BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – THE Federation’s law-making body had recently passed the Firearm Amendment Bill, 2017, which seeks to enforce stiffer penalties on gun-related crime with the hope that this legislation would be a deterrent to criminals, thus a reduction in homicides and shooting incidents.
This Bill, which was read a third time and passed into law at the National Assembly on Thursday (Jun. 15), is an amendment that was recommended by the security forces.
“It is an amendment that was highly recommended by the High Command of the security forces. They saw it and we agreed. It was a critical tool in the fight against crime. It was never considered to be the linchpin in our fight against crime. Indeed, in my own presentation, it was very clearly stated that this was just one element as part of a broad and comprehensive response that we had undertaken to restore and to buttress public safety and security in this our beloved country,” said Prime Minister and Minister of National Security Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris.
While wrapping up the debate on the Bill Dr. Harris stated that the Team Unity Administration had heard the cries of the public and it would continue to work towards ensuring every citizen and resident is safe.
“We are saying to the country that we are concerned. We understand the entire country is concerned and we give you the solemn commitment that we will leave no stones unturned in our effort to restore public peace and safety in this country that we love.”
The Prime Minister also stated that by increasing the penalty by 50% (from 10 to 15 years), the Bill is an indication to all who would hear and listen that they must find no hinding place in the Federation.
“No hiding place in the homes of a parent or family member; no hiding place in our schools nor in our churches; no hiding place in our political parties; no hiding place anywhere. Law and order must again be the mantra...Yes, I accept that there is a clarion call by all law-abiding citizens for stiffer penalties to be exacted on the culprits, and we are doing so today and we will do more. This Bill then is about the future; it will not bring back the loved ones.”
The current homicide rate in St. Kitts and Nevis stands at 2.66 per month (16 for the year) and 81.25% or 13 of them are gun-related.
Since the passing of the Firearm Amendment Bill, 2017, there has been one shooting-death. The victim was 31-year-old Darnel Govia of Phillip’s Village, who was shot in broad daylight on Tuesday (Jun. 20) in the presence of many staff members of and visitors to the JNF General Hospital while he was waiting on a friend.
There were also shooting incidents on Friday (Jun. 23) in Upper Cayon and Halfway Tree that resulted in injuries to two men.
The one in Upper Cayon occurred at about 8:50 p.m. while the victim was walking in that area, and the other took place some 10 minutes later during a robbery. Both men were transported and treated at the JNF General Hospital.
These three incidents seek answers to the following question:
• Will the implementation of a 15-year sentence produce a reduction in gun-related crimes?
• Why since the Firearm Amendment Bill, 2017 was passed into law a young man was shot and killed in broad daylight at a public medical institution?
• Is it that the trigger happy youngsters in the Federation have decided that five more years in Her Majesty’s Prison cannot kill them and that they are certain of being fed three-square meals per day by taxpayers?
• Is it that the unscrupulous gunmen are unconcerned who would have seen when they commit such acts, because witnesses would not provide information on their identity to the police due to fear of reprisals?
While the increased penalty can be said to be timely and also a good legal strategy, priority must be given to identifying the accessibility of these illegal firearms and ammunition.
Earlier in the year, Dr. Harris declared that his Team Unity Administration would maintain a zero tolerance approach to crime, adding that the Government would continue to provide law enforcement agencies “with as much support as the state could” in the fight against crime.
True to his word and as the Minister of Finance, in the 2017 Budget $71.7M was allotted to the Ministry of National Security to assist in the fight against crime. This was in addition to the implementation of a Six Point Plan and a number of other initiatives and strategies, including technology boost to the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force.
In furtherance to the budgetary allocation and initiatives, the Ministry of National Security has recently implemented its National Crime Reduction and Prevention Strategy, and Permanent Secretary Osmond Petty had announced that they would be utilising the services of a number of NGOs to target and rehabilitate young people who are involved in gangs and other criminal activities.
Petty said one of the NGOs is the newly-formed Lifetime Touch Incorporated, which is going to roll out some programmes in getting people to go into communities to interact and work with gang members or potential gang members.
He further said that a USAID-funded programme called Community Family and Youth Resilience would be introducing “something called Violence Interupters, which is going to get people to train persons to go and interact with gang members or people who are potentially leaning in that direction...”
These are all good initiatives coupled with the Police Force’s plans to engage communities in reaching out to young people who are involved in criminal activities, and to visit schools with the aim of preventing students from engaging in deviant behaviour and to inculcate the attitude, moral values and social norms that would make them respectable, trustworthy and law-abiding adults .
Additionally, in the fight against crime, citizens and residents have seen an increase in police and soldiers presence (both vehicle and foot patrols) in various communities on both islands as part of the security forces Citizen Safety Operations, where they conduct searches for illegal rearms, illegal ammunition and illegal drugs.
According to SKNVibes’ records, between 2001 and Jun 20, 2017 there have been 315 homicides: 40 between 2001 and 2005; 104 between 2006 and 2010; 98 between 2011 and 2014; and 73 between 2015 and June 20, 2017.
Those homicides reflect a very significant depletion in the nation’s young male population, believed by many to be the result of ongoing feuds among gangs.
However, what is commendable so far for this year, is that 25 illegal firearms and a large quantity of ammunition were removed from the Federation’s streets by members of the security forces.
Also commendable is this year’s detection rate of homicides which stands at 44%.
But the fact remains that although St. Kitts and Nevis and other countries in the region do not manufacture guns, they still make their way into the Federation.
It is a known fact that some of these deadly devices had made their way into the Federation through the various ports of entry and, moreover, stealthily through the open borders on both islands.
But have we ever given thought to how gang members and other criminal-minded individuals had and continue to gain possession of these illegal firearms and ammunition?
It is highly improbable for a poor person to illegally import firearms and ammunition either from a manufacturer (who is not law-abiding and is only concerned with profits) or a middle man.
This therefore means that the purchases were and are being made by wealthy individuals, who would then offer them for sale or, as is being bandied on the streets, rent them for a substantial fee.
The police therefore need to strengthen their local network of information gathering as well as broadening same with their regional and international counterparts in order to identify those importers and bring them to justice.
While such a move will not see the end of criminal activities, it certainly can result in the reduction of gun-related deaths and injuries, because, if measures are in place to identify, prosecute and incarcerate the importers for decades, in the long term the undetected firearms will be of no use without ammunition.
Conclusively, many people are of the view that despite Amnesty International and a number of other human rights organisations and groups are against the death penalty, the Government should have it reintroduced as a deterrent to those who would have been entertaining thought killing their fellow men.
On condition of anonymity, one individual said: “These youngsters know that if they kill someone they would not see the gallows. Depending on their defence counsel, they might get off scotch free or given lengthy or life sentences. This means that persons had lost their lives and they, the perpetrators, are still alive getting fat off of taxpayers’ dollars while in jail.”