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Too many guns on the streets

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27.APR.07

There are far too many guns on our streets and we have to take action before it is too late.

Earlier this month, Searchlight reported that Barrouallie had been transformed into a virtual “wild west” town with five shootings over a two-week period. Now this week, in capital city Kingstown, not too far from Searchlight’s offices, there were three shootings over a two-day period, with at least one other shooting incident on the outskirts of Kingstown on Tuesday alone.{{more}}

Last week, we reported about the shooting death of a young father from south leeward, this week, we carry another story of the killing by shooting of another young man from that area.

Only one month ago, a recent secondary school graduate was apparently accidentally shot with a gun that had been borrowed from someone in his community. Last week, a boy from Bequia had to be hospitalized after having been shot during an altercation.

This recent spate of shootings in our communities is evidence of the prevalence of illegal firearms in our midst, and the ease at which they are obtained. As a matter of fact, Prosecutor at the Serious Offences Court, Station Sergeant Nigel Butcher on Tuesday expressed his concern about the alarming number of firearms on the streets among our youth.

The word on the ground is that the influx of guns and ammunition in our communities is a byproduct of the drug trade and that most of the shootings are related to drug deals gone wrong or revenge shootings among gang members.

Some might take a measure of comfort in the fact that they are not part of the drug or gang subculture and so are insulated from its effects. Think again. At least one of the persons shot on Monday was said to have been an innocent bystander, and further more, we don’t know in whose hands these guns will end up. Just look at recent Virginia Tech massacre in the United States. A mentally unstable young man, harbouring resentments against society in general, acted out his frustrations by killing 32 innocent persons before taking his own life.

It is not inconceivable to think that incidents like these could be replicated here. A few years ago, right here in St. Vincent, a young man strode boldly into a church where a school’s graduation ceremony was taking place and settled a score with one of the graduating students by inflicting several chop wounds to his body. Had guns been as readily available then as now, it is not farfetched to think that his weapon of choice might have been a gun, with much more deadly consequences.

In 2004, the Firearms Amendment Act was passed. This Act gives a magistrate the power to sentence a person found guilty of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition up to seven years imprisonment or a fine of $20,000 or both. Instead of giving an offender a slap on the wrist with a small fine, we need instead to send a very clear and unambiguous message to the community that possession of illegal firearms will not be tolerated by sentencing persons found guilty of such offences to lengthy jail terms.

Attention also needs to be paid to our family structure, where increasingly, young people are being raised by video games, the Internet, music videos, cell phones and DVDs, and don’t know who or what to identify with. They are therefore drawn into gangs to get a sense of belonging, and fall under the influence of the drug lords and gang leaders who have replaced teachers, policemen, nurses and clergymen as the persons to be looked up to in our communities.

The fact that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a multi-island state makes the policing of our coastline that much more difficult for our coast guard. We therefore need to ensure, within the constraints of our limited national budget that the coast guard is provided with the resources they need to thwart the entry to guns and drugs to our shores. Law enforcement should also consider re-instituting their stop and search programmes. Gun amnesty is also an idea, but similar programmes have had only limited success here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

There is also need to reevaluate the security arrangements at places where people congregate like schools, churches and workplaces. The tentacles of the drug culture spread far and wide; there are many mentally ill and disgruntled persons among us, so there is no telling where and when gunshots would ring out, taking innocent victims in the process.

There is no easy or short term fix to this worrying situation. While there is there an economic dimension to the rise in this type of criminality, a lot of it has to do with the deterioration in family life, and any attempt to tackle this problem should be many-sided and must be embraced by the whole society, as if we leave it up to the police and the executive arm of the government to tackle, they are doomed to failure.

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