By RUPERT MISSICK Jr
OFFICIALS in the Bahamas had hoped that the now failed proposed measure to expand gun background checks in the United States would have assisted law enforcement here to stem the tide of illegal firearms into the country.
Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson, speaking to reporters yesterday, said any legislation that would have made it more difficult to traffic in firearms would have had a significant impact in the Bahamas.
“Very early on in our administration, the prime minister (Perry Christie) spoke to the Secretary (Hillary) Clinton about this matter. This is a critical matter for the Bahamas,” Mrs Maynard-Gibson said.
She pointed out that gun trafficking affects everyone in the region. She had hoped that the US legislature would have put in measures to deal with it .
Firearms are used in 60 per cent of violent crimes in the Bahamas and as the manufacture of small arms, ammunition and/or their components is prohibited in the country, the lion’s share of illegal firearms smuggled into the Bahamas come from the United States. While the legal import of firearms and ammunition in the Bahamas is an industry worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, there are no estimates on how much illegal importation is worth.
In 2012, police recovered 405 illegal firearms, 99 per cent of which originated in the state of Florida.
According to The Brady Campaign, a nonprofit organisation in the United States named after James Brady, who was permanently disabled as a result of an assassination attempt on US President Ronald Reagan in 1981, Florida has some of the weakest gun control laws in the country, tying for “second worst” with a score of three out of 100 points. The state’s violent crime rate of 454.8 per 100,000 inhabitants is rated 11th worst in the country.
In Florida, persons require no state licence to purchase firearms, the registration of firearms is not required, and there is no assault weapon ban or restriction on magazine capacity.
Florida law permits private firearm transfers between residents without processing through a Federal Firearms Licensee. And while some Florida counties have universal background check laws, which the bill before the US Senate addressed, officials complain that the laws remained largely unenforced.
The defeated gun control sought by President Obama in the wake of the mass shooting at Newtown elementary school last year, would have required background checks on sales at gun shows and on the internet which currently don’t exist in Florida and many other states in the US.
The vote on the Manchin-Toomey amendment was 54 in favour, 46 against – failing to obtain the 60-votes it needed to pass. A number of other amendments also failed to make the 60 vote threshold, including a bill that would prevent the trafficking in firearms.
Former Assistant Commissioner of Police Paul Thompson told The Tribune yesterday that lax laws, such as those in Florida makes it easier for persons from the United States to transfer ownership of weapons to persons willing and able to smuggle firearms into the Bahamas.
“Sometimes you will have people using our open borders to bring them in using private boats of aeroplanes, sometimes you have persons who work on cruise ships or the crew of cargo ships. In the United States there is no restrictions on the number of guns you can own, so it provides many opportunities for stockpilers of these weapons to enter into trade with others,” he said.
In 2010, Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade revealed that there were 15,545 licensed shotguns and 1,565 rifles. He did not provide statistics on the number of handguns.
While no official numbers exist, it is estimated that there could be up to 3,000 such firearms in the country.
Mr Thompson said that he had hoped that stricter laws would have made the prospect of bringing guns into the Bahamas more unattractive and possibly unprofitable for gun smugglers.
The Bahamas is listed by The Small Arms Survey – an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland – as being among countries that have a very high level of lethal violence against women – six women per 100,000 of the female population.
According to The Small Arms Survey, firearms play a major roll in these deaths.
“Many women report having been threatened with a firearm before they fall victim to a (murder). Firearms in the home similarly represent an increased risk to women as they are more likely to be used to threaten and inflict harm on family members than to protect the home from intruders.”
The Bahamas ranks 98 in the world of privately owned (both legal and illicit) firearms per capita – approximately six firearms in the country per 100 people.
According to the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers – a database of exports and imports of small arms – the value of recorded small arms and ammunition imports to the Bahamas in 2011 was $232,560.