Columns

The NRA and the gun connection in Jamaica

Wignall's World

Mark Wignall

Sunday, December 30, 2012    

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Following on the recent brutal slaying of 20 first-graders with an assault rifle in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama has called for 'action' on some level of gun control while those in the National Rifle Association (NRA) have increased their proactivity in defence of 'Second Amendment rights.'

This push-back by the NRA and the rush to purchase assault rifles by the gun-crazy crowd in the USA could have a negative influence on Jamaica's level of criminality. Put another way, an increase of guns in American households will equate to an increase of what I call the 'effluent' on the Jamaican streets.

One newer assault rifle purchased in some American city or suburb will, theoretically, free up an older model into the US underground from which it is likely to make its way into the Caribbean and into the hands of Jamaica's criminal elements.

As a countermove, Jamaica's mayors — those individuals closest to leadership of the communities — ought to come out in support of and express solidarity with American mayors who are leading the charge in some form of gun control. Indeed, I would suggest that Kingston Mayor Angela Brown Burke should take an active role in this process.

It may appear that such an approach could come across as empty wishing and hoping and not a tangible attack on the American gun-crazy crowd who see nothing wrong with one American household owning multiple assault rifles. In reality, we here in Jamaica have no real power to influence the gun lobby in any American city, but that small move by our local mayors would be better than nothing.

Jamaica's health system spends about $2.2 billion per annum dealing with trauma/violent attacks, that is, cases where guns, knives and other implements are used. An excess of any more guns in the system brings about an increase of fear, the risk of additional injury and injury itself, attending to, treating and managing disabilities.

An excess of guns in Jamaica where we are not a part of the value chain in producing guns and ammunition will have a negative impact on tourism, local entertainment and, of course, it will increase the protective layer on Jamaica's housing stock — that thing we call grille work.

Bear in mind that the gun is also used as a tool of power and not necessarily for shooting others. Think robbery and rape and one will have a better understanding.

President Obama will have a fight on his hands with the powerful NRA and the gun-crazy crowd in America. In Jamaica our leaders will be powerless to defend our shores from the expected influx of assault rifles arriving via the link between the American and the Jamaican underworld.

There is just too much shoreline and not enough resources (coast guard vessels, manpower) to deal with these important and pressing considerations. Our security forces should not fool themselves into believing that the recent rapid and illogical purchase of assault rifles in America will have no impact in Jamaica.

In other circles it's called globalisation.

What about the 'brown' money?

The man approached me almost with an embarrassing deference.

"Mr Wignall, you are one of my heroes and I am asking you to do something about a matter concerning poor people."

I braced for it and listened while locking eyes with him. "Sir, my name is Nigel Griffiths and I was not blessed with the opportunity to secure institutional education. I have been assessing the leaders of this country and sometimes I wonder if they have been really exposed to the best education at the finest universities."

Wow, I thought. He may not have been exposed to 'institutional education' but, as far as I was concerned, he was doing fine.

"The way I have extrapolated it is that our leaders do not really care about the poor. Imagine I go into a supermarket and purchase something. I am given change, sometimes in 'brown' money, you know from one cent to 25 cents, and yet whenever a poor person like me take this brown money to make up the repurchase of goods, it is refused."

I told him that I was genuinely unaware of any such thing, even as two people within earshot of our conversation nodded in agreement with his observation. One said it was a regular thing with him and that he had to be 'saving up' the brown money at home.

Mr Griffiths said, "Our political leaders must stand up in support of the poor and tell us in no uncertain terms if the brown money is still legal tender. If it is, they should force the shops and merchants to accept them."

Whenever I go to the supermarket, any change given back to me in 'brown money' is left back on the check-out counter. Quite possibly I am not the only one doing that, as our currency has taken a battering in its value over the years. Among the poorest, however, a 10-cent and 25-cent coin is significant when added up over time.

And, as far as I am aware, these coins are still legal tender. One supermarket owner told me, by phone, that he has no problems in accepting these coins. That was his word. There is the likelihood that his actions may be at variance with that position.

Let me hear from you on this one.

The PNP Administration needs a theme for 2013

In its relationship with the general public in 2012, the PNP Administration in its first year may have come across as disengaged and tentative.

It is my belief that each year of an administration should be centred on a theme and that theme should be actively pursued.

I would like to suggest that the Administration choose 'Engagement' as its 2013 theme. We know that it is more political idealism than reality whenever a new Administration promises 'open government'. That usually means that selective bits and pieces will be doled out to the people over the life of the Administration.

Even though there is still an IMF agreement pending, certainly we do not expect Minister Peter Phillips to divulge every little detail of the 'sticking points' holding up the agreement. But then again, why not?

Phillips may wish to cherry-pick the information he wants passed on to the general public, many of whom are not convinced that their lives will be better, IMF deal or not. So he may say something and they may not listen, and if he says nothing, they may press him to say something.

What is a politician to do?

The theme of 'engagement' is needed in 2013 because many people at street level are sensing that their leaders have deliberately avoided sharing with them the real problems which took place in 2012.

If the PNP Administration has bad news, it should be told to the people. Where there is good news, and I am assured (and to a large extent, have seen evidence of it) that there is, the people must be engaged at the community level.

The Opposition JLP seems prepared to ride out the next four years, contrary to its stated mode of getting election-ready. Election-ready on what? Does it have a theme on which it hopes to peg its state of election readiness?

For starters it could take on the responsibility of pressuring the ruling PNP to complete the Finsac enquiry and final report. Certainly it must have the capacity to force the Government into releasing the Finsac report if it uses all of the first part of 2013 for that only.

It could ask, what is the PNP afraid of? Will certain players in the PNP face embarrassment over a Finsac report? Could there be something more serious than just plain embarrassment?

Ideally, the PNP Administration, in its engagement theme, should attempt to come clean with the Finsac report. It should tell the people of this country why over $60 million was wasted on an enquiry and there has been no report.

Its response so far has been an embarrassment and one designed to fuel the view that the PNP has something to hide.

Does it indeed have anything to hide? Open government? A government of engagement on all matters?

Let's watch it over the next three months.

All the best for 2013.

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