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The death dealers have no interest in gun amnesty

Jamaica Observer 2019-06-12 10:35:14

As has been happening since the first gun amnesty was declared in 1967, there is yet again growing optimism that the voluntary surrender of firearms to the security forces, in exchange for crime forgiveness, could help to curb murders and other gun-related crimes in Jamaica.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness stoked the fires of a new debate when he told rank and file police officers at their recent annual conference in Ocho Rios, St Ann that his Government was considering a gun amnesty.

The history of guns and their bloody role in crime in Jamaica has been a sordid one, and gives little, if any hope that an amnesty would be an effective tool in making any significant dent in gun crimes.

The most memorable amnesty was the one declared on March 3, 1972 by then Prime Minister Michael Manley. In the euphoria of the February 29 general election victory which made him the most popular politician ever, Mr Manley thought he could appeal to the softer, more decent side of the gunmen.

Mind you, a popular theory at the time was that these young guns were mostly the product of desperately poor circumstances, and drop-outs from broken homes who would quickly become productive citizens if offered a second chance and new opportunities.

“I am hoping that those who have resorted to this way of life will take the opportunity to turn in their guns so we can make a new start in Jamaica,” the new prime minister was quoted as saying.

At the end of his 21-day gun amnesty, Mr Manley was sorely disappointed. It had brought in 723 firearms, a mere drop in the bucket and consisting mostly of “old, rusty, defective guns”. The temporary lull in gun crimes was over and Mr Manley directed the cops to marshall their resources to get the outstanding guns. Two years later he built the “dreaded” Gun Court to give out sentences of indefinite detention.

His amnesty followed one declared by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Administration in 1967, during which a paltry 450 firearms and 1,228 rounds of ammunition were netted.

No minister of security has supported a gun amnesty since, and that includes People's National Party (PNP) custodians Messrs K D Knight; Dr Peter Phillips and the JLP's Dwight Nelson who, notably, said he was more interested in stemming the flow of guns into the island.

With the exception of Mr Francis Forbes, no police commissioner has supported amnesty. Former top cop Owen Ellington said he would only support one if it came with tough legislation to put away gunmen for much longer periods.

Interestingly, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding was willing to consider a gun amnesty in the wake of the West Kingston uprising in support of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke in 2010. But he abandoned the idea soon after.

It is worth considering that a good many of the guns on the streets are rented to the young men toting them but have more well-off owners who would hardly be interested in handing them in for lesser rewards than they pull in.

Moreover, in some violence-scarred communities, many of the young men are said to be unwilling to part with their guns, believing that they would be left unprotected, because they have no confidence the police can step up to the plate.

Let's learn from history.