The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Is it the Guns Only?
Given the almost weekly incidence of the death, invariably of a young man, caused by a firearm, Barbadians are understandably concerned about their prevalence. In an alarming display of linear reasoning however, the popular assumption appears to be that once we can rid the nation of all unlawful firearms, then there would be no, or at least fewer shooting deaths. That may be logically so, but the fact that death may be caused by other criminal means leaves one to query whether we are bothered merely by those murders caused by the bullet or whether we are equally concerned, as we ought to be, with the murder or maiming of one individual by the hand of another, however caused.
Accordingly, most of the suggested initiatives for combating the current phenomenon have centred on ensuring their absence from the country by restricting the importation of these weapons; by punishing severely their unlawful possession, by initiating a gun amnesty to limit their incidence; by having trials for kindred offences tried in a separate gun court; by having a street march; and the most intriguing one so far from a contributor to “Brass Tacks” two weeks or so ago who expressed the notion of amputating a number of fingers of those convicted of gun crimes and allowing them back into society, I suppose, “pour décourager les autres” For the caller this would be a most effective solution since those so sentenced would be unable to fire another weapon in anger and would even be, as he so risibly put it, unable to clean themselves after defecating (he used the local vernacular to dramatically amusing effect however).
All these suggestions may be likely to reduce or severely limit the incidence of firearms and their unlawful use but, as the National Rifle Association of the US so frequently intones in defence of its members’ Second Amendment rights, “guns do not kill people, people do!” The identical reasoning may be applied to the knife, the bomb and even the nuclear weapon. Each needs to be activated by a mind intent on committing murder and is, without that “mens rea”, a harmless object
This proposition is no less logical however than the obverse notion cited above that elimination of the weapon will thereby reduce shooting deaths, but its further consideration also leads inexorably to the opinion that we need rather to concentrate of the nature of the mind that would form the intention to take the life of another individual by any means including the inanimate gun, or knife, or even poison for that matter.
Of course, the impediment here is that we would prefer to believe that it is much easier to remove the temptation than to cure the mind, even though the admissible evidence thus far would cogently suggest otherwise. The importation and possession of unlicensed firearms have always been unlawful, there have been more gun amnesties than one locally, the Gun Court in Jamaica, apart from having been a constitutional nullity did not stem the number of fatalities owed to the bullet in that jurisdiction and while the caller’s suggestion referred to above would be clearly effective in a number of isolated instances, the imposition of cruel and inhuman dissuasive punishment for an offence has never served effectively to deter the reprise of that conduct by another. But these require much less thought than the concept of altering human conduct.
In the latter context of removing the criminal instinct, the questions become a step too difficult for a society impatient for relief to contemplate. It starts with the grudging recognition that the same individual that would recklessly fire into a crowd of fellow citizens is a product of the society, the political and educational systems that we have created and in which we exist and not merely some extraterrestrial visitor to our space. It continues with the contemplation of what local circumstance might have caused such a mindset in one of our own that the state would have delivered into this world with taxpayer-funded hospital services, offered similarly provided education to at least age sixteen with the prospect of additional assistance, should he need it, to go even further in order to acquire training for a skill that would enable him to become a productive citizen of the society.
Yes, we should seek to eliminate the gun from our society, but we also need to ascertain what force might have intervened to break the chain of causation from that innocent baby born to adoring parents to the sober productive citizen he was s destined to become and convert him into a wild-eyed thug that has no compunction in killing or maiming a number of fellow citizens to “bore” his intended adversary.
The late Prime Minister, Mr. David Thompson, might have been on to a useful concept with his mantra that Barbados was not merely an economy, but also a society”. However, we did not make the logical connection that the creation of a just society should require an abstention from the materialist development that we have pursued in which the acquisition of as much wealth as possible to the neglect of the most vulnerable is perceived as success. In that milieu, the drug baron is of equal status to the successful business magnate or community leader.
Can we then blame the impressionable youngster for wishing to take the easier road less frequently travelled to fame and fortune? To answer my own question therefore, no, it is not the guns only. It is rather our chosen developmental path. And as the weeping man in the rearview mirror seen by Shabine in Derek Walcott’s “Schooner Flight”, we might yet weep for the houses, the streets…