An island of intoxicative beauty? Try
Kopel, author of The
Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy: Should America Adopt the Gun Controls of
Other Democracies?, Dr. Paul Gallant, & Dr. Joanne Eisen of the Independence
Originally published October 30,
2000 at http://www.NationalReview.com
Reprinted with authors' permissions.
“Enveloped in lush
foliage, skirted by exquisite beaches, and caressed by the sea, Jamaica is an
island of intoxicative beauty. But splendid scenery isn't the island's only
asset — Jamaica is alive with music, art, and culture as well.”
While you'd never know it
from the travel brochure, the Jamaica described above is only a mirage. Don't
expect to find out about the real Jamaica from the Jamaican Embassy, either —
they'll deny they even have the crime figures available.
An editorial in the nation's
leading newspaper, the Jamaica Gleaner, told the story in just one word:
"Frightening!" It went on to note that "criminal violence has
soared to a new level as gunmen target policemen with a brazen arrogance that is
frightening...and others have been wounded in gun battles which approached the
dimensions of urban warfare."
Delroy Chuck, an opposition
member of Parliament and attorney, lamented the current state of his country:
"If crime is a symptom, or measure, of social decay then we are declining
even faster than we realize. The criminal elements in our midst are increasing
and have become more heartless, brutish, and brazen than ever before."
The real Jamaica is no idyllic
island paradise. It is a hell-hole caught in the terminal stage of what some
euphemistically call "gun-control," where the life of a whole people
is literally being squeezed out of it like a vise; one end of the vise is the
government, the other is the criminals, and people are being crushed in-between.
Caught in the crossfire are
Jamaica's disarmed citizens. On April 27, 2000, a 5-hour
gun battle erupted between Jamaica's security forces, police, and gunmen,
killing one police officer, another man, and injuring 3 others. And on September
28, 2000, a running
gun battle between police and a gunman transformed sections of downtown
Kingston into a "ghost town," injuring a police constable and three
Police protection? In Jamaica
that means the unfulfilled need for protection from the police. A
story in the Gleaner detailed a report by the Bureau of Democracy,
Human Rights and Labour which found that "Jamaican police lead by far their
Caribbean and Latin American counterparts in civilian killings, which have been
deemed 'extra-judicial' or killing without authorisation…"
Last Tuesday, people in Central
onto the streets to protest a cold-blooded execution by the police. The
police responded with bullets and tear gas. The police claimed that their
killing of a local "don" came after a gun battle, and they found a 9mm
pistol on his body. A tearful teenage girl who said she saw the killing
contradicted the police story. She claimed that the police entered the man's
yard and shot him in cold blood, continuing to pump bullets into his corpse:
"The police kick weh him foot and shoot him when him deh pon the
Delroy Chuck explained:
The invidiously high level of
police killings continue to attract the attention of international human
rights organizations...The records actually show that almost three citizens
are killed by the police weekly. [These killings are] a major cause of protest
and demonstrations from residents and eyewitnesses who allege police
brutality, gross injustice and blatant criminality.
The problem is long-standing,
and is aggravated by Jamaica's gun prohibition laws. The human-rights group
Americas Watch analyzed Jamaican homicides in the early 1980s. About a
third of homicides in those years were committed by the police. Indeed, in some
years the rate of Jamaicans killed by police was higher than the rate of
Americans killed by anyone. Although the police usually reported that the
killings took place in a shoot-out with the victims, Americas Watch contends
that the police were lying. Many of those killings, the human rights group
said, were deliberate killings of personal enemies of particular policemen.
Even the slayings of genuine
criminal suspects were often not in shoot-outs. Rather, they were deliberate
police executions; innocent bystanders or people mistaken for the criminal
suspect were frequently murdered. The public fervor over guns — initiated by
the middle-class press and augmented by the government — provided a handy
excuse for homicidal police officers. The statement that a victim of police
homicide had been killed in a shoot-out was readily accepted without
investigation, even when no gun was recovered from the victim.
The excesses of police
violence, claimed Americas Watch, drove Jamaica to new heights of violence,
because the police example legitimated violence in the eyes of both criminals
and ordinary citizens. Bob Marley's partly autobiographical 1973 song "I
Shot the Sheriff" tells the story of a young man on the run. "I
shot the sheriff, but I swear it was in self-defense."
Americans have been brainwashed
into believing that their schools are rife with violence. But real
violence in Jamaican schools occurs "with regularity" as teens use
knives to settle their day-to-day differences, and schools there have been
forced to rely increasingly on police and private security guards "to
secure their compounds."
Even those measures and 8-foot
walls aren't enough to keep the violence out. Things have gotten so bad in
Jamaican schools that one principal was recently forced to suspend 500 male
students at one time for "disciplinary reasons" — like kicking girls
to the point where they had to be hospitalized.
Now if this was America, the
solution — or at least a distraction from the real problems — would be an
easy one: more gun laws. But Jamaica played that card out when it replaced an
already-restrictive gun licensing system with the Firearms Act and the Gun Court
Act of 1974. The Acts provided for gun confiscation, house-to-house searches,
incommunicado detention, secret trials, warrantless searches and seizures, and
mandatory lifetime prison sentences for the possession of even a single bullet.
The main designer of the Gun Court Act was the president of the World Federation
for Mental Health, Dr. Michael Beaubrun. He insisted that the Gun Court was a
scientifically designed approach to behavioral change.
One American tourist, who
borrowed an uncle's suitcase, which happened to contain a single .22-caliber
round, was saved from life in prison only by the strong intervention of the
Delroy Chuck writes that while
gun prohibition (technically, an extremely restrictive licensing system) was
"meant to take guns off the streets, out of the hands of criminals, and to
lock up and keep gunmen away from decent society," the laws had no such
effect. Instead, prohibition "has taken guns out of the hands of
law-abiding, defenceless citizens and made gunmen the kingpins of their
communities. Decent citizens in inner city communities have great difficulty
getting gun licenses or keeping lawful guns for their own protection. The
violent young men who possess and control the illegal guns and offer protection
to their communities become their heroes and protectors and are the main
beneficiaries of the draconian legislation." Behavioral change indeed.
Mr. Chuck argues:
In a rotten society, in which
the criminals have the upper hand, in which the security forces are unable to
give adequate protection, it is simply wrong to disarm our citizens and leave
them without the means to defend themselves. I think the authorities should,
in fact, be examining alternatives and the better use of guns and weapons by
law-abiding citizens as a means of self-defence and protection and,
ultimately, to let criminals get their just desert, instead of the other way
The Gun Court Act created a
real mess for Jamaicans. In fact, violent crime rose so rapidly afterwards, that
many Jamaicans simply fled their country.
A quarter of a century of
prohibitory gun laws, suppressions of other civil liberties in order to enforce
the gun laws, wars on ganja, neo-colonial U.S. intervention in the ganja wars,
militarized law enforcement at every level, policemen being granted a license to
murder, mandatory life sentences for criminals not on political payrolls,
destruction of due process, and demonization of every possible scapegoat
(especially of civil libertarians and gun-rights advocates) have miserably
failed to make Jamaica safer. So what's a government to do next? Why, pass an
"Offensive Weapons Act", of course!
According to this new proposal,
"offensive weapon" means "any article made or adapted for use for
causing injury to the person or which is intended by the person having such
article with him to cause such injury" in "public places." Mind
you, this would not only mean the outlawing of knives or other items commonly
considered weapons, but also ice picks, screwdrivers, scissors, a stick, or any
pointed object. You name it — the possibilities are endless!
As for "public
places", these include "every highway, road or other passageway,
court, parade, wharf, school premises, public garden, open space or any place
used for the purposes of sports and games, and any other place or premises to
which, at the material time, the public has access."
Those suspected of violation of
the Offensive Weapons Act would be subject to search and arrest without warrant,
a fine of up to $4,000, and a jail term up to 4 months, and the accused would
have to go to court to give a "reasonable excuse why he had the object on
him." This reversal of the burden of proof is common with many weapons
control laws, including the gun laws in New York State.
Britain and Australia are also
enacting similar restriction on sharp objects and their owners, although British
and Australian crime problems (while much worse than in earlier decades when the
right to arms was respected) are not so bad as Jamaica's.
Will Jamaica's new Offensive
Weapons Act help? Delroy Chuck thinks
What they [our laws] have
done, inadvertently perhaps, is to disarm most of the law-abiding members of
the society, whilst the young warriors in many inner city communities freely
and openly carry their guns to create mayhem and to demand respect from
cowering females, fearful peers, and elderly folks. The laws have empowered
the gangsters and left law-abiding citizens defenceless, and shortly we will
attempt to carry this madness even further as the government seeks to enact
the Offensive Weapons (prohibition) Act.
Delroy Chuck is not a voice in
the wilderness. While the Firearms Act and Gun Court Act had over 80% public
support when enacted, substantial opposition arose within half a year, and has
been prominent ever since. The American-backed Edward Seaga and his Jamaica
Labour Party won the 1980 election promising to repeal the gun laws, but instead
used the laws to carry out vendettas against political opponents.
Economic growth might provide
some relief from the crime problem, but growth is rendered difficult by the
government's continued adherence to its failed crime policies. Sameer Younis,
president of the Jamaica Manufacturers Association, charged
that the greatest impediment to growth in all sectors is the level of crime and
violence in the country.
Webster Edwards, who heads a
program for inner-city youths, elaborated on that in an
op-ed in the Gleaner:
People involved in business have
repeatedly attested to the fact that crime is the greatest impediment to
production and productivity. It manifests itself in fear, in the security
costs which continue to grow with each passing year, and lost opportunities
for our citizens. There are some businesses which would consider putting on a
third shift, but for the incidence of fear which has now taken a stranglehold
on the citizens of this country.
American criminologist William
Calathes, the most sophisticated scholar of Jamaica's gun polices, writes:
"it is readily apparent that the Gun Court Act did not succeed in lowering
the rate of firearm-related crime." He notes that "the public was
expected to believe in the deterrent potential of the Act while the political
parties continued to use firearm violence, and the Act itself, for their own
Calathes argues that Jamaica
faced "contradictions between relatively developed political tendencies and
relatively backwards economic forces." The government reconciled the
contradiction by using "highly developed skills of political management in
propagating myths of the deterrent value of an oppressive piece of criminal
This Jamaican process of
political management with gun control myths is also at work in the United
States. Within hours after Columbine, President Clinton dispatched pollsters and
convened focus groups to determine which gun laws to start pushing — even
though nothing Clinton proposed could have had any possibility of preventing
Britain and Australia show us
the intermediate stages, and Jamaica shows us the terminal stage, of failing to
stop the cancerous use of "gun control" as a cynical tool of political
management. Here in the U.S., Americans are being pressured into submitting to
allegedly "reasonable" and "common-sense" gun laws as the
cure for violent crime. If you want your hometown to be more like Kingston,
Jamaica, you'll support these laws.