A voice from the Diaspora: Under the gun
In this file photo, Chief executive officer of the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) Shane Dalling addressing journalists ata press conference at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel (Photo: Michael Gordon)

I have had personal interactions with the present Jamaican Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, and from what I have garnered he does have the best interest of the Jamaican people at heart.

Yes, Holness, has not gotten all things right. He is far from perfect but he is not beyond reason and, in my estimation, will give deep thought to matters that stand to affect the growth of the nation and its general population regardless of their political affiliation.

He now stands at the helm of a country which is under the gun. The citizenry is long past the end of its tether. The murder rate continues to spiral out of control and, as has been the case in the last two decades, illegal guns have been the weapon of choice to commit the majority of those murders.

It was Mr Holness who made a promise at a political rally in St Mary while in opposition that Jamaicans would be able to sleep with their doors open if his Jamaica Labour Party was given the majority in parliament. I was present at that rally. I heard it firsthand. Beside Holness on the podium was Member of Parliament Bobby Montague.

He got what he asked for but the Jamaica Labour Party has not delivered on its promise. Instead they have foisted upon us a man who has expressed and acted in every way contrary to making that statement seem just another empty rant by a power hungry politician who forgot his commitment to the people from whose bowels he emerged.

That man is Shane Dalling. Dalling was installed as head of the Firearms Licensing Authority soon after the JLP win. Not one Jamaican voter elected Dalling yet he occupies a seat of power and uses that power to decide which set of Jamaicans deserve the right to the lawful defense of life and property.

As head of the Firearms Licensing Authority, Shane Dalling, expressed his bias against relaxing the requirements for law-abiding citizens to access legal firearms and ammunition in a recent media interview.

Dalling reasons that illegal guns are not the cause of the high murder rate, but guns in general. He pointed to cases of police officers being shot by gunmen while armed, the amount of legal guns which have been lost by their owners or stolen and outside jurisdictions who have restricted gun ownership as examples to boost his flawed view.

Careful analysis of Dalling’s arguments will show that cases of police officers who are shot by gunmen while armed are in the minute minority. Less than 10 cops are killed each year in Jamaica by gunmen while an average of 100 or more armed hoodlums are cut down by the security forces annually, according to statistics which are readily available.

Dalling also said 15 guns were lost by their owners in a short period this year, but the body he represents released statistics that revealed there are over 45,000 legal firearm holders in Jamaica. Simple math would reveal that Dalling’s 15 guns are less than one per cent of the overall number.

As violent as Jamaicans are, we do not execute mass shootings on religious or racial grounds as was the case in New Zealand when far right extremist, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, embarked on a macabre massacre at two Muslim mosque during Friday prayers in March 2019. Harrison was armed with two AR-15 rifles, two 12 gauge shotguns, a .357 magnum lever action rifle and a .225 calibre bolt action rifle.

It was after the deaths of 51 people and the injury of 40 others that the state of New Zealand decided to restrict legal gun ownership.

But one should ask Mr Dalling this: who among those chorus of voices calling for the Jamaican citizenry to be given the inalienable right to defense of life is asking to be as heavily armed as Harrison was? Dalling is using an extreme case to bolster his argument.

Clearly, persons who embark on the random shooting of innocent civilians have serious mental problems and should not be allowed access to weapons.

In Jamaica’s case, we have an imbalance of power. While the state twiddles its thumbs on this serious issue, gunmen run rampant committing crimes at will and holding unarmed, cowering small business owners and hardworking taxpayers under their heel. Their only defense is the security forces who already have their hands full and cannot be in all places at once. Jamaican gunmen know this and use it to their advantage. In most cases, when the criminals are faced with a challenge from trained gun owners, they come out on the losing end and, as has always been the case, flee the scene when the shots they so love to dispense come zinging back in their direction.

Has Mr Dalling forgotten the recent case of a firearm holder taking out two criminals who attempted to hold up and rob the occupants of a taxi in St James? Or the case of a carload of men armed with rifles who tried to rob a bank in the same parish and took flight when challenged?

A Chinese couple who operated a small business in rural Jamaica were gunned down inside their establishment by gunmen after their application for a firearm was rejected by the authority. Does Dalling recall this?

The arguments for and against gun ownership can go on for eons while thousands more innocent Jamaicans die. What Jamaicans are demanding is action to allow them to protect themselves, their loved ones and by extension beat back the monster of crime and violence that has no intention of easing up.

Dalling also argued that all applications for firearm licenses are carefully perused on a case by case basis and that there is no wholesale rejection as the authority has often been accused of, and promised that in the future a more detailed outline will be provided to those whose applications have been rejected.

However, there are cases of policemen and soldiers who have been entrusted with firearms by the state to serve, protect and reassure on a daily basis but many of these same public servants have been denied the right to carry a personal sidearm by the authority.

How could that be? These are persons who already acquired the requisite training, why deny those persons a private gun?

I am acquainted with persons between the age of 24 and 35, who are not business owners or members of the security forces, who are owners of licensed firearms. What qualifies those young men over seasoned cops and soldiers?

It would be interesting to find out if Dalling, who has expressed his vehement opposition to allowing law-abiding Jamaicans the right to defend themselves, travels through the Jamaican streets on his own and unarmed. Is he provided armed protection by the state as head of such an important body?

As mentioned before, the Jamaican people did not elect Shane Dalling and it is the elected representatives of the country who should ultimately decide on this life and death issue.

Maybe Mr Holness and his fellow parliamentarians could fast forward a referendum on the issue as the voices crying out for the right to defend themselves are growing louder by the second, despite Dalling’s whimper.

In any case, the Jamaican citizens are under the gun and too many are dying without a chance to defend themselves.

Karyl Walker is a veteran journalist who served as the Jamaica Observer's Crime/Court and Online News Editor. He now resides in Florida, USA.

KARYL WALKER

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