Modify the Gun Court Act


Modify the Gun Court Act


Sunday, February 16, 2020

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In England, the sentence for illegal possession of a firearm is a maximum of 10 years. This is a country with an average annual murder rate of 1.5 per 100,000.

Their system of gun control has made the acquisition of firearms so difficult that terrorists are forced to use knives and motor vehicles to carry out their evil agendas.

The United States of America gives out sentences for distribution of narcotics that often exceed 30 years. Many of the laws that dish out this type of pain came about because of the crack wars in the 1990s.

This system, to a large degree, imprisoned an entire generation of citizens of African or Caribbean heritage living in large cities such as Los Angeles and New York. However, it brought an end to the epidemic and the killing. Something to think about.

In 28 states in the USA there exists the 'three strikes' law that carries a sentence of life imprisonment for three convictions for crimes that could be considered relatively minor in our crime environment. The logic behind this is based on a principle of identifying career criminals not likely to contribute positively to society, and protecting society by removing them from it.

This from a country with a per capita murder rate of four or five per 100,000, give or take, depending on the year. This could certainly be considered a drastic measure, since their murder rate is not seen as alarming.

In Jamaica, a country with a murder rate of 45 to 50 per 100,000, depending on how bad a year we have had, we give sentences of about three to seven years for illegal possession of a firearm. Bear in mind that a prison year is eight months, and probation kicks in about three quarters of the way into a sentence. A convict could be out in under two years.

The Gun Court hears most gun cases, unless they involve murder or a few other offences. It can sentence for terms exceeding 30 years, as it is a High Court and not limited in its penalties, like the Parish Court. It was instituted as a response to a massive increase in gun crimes in 1974. Therefore, it hit hard with sentences of over 20 years for illegal gun possession.

The law that governed the Gun Court served as a sharp shock that would remove the gangsters from society and discourage others to follow. As time went by, the system changed to a more humane one that allows for leniency in keeping with standards of a civilised country. I agree with the thought process behind the change. However, it goes against the principle that created the Gun Court to remove from society those who would choose to march us down the path that we are now on.

You may note that I have chosen countries that are considered moderate in their management of police and penal policy for comparison. Further to this, those countries are the primary influencers of our legal policies and practices.

I have not used Singapore, China, Cuba, or any of the controlled societies that have per capita murder rates of under three per 100,000. It comes down to balance. The noted moderates have control mechanisms similar to our Independent Commission of Investigations. The organisation ensures police moderation, but it is supported by a sentencing system that purges the primary threats against society. We do not have that.

Now, although I am not a fan of hard line mandatory sentencing, I do believe that a modification of the Gun Court Act to allow a return to its original function and practice of issuing long sentences that remove the threats, and acting as a symbol of fear to the would-be offenders, is in order. We are in a crisis.

This will come at a cost. Penal facilities need to be much larger. Penal systems need to be more humane. We are either going to spend the money housing the criminals, or on the hospital wards they are filling. This can be done with far less outcry from the Opposition, than continuing the state of emergency or using of the hard-line methods that may offend our foreign partners, or should I say bosses.

It will also cost us more courtrooms, judges, prosecutors and registrars, because guilty pleas will end. This may require revisiting the granting of bail for gun offences. And it is not necessarily forever.

We can change it back. This could happen after about five to 10 years when we have normalised our crime rate.

This is the approach required to manage a crisis. We are losing people who have a right to live every day because we choose to spare the future of the men who have shown a desire to engage in violent and deadly conduct.

Remember, a killer's first crime is rarely murder. He builds up to it. Two out of the three men convicted with Adijah Palmer, oc Vybz Kartel, also have convictions in the Gun Court. And they were charged before the committal of the murder they were convicted of. No bail and 20 years mandatory would have removed them from society to the cage where they belong.

Drastic measures require drastic solutions. Jamaica's per capita homicide rates are consistently in the top five on this planet for countries not at war. I would say extreme measures are not only reasonable, but are the only ones that will work.

Moderation can only be applied in environments that present moderate threats.


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