Jamaica: PM’s Drive to Get Illegal Guns Out of Circulation

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By Patrick Green

CNW

jamaica pm andrew holness

With the crime rate spiraling out of control for the new year, the Jamaican government is embarking on an ambitious “Get Every Illegal Gun” campaign to curtail the work of criminals.  So far this year, the island has recorded 112 murders, while 1463 Jamaicans were killed last year.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced on Friday that the government would pay as much as US$4,000 in local currency to persons who provide information leading to the seizure of illegal guns and the arrest of wanted criminals.  The campaign seems to be targeting persons with illegal firearms and those with information about the weapons.

“Today, I’m appealing to persons who are in possession of illegal weapons to give them up. Give up your illegal weapons using any one of the information channels that are available. We have Crime Stop that you just need to dial 311, you have the JDF (Jamaica Defence Force) tipline or just dial 119. Tell us what you know about the guns,” he said.

Program tried before

This is the boldest and most by the government to tackle its crime monster apart from creating the Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) since 2017.  That year, the government had a similar program that provided Ja$100 million to get illegal guns and ammunition off the streets.  At that time, the administration paid Ja$150,000 for a semi-automatic, Ja$100,000 for shotguns, revolvers Ja$75,000, and negotiable payments for ammo.

According to the New York Times, the Jamaican authorities estimated that 200 illegal guns are smuggled into the country each month from the United States.  The report stated that the legal firearms in Jamaica amounted to fewer than 45,000.   The number of killings by firearm worldwide is almost fifty percent, according to igarape.org.   In Latin America and the Caribbean, the figure jumps to 66 percent.  But killing by guns in Jamaica is higher than 80 percent, stated the New York Times report.

Illegal guns from the USA

In 2009 NBC News reported that 80 percent of the illegal guns in Jamaica come from the United States.  The report quoted Leslie Green, then assistant commissioner of police, saying: “There aren’t any checks or any controls on goods leaving the United States. Yet anything leaving here, we have to make sure it’s double-checked and tripled-checked for drugs.”

Gun buy-back programs around the world

Gun buy-back programs have been tried in other parts of the world, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, and the United States.  According to a Gleaner report, New Zealand took back 50,000 guns in 2019 in exchange for US$66 million.  Brooklyn in New York City took in 659 guns in 1999.  Under Michael Bloomberg’s mayorship, New York City offered US100.00 and amnesty for guns in 2002.  More than 1,400 guns were turned in between May and August that year.  Then in 2008, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly spent $1 million to get 5,000 guns off the streets.

In Miramar, Florida, a gun buy-back program spearheaded by Commissioner Alexandra Davis offers gift cards of up to $150.00 for various types of guns.

However, the difference between those countries and the Jamaica initiative is gun ownership.  Most of the guns returned in other countries are from legal gun owners.  The million-dollar question is whether illegal firearm owners will be willing to turn in their weapons or if enough people will be bold enough to turn in the criminals.  Not much information is available on Jamaica’s 2017 initiative results.

Earlier this week, the government announced plans for launching the new incentive-based campaign.  The National Crime Prevention Fund (NCPF), which operates Crime Stop, already pays out for tips. Still, last week, the National Security Council (NSC) agreed on the development of another robust national campaign against illegal guns and gangs.

Young men will be the key demographic target of the campaign, which stakeholders say aims to educate the population on the dangers of illegal guns and dissuade persons from dealing, trafficking, procuring, possessing, and using such weapons.

“There will be a significant public-education component on the new Firearms Act and the penalties that will be applied to persons involved with illegal weapons,” according to a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister.

In 2019, Crime Stop received 1,020 tips and 679 in 2020, which resulted in total payments of J$14 million.

13 guns seized in Trelawny

The announcement by Holness comes less than 24 hours after law enforcement authorities seized 13 guns, including ten high-powered rifles, during an operation in Trelawny.

The police say two sub-machine guns and a pistol were also found and that a man, identified as Kevin Carpenter, was killed during the operations.

Investigators say he was a member of a criminal network and that a woman and two children were not harmed in the house where he was staying.  Carpenter was being sought for questioning in connection with gun-running and shootings.

Assistant Commissioner Clifford Chambers, head of Area One Police Headquarters, said Carpenter was the relative of a gang leader who was charged with murder in Westmoreland.

“[The gang leader] was granted bail with the condition that he remain out of Westmoreland division, except on court days. And the address given as his condition of bail is the home address of the deceased in the fatal shooting this morning,” ACP Chambers told Radio Jamaica.

Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson said Thursday’s operations were part of an island-wide clampdown on “guns, gunmen, and gangs.

“Gunmen are moving uptown. They have acquired wealth and are living in gated communities. This is why it is important for persons, even in upscale communities, who see strange activities or persons to provide information to the police. Even with our improving intelligence capabilities, we need your help to find them,” he said.

On Monday, Anderson said that since the start of the year, 88 illegal guns had been recovered, including 13 rifles, the highest haul in January since 2011.  He also indicated that the AK-47 is the weapon of choice for gunmen in Jamaica.  This gun cost between J$500,000 and one million dollars to acquire.

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