Addressing gun crimes
Kaieteur News
March 22, 2007

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Scarcely a week goes by without a report of a gun crime. In fact, these gun crimes are becoming increasingly frequent. This past week we have had an ex-policeman being gunned down execution-style and two gun robberies, one of which saw a restaurateur being shot. That restaurateur died some 12 hours later, adding to the sobering statistics of people shot and killed during robberies in Guyana.

Last year there were executions, some so violent that they shocked the very roots of the society. One saw eight people being killed in one night just on the outskirts of central Georgetown. So violent was that crime that three guards were gunned down even as they stopped by a gas station.

We had an attack on the press room of this newspaper that left five men dead. And during that same time three residents were gunned down at their home, in one case because the gunmen had a vendetta with the victim.

In most societies these days the gun is as common as a pen or a kitchen utensil. There are legislations that govern the possession of a firearm and the penalty is often a jail term but these days this seems grossly inadequate.

To begin with, the law affords bail to someone found with an unlicenced weapon. This needs to be changed. For many men, the possession of a firearm is akin to being in control of the lives of others. We have heard one gunman telling the law authorities that he enjoyed shooting people in the head.

Only the most sadistic or the most mentally challenged person would dare to make such utterances and we do have mentally challenged people in our midst. There is one school of thought that the absence of ready employment has driven men to the streets and that one fallout is the resort to the gun.

This very reason is being offered for the ready available of the drug mule and the lowly pusher.

We say that while the absence of jobs may be a contributory factor, the distinct possibility of people committing a crime and escaping penalty is the overwhelming factor.

The porous borders do not allow for the prevention of the flow of guns into the country in the same way that they allow tons of illegal drugs to enter the country. The guns are a natural offshoot of the drug trade. The dealer and the pusher feel that they can be at risk and so they try to arm themselves.

What is alarming is that the guns are so much larger than those prescribed by law for the licenced holder. Assault rifles are not out of the equation and within the recent past, quite a few have fallen into the hands of the law-enforcer.

In almost every case the police have credited the discovery to information collected from some source. We believe that the sources are people who have had enough of violent crimes and who happened to be vigilant in their neighbourhood, having realised that their very vigilance could save their lives.

However, regardless of how well-meaning the people are there is need for legislation to help those who want to see a decent and safe society.

The Home Affairs Minister, apparently fed up with the reports of people being arrested with assault rifles and other powerful weapons and walking out of the courts on bail, spoke about amending the laws governing such weapons.

More often than not, clever lawyers succeed in having the accused either freed or released with a penalty that is often no more than a slap on the wrist. If the country feels strongly about the possession of illegal weapons then the society must do something to prohibit such weapons.

The removal bail is one way, and while we talk about overcrowded prison conditions we must send a strong signal to the people who are bent on illegally possessing dangerous weapons.

When illegal drugs began to permeate the society, the government sent a strong signal in the form of a piece of draconian legislation which became known as the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Control Act. For a while people were hesitant to possess illegal drugs.

Then the extent of detection became less; at the same time the declining value of local currency made the fines on the statutes become meaningless. People found it profitable to hire drug mules.

It is the same with the guns. The penalty is nothing to shout about and there is always the low level person who is going to take the chance knowing that his sponsor would readily pay the fine.

It is time we address the issue of illegal weapons. The United States readily jails people found with any illegal weapon and if that person is an alien then deportation follows.

We cannot deport our own but we can surely jail them for a long time.