CATCHing The Gun Runners If You Can

Photo: Pixabay. A gun on a table with bullets. Inumerable guns are imported into Caribbean nations illegally from the US.
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With Haiti awash with guns and ammunition, the US Congress has announced a bill to curb one of the Caribbean community’s most vexing foreign relations issues – the influx of American-made guns illegally into the region.

House Representatives Joaquin Castro and Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, alongside Senators Chris Murphy and Tim Kaine, have introduced the Caribbean Arms Trafficking Causes Harm (CATCH) Act, which aims to curb the trafficking of arms from the U.S. to the Caribbean.

On June 25, 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law, which created Federal criminal offenses for firearm trafficking and granted the government new authorities to prosecute these offenses.

On June 8, 2023, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the Department of Justice will name a Coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions who will oversee arms trafficking prosecutions to the Caribbean.

Castro said that the draft legislation builds on the success of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which focused on cracking down on straw purchases and domestic trafficking offenses.

Straw purchases are gun purchases made by a person who deliberately intends to forward the weapons to people who are not allowed to legally buy weapons, for example convicted criminals or foreigners.

Now, “the CATCH Act will improve transparency and accountability within U.S. anti-trafficking efforts and prevent U.S. firearms from fueling gun violence in the Caribbean — especially in Haiti, where guns from the United States have played a tragic role in the ongoing security, political, and humanitarian crisis.”

Murphy conceded what Caribbean leaders have long maintained, that “the prevalence of illegal guns trafficked from the United States into the region is fueling this violence.”

The draft bill itself cites findings from law enforcement officials in Haiti, Antigua & Barbuda, and Jamaica, who have all identified Florida as “a significant source of illicit firearms.”

It accepts the 2023 joint report from the Caribbean Community Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) and the Small Arms Survey that calculates the average number of violent deaths in the region as “nearly triple the global average.”

In establishing its premise, the legislation also notes the claim by Bahamian officials that “over 90 percent of firearms used in homicides and confiscated by authorities…are traced to manufacturers and retailers in the United States.”

Murphy believes that the CATCH Act would empower the newly established Coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions to implement the provisions of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act as comprehensively as possible. The legislation requires the Attorney General to present an annual report to Congress on the coordinator’s work over the previous year.

With national security capabilities already stretched to the breaking point by rising levels of gun violence even before a 2022 report from the Department of Homeland Security showing a marked rise in the “quantity, caliber, and type” of weapons pouring into the region, Caribbean leaders made a joint declaration in April 2023 which called on the U.S. to take action to stop firearms trafficking to the region.

The bill text for the CATCH Act can be found here.

Source: Virgin Islands Consortium, US Congress press release.
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