We won't escape the gun ownership debate if...
The Firearms Bill stipulates, among other things, a mandatory life sentence for anyone convicted of stockpiling three or more firearms.

The video of a bartender in a St Andrew inner-city community being attacked and shot by two criminals is both frightening and most painful to watch.

News that the two delinquents, while fleeing the scene, were challenged by licensed firearm holders and that one of them was shot dead, while the other is believed to have been injured, has been greeted with delight by many people.

We are not surprised by that reaction as it is clear that an increasing number of Jamaicans are growing frustrated with spiralling crime, particularly murders which are being committed with impunity.

Police data show that between January 1 and October 1 this year a total of 1,171 murders have been reported — an increase of eight per cent over the same period in 2021. And, although we have seen a six per cent decrease in shootings over the period, the fact is that people feel a sense of fear, despite knowledge that a lot of the violence is targeted.

That, however, does not negate the possibility of random acts of violence which, we suspect, will reignite the oft-debated issue of granting firearm licences to citizens.

The application process, we know, is lengthy, as the Firearm Licensing Authority has a duty to ensure that gun permits are granted to individuals who have no criminal antecedents, are proficient in the use of firearms, have the means to secure the weapons, and are truly in need of being armed.

It is on that last burden of proof that the debate often turns, as gun ownership proponents contest the requirement to display need once applicants meet the other conditions.

The debate, as we said, is one which occupies the country's attention from time to time, and while it may not inflame passions in similar manner to issues such as abortion and homosexuality, it is nonetheless vigorous.

Given the levels of crime in the country, we get a sense that more people are coming to the view that citizens, in general, need to be armed to protect life and property, and basically give themselves a fighting chance against the bloodthirsty lot who revel in unleashing death and mayhem in the society.

There are, of course, genuine concerns that more ownership and carrying of firearms risk increases in spur-of-the-moment shootings sparked by disagreements, theft of guns — which would place more weapons in the hands of criminals — accidental killings, the use of firearms in acts of suicide, as well as the possibility of someone with no documented record of mental illness being issued a gun permit.

On the other side of the debate is the argument that, if more people were armed, criminals would think twice about carrying out attacks as they could not be certain that they would not be shot or challenged by either their intended victims or bystanders.

There are jurisdictions abroad in which concealed weapons laws have led to decreases in what is generally regarded as opportunistic crime. At the same time, the experience has been different in other countries.

We are not yet at the point at which we can comfortably come down on one side of this debate. However, we believe it is a discussion that Jamaica will not be able to avoid if the society feels that its being held hostage by criminals.

The big question we will have to answer is whether any such move to relax the rules for legal gun ownership will be helpful or harmful.

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