ONE MURDER is one too many – that is a sentiment often expressed by policymakers when it comes to crime.
If we are truly serious about tackling each and every murder, however, we would pay careful attention to the matters disclosed by Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher in a sworn statement filed in the High Court, two weeks ago, in response to a lawsuit by a gun dealer who is seeking permission to import 3,654,000 rounds of ammunition.
According to Ms Harewood-Christopher, not only have more than 100 guns authorised by her three predecessors been found to have been used to commit murders, robberies and suicides, but the quantity of guns and ammunition imported by gun dealers for “non-law-enforcement purposes” skyrocketed to an all-time high in 2020 of 57.2 million rounds. That is almost 44 times the population.
While these statistics have been disclosed during litigation – and the court is the appropriate forum for the legal issues raised to be ventilated and adjudicated on – they paint such a startling picture we are constrained to comment on them, considering their direct bearing to the ongoing spike in gun violence in our country.
Former commissioner Gary Griffith, who is now the political leader of the National Transformation Alliance (NTA), has dismissed the claims, suggesting some of the crimes would be relatively pedestrian occurrences such as negligent discharges. He also believes the percentage of such authorised guns being used in crime would, in any event, be low.
Others have called for the statistics to be disaggregated to yield a clearer picture.
With the custody chain of guns, both licit and illicit, often being murky, Ms Harewood-Christopher also made mention of intelligence from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other foreign agencies which has suggested at least 30 guns imported by authorised gun dealers have ended up in the hands of criminals and were used in at least one instance to commit murder.
It would be a mistake to ignore such information, especially when the country’s murder-detection rate is relatively low. There are many cases in which the firearm used is unaccounted for.
That we have a problem with authorised firearms being used in criminal enterprise should be evident enough when we look at the various reports of shells being found at crime scenes bearing Defence Force markings. Authorities have been quick to downplay such reports and to affirm the security of official stores. Yet questions remain, questions which we cannot afford to lose sight of amid the rabid and distracting politicisation of crime.
At the very least, what all of this points to is the need for stronger regulations and policies relating to how firearms are stored and secured, in whatever quantities.