EDITORIAL: Gun crime and the official solution

We have long maintained that crime, especially gun crime, is neither a political problem nor, therefore, susceptible to the political solution. Despite this, opposition parties locally and throughout the region consistently seek to blame the administration in office for the state of crime in the jurisdiction and to promise an altered state of affairs once they are elected to office.

Inevitably, on such election, this warranted brave new world fails to eventuate and the hapless citizenry is compelled to confront the continuing phenomenon of gun crime.

We comment on this issue today because of two statements on this issue made last week by both the elected political manager, the Honourable Minister of Home affairs, Mr Edmund Hinkson, and the state-appointed chief police officer, Commissioner Tyrone Griffith. We express regret that these statements had to be aired on the separate occasions of gunshot injuries being inflicted on unarmed civilians, but we readily concede that it is precisely on these occasions that the public looks to its government, in the broad sense of that word, for answers to a clearly unacceptable situation.

What we find most remarkable about the official responses is the degree of apparent helplessness in both statements. From the Commissioner, there is the suggestion that the law pertaining to bail for those charged with gun crimes should be reviewed, given the high correlation between the subsets of those involved in shootings, those already on bail for such offences, those who were known associates of such individuals and those suspected to be in the drug trade.

While Commissioner Griffith did not specify whether these individuals were cast as perpetrators or victims in the criminal gunplay context, it really does not matter since the entire scenario impinges on the safety of society in general, as the recorded deaths of innocent bystanders would attest.

Of course, a call for the review of the law in this context is unlikely to resonate with those charged with our management of the rule of law. The denial of bail is not, and should not be treated as a punitive measure, although the magistrate is empowered to take into account, in his or her determination, the likelihood of the accused to re-offend and the safety of the public. Each case is, however, to be judged on its own facts and the officer should not feel constrained by appeals to precedent.

In any case, the denial of bail to an accused person does not guarantee that his accomplices will not seek to effect his initial objective.

The Minister was not as constitutionally draconian in his response to the shooting of an aged gentleman within the precincts of Parliament on Friday. To the contrary, he seemed almost meekly precatory in his plea to the offenders to “lay down the guns”, reminding them that so brazen an act so close to the seat of the supreme lawmaking body “was not in keeping with Barbados’ image”.

This statement unintentionally hints at the chasm that exists between those involved in the gun culture and the ordinary Barbadian. For the gunman out to avenge some real or imagined wrong, no place is too sacred; be it the hospital, the public highway, a location close to Parliament or, as occurred in a neighbouring jurisdiction some years ago, inside Parliament itself.

Whether the solution be the tough approach suggested by the Commissioner or the milder entreaty of the Honourable Minister, we are all agreed that something needs to be done and that right soon. Officialdom has rejected the gun amnesty as a solution, and the enhanced punitive measures in statute have proven ineffective. The time has clearly come to tackle the matter at source.

Barbados Advocate

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