work harder in controlling the inflow of guns into the state. That’s precisely why we intend to get at the port, certain machinery in place where we could monitor the contents of container to prevent the smuggling of arms into Antigua.”  He also said other measures would be taken but he could not reveal all that was being planned to improve security in those particular areas.
The problem is, that is not the first time we have heard about the acquisition of scanners to help detect guns and ammunition at the port.  As recently as February 2014, during the tenure of the United Progressive Party (UPP) administration, former public safety minister, Dr. Errol Cort said it was on the government’s front burner and he would be seeking the necessary budgetary assistance.  As government is continuous, we can only presume that the front burners ran out of gas.
The former minister also launched a gun amnesty programme in which two weapons were turned in.  While we admit that any number of weapons being taken off the street is good, we have to question the effectiveness of gun amnesties in our small communities; especially since the current minister has revealed that the administration is evaluating another gun amnesty.  Does this all seem like deja vu to you?  It certainly does to us.
Are scanners and amnesties the only solutions that we can come up with.  To begin with, the effectiveness of amnesties is questionable.  Persons are generally distrusting of the process and if someone owns an illegal gun and wants get rid of it, without legal penalties, there are options that do not necessitate an amnesty.  A person is not going to get overcome a wave of guilt once an amnesty is announced and rush to turn in their illegal weapon(s).  Let’s face it, at any time, they can head over to Devil’s Bridge and toss the weapon into the sea and achieve the same result.
We also need to ask: is the primary import route for illegal weapons via containers at the port?  We would think that they are being imported through more discrete routes such as our very porous sea borders.  We cannot say for sure but if that is the case, then the effectiveness of high-tech scanners could also be called into question.
It would appear to us that the first line of defense in our war on illegal guns in our country is the police and their relationship with the communities.  It is, therefore, ironic that the day that talk of scanners and amnesties are on the table, the front page of The Daily Observer depicts the termite infested guard desk at the Freetown Police Station under the headline “Police plead for repairs at Freetown Station.”  We would therefore like to suggest that before we decide to spend millions on high-tech, hard-to-maintain scanners, we look to spend that money on improving the working conditions of the police so that they can feel comfortable doing their jobs.
We have talked about the questionable effectiveness of the proposed solutions but there can be no questioning the results of an effective police force.  That fact is certainly not lost on the Freetown police officers who lamented that they “can no longer continue to function effectively and serve the public from the present location.”  With that in mind, it occurred to us that there is great wisdom in the poetic words Emily Dickinson who, in the 1800s, said, “If you take care of the small things, the big things will take care of themselves.”
So, let’s take care of the small things first and then maybe we can graduate to big things like scanners and amnesties.

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