By NICOLE BURROWS
I’m riding through an American town and I see from a fair distance a giant sign, red print on a white background, “G U N S...”, and underneath those four letters, “...and more”. Conceivably, the “and more” are accessories.
Less than a block away, I see a federal building, and I pause to consider the irony of these seemingly contrasting elements of American society, especially in the wake of an ongoing – really, never-ending – debate on gun violence and gun control.
The Republicans, long painted as the gun-toting Americans, firmly believe in their right to bear arms, as per the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Undoubtedly, so do some Democrats. But the conservatives’ view that nothing is accomplished with respect to gun violence and mass shootings by disarming Americans is not one shared by the liberals’ view that disarming is probably one of the most likely (if not one of the only) ways to reduce gun violence in America.
Leading up to the next US election, much has been discussed in Republican and Democrat debates, in a chase for the presidential nomination in each party. Lately, Hillary Clinton, who many now believe is the Democrats’ forerunner in the competition to enter the White House, has stated some of her ideas about gun control, which, of course, have been met with a great deal of resistance by Republicans.
Among her suggestions, Clinton proposes that background checks for online and gun show purchases be broadened; no gun should be sold without a thorough federal background check being completed within three days, and no gun should be sold to anyone with a felony record.
As for the other points she raises in respect of gun control, Clinton suggests that the current federal law, which prevents gun manufacturers from being sued directly by victims of gun violence, should be repealed, by executive order if necessary.
Clinton, who says “...the epidemic of gun violence knows no boundaries”, has also offered that the National Rifle Association (NRA) form a new organisation to protect its most-favoured Second Amendment rights from the mentalities of extremists.
While attempting to figure out how any of these suggestions are useful, and reading between the lines, I have to ponder, is Clinton equating the NRA with extremists? How does forming a new organisation out of the existing organisation change that fact, if they are? I suppose it’s fair enough to postulate that some members of the NRA have extremist tendencies, but how does separating out into another body solve the problem of gun violence?
For that matter, how does repealing the federal law that protects gun makers from liability lawsuits solve the real problem of gun violence? It’s complementary, but not fundamental to resolution.
Clinton’s rival in the democratic race for the presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders, says “sensible gun control legislation” is required, in addition to “significant improvements in mental health services”. Clinton has been reported to have labelled the mental health approach as “defeatist”.
But, even if it sounds defeatist to some, or impossible to others, I propose that there is at least some merit in this conceptualisation. I would go one step further to say that improving mental health services is on track to the answer, though not the answer in itself. The key, rather, to unlocking the solution to the gun violence door, is to be prepared to approach the door with the frame of mind that evaluative mental health services should be employed in this specific matter of gun control, at the level of gun sales, not just improving mental health care across the board, which is far too vague to put any dent in this problem.
Nicholas Johnson wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, to which commenter John Lefkus replied, “Welcome to America where our freedom and pursuit of happiness comes with an acceptable death rate from our liberties, hobbies and vices.”
Another reader said the debates do not address “the real gun violence going on in America: gang and drug trafficking related shootings”.
This second comment is reminiscent of our problems with gun violence in The Bahamas, where it is illegal to purchase or bear arms unless you just want to hunt pigeons in the bush in Andros. (Sidebar: How many bird or game hunters do we have in Nassau, New Providence, or The Bahamas?)
In any event, The Bahamas has the same problem of gun violence that America has, as do many other countries. But the reasons for this same problem are not the same in both, or all, places.
The illegal trade, use, and existence of illegal weapons is the problem for The Bahamas. It is also a problem in America (and elsewhere), but the violence in America that captures media and public attention and is at the centre of presidential candidates’ debates is focused on the innocent people who are not gun-wielding madmen but are getting caught in the gun-wielding mad man’s madness. And, yes, thus far, these offenders are practically always men with mental issues.
The common factor of mental incapacity in gun violence is the same in America as it is in The Bahamas. In order to deliberately raise a weapon to any person or living thing, other than in self-defence or for sustenance (give a pass to real bird-shooters?), you have to have a bit of a mental vacancy, to say the very least. But knowing this is at the heart of the problem, how do you solve the problem?
For America, what about a compromise?
What if the Democrats, who are supposedly more disgusted by the gun violence than the Republicans, say, “hey, Mr or Ms Republican, you can bear your arms, let’s just make sure you’re sane first, seeing as predisposition to mental conditions is what makes gun violence a problem in the first place”? You can have or purchase a gun as lawfully as you can now, but not without psychological evaluation by a federally-registered psychiatrist, clinician, therapist, practitioner, etc.
A psych evaluation should be mandatory, much like a federal employee has to take a urine test, or like any number of other federal (or state) agencies require fingerprinting. Is that not a suitable compromise, to begin to address the problem?
In reality, for any new gun law in America to be successful, it has to be both 1) preventive, and 2) punitive, such that the perpetrator or anyone who empowers him without first evaluating and confirming his mental condition can and should be held responsible for the outcome of his maniacal actions. Republicans and Democrats alike must face the fact that not everyone with a licensed weapon has a normal psychology.
As for The Bahamas, and its illegal and unlicensed weapons trades in a country where there is no approval for a regular civilian to be regularly or ordinarily armed, the criminal or gangster is typically the gun toter. And, most often, the gun toter is sufficiently crazed.
But a series of questions have to be asked to arrive at the solution to The Bahamas’ problems with gun violence.
Where are the criminals getting the guns? They don’t just fall out of a black hole and into their hands.
Who profits from illegal firearms sales or trades in The Bahamas? Generally, the answer to that question is anyone who stands to gain financially, or mentally, by being regarded as the holder of control. That includes gangs, gang leaders, and other criminals involved in drug and other conflict. It includes criminal attorneys. It includes law enforcement rogues.
In fact, many have suggested that law enforcement in The Bahamas is the source of illegal weapons in The Bahamas. Should we believe that? Would you believe that more or less, if a police officer told it to you? What if a judge told you? A criminal lawyer? A criminal himself?
Nothing realistic can be done with the problem of gun violence in The Bahamas, until these questions are asked and answered. There is no way to stop something from happening if you can’t identify where or when it starts. Once you identify that potential turning point, if the problem is allowed to grow beyond it then that suggests you have no interest in stopping it.
Keith Bell, Minister of State for National Security, recently gave an interview in which he referred to the same old tired script vis-à-vis what his administration has planned to stem crime and gun violence: community and traditional policing; prosecution; rehabilitation. And I agree with Michael Pintard, that this is far too vague... but, then again, so is Pintard’s earlier proposal on behalf of the Free National Movement (FNM).
Until you tell us, Mr Bell, where the weapons are and who is trading them, which surely you must have an inkling about by now, then we’re not even hearing your script.
The problem of gun violence in our country cannot be solved without external help because there is little to no trust in the present ability of our leaders to solve the problem and little trust that those in charge have intentions of solving the problem.
As long as the people trying to solve the problem are a part of the problem, to any degree, the problem remains. If there is external, transparent assistance, it would point law-abiding law enforcers into a clear direction of the law-unabiding, with the ability to actually do something about them.
But why won’t we do this? Why won’t we get this external support?
Because we’re afraid to air our people’s dirty laundry?
Because we’re afraid to be seen as anything less than sovereign?
Because we’re so hopped up on testosterone that our egos can’t stand the fact that we need help?
Because we don’t want outsiders to know our poor leadership secrets?
Because we’re afraid of insiders... Bahamians... knowing the truth about what’s really going on with guns and crime in The Bahamas?
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