Tuesday 4th March, 2008

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Gun control critical

to reducing crime

Couva South MP Kelvin Ramnath took the opportunity at a town meeting at Basta Hall, Couva, on Saturday to call for legislation that would give more citizens the right to bear arms.

Mr Ramnath may have had the best of intentions in mind for his constituents, but he is absolutely wrong to advocate any increase in the distribution of handguns in T&T. That’s a call so far removed from any sensible response to the current crime situation that it can be readily declared irresponsible.

The correct thing to do in a country as clearly awash in illegal handguns as our nation is today is to find the points of entry for these weapons and stifle them while methodically capturing and destroying guns as quickly as possible.

Far from relaxing restrictions on gun ownership, the Ministry of National Security should be doing more to penalise people found with illegal guns and working to limit handgun ownership to people with a level of legal training in weapons handling that is appropriate to their anticipated use.

Crushing the gun barrels of seized guns and welding their firing chambers, thereby eliminating them from use as future weapons, would probably do more to stem illegal gun use than arming more citizens.

The sharp rise in gun use in T&T over the last ten years has parallels in developed nations and their experiences can prove useful to us in planning our gun control strategies.

In the US, where gun ownership is prevalent and a powerful lobbying organisation, the National Rifle Association, exists to preserve existing rights of gun ownership, it took the maiming of James Brady during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan to prompt the creation of a rival body, the Brady Centre, which seeks to limit widespread distribution of guns.

The correlation between the greater accessibility of handguns and increases in violent crime and death is not limited to the US. Switzerland, a country noted for its peaceful and considered approaches to politics, has both one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world and the highest rates of gun-related deaths.

This unusual circumstance is the result of Switzerland’s practice of universal conscription into the country’s defence force, which mandates that all males between the ages of 20 and 42 are eligible for service and requires that they keep fully-automatic weapons in their homes.

Increased availability of guns among the general public has been shown to increase the rate of fatalities in domestic violence, an escalation that our country cannot contemplate at a time when violence in the home is also a source of considerable concern.

The argument for self-defence in gun ownership revolves around the notion that an armed citizenry is better able to resist the predations of well-armed criminals. But that idea falters in the face of reality. Criminals with weapons are a focused, task-directed force that cannot be readily countered by a population that is busy with the business of daily life.

The only body that is both armed and on point for a response to criminal incursions is the police force, and it is their notorious failure to act appropriately in the face of declared criminal activity that leads desperate citizens to hope that a handgun in the home might be more helpful than an officer claiming to have no transport.

It’s important that the Minister of National Security should understand Kelvin Ramnath’s call for what it is—a cry for help in the face of intolerable circumstances.

Mr Ramnath’s accusation that “you cannot depend on the police to come when you have a problem” is worthy of deeper consideration and more decisive action than any absurd request for arming citizens.

The Couva South MP’s accusation that the Minister of National Security failed to spend $450 million on police vehicles in 2007, demands a response from Martin Joseph, and it’s a point that Mr Ramnath should pursue to more useful ends.

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