Today’s Opinion: Guns for the rich

POSTED: 02/27/11 9:10 PM

Maybe it is understandable that Justice Minister Roland Duncan came to the conclusion that the have’s on this island must get better means to protect themselves against the increasing number of armed robberies and burglaries. After all, nobody wants to be robbed by a couple of street punks of goods and money they have let sweat, blood and tears for; nor will anybody look forward to the prospect of one of those punks raping his wife or daughter.
But the gun law proposal Duncan has in mind meets with strong opposition, and for very good reasons. Basically, any law that allows more people to own guns will result in the presence of more firearms on the island. Since teenaged robbers already seem to have no problem finding a gun when they want one, letting additional legal firepower in will only make matters worse.
It is true that the Justice Minister wants citizens that apply for a license in the future undergo a psychological test. He also wants them to have a safe in their home where they are supposed to store the weapon.
Gun owners in the some US-states must have two safes: one for the weapon, and one for the ammunition. That in itself makes owning a gun rather pointless. What to do in case a gunman enters your home? Tell him to wait because your own weapon is still in the safe, and you’re bullets are in another safe?
The flaw in Duncan’s proposal is that his law does not monitor people’s behavior. It does not take into account what perfectly sane people might do when they are drunk, stoned or angry. It does not take into account sloppy behavior whereby the gun is not in the safe, but on a bedside table. Nor does it take into account that women, who might carry a small weapon in their handbag, still could get robbed, or they could forget their handbag.
Chief Prosecutor Mos mentioned the possibility that these guns could end up in the hands of small children. And when accidents happen, he added rather gloomily, the minister won’t be the one to clean up the mess.
Another aspect of this unfortunate proposal is that it will lead to an arms race between legal gun owners and criminals, and therefore also to a higher black market demand for weapons. The logic behind this prediction is solid and simple.
Gun toting criminals have the upper hand over unarmed victims. If more potential victims arm themselves, criminals will feel the need to overcome this by arming themselves better. So there will be bigger guns, criminals will bring more firepower to the party. In that sense, Duncan’s gun law will make things worse instead of better.
The next argument against the law is that it seems to be designed for the happy few – for people with money. They are of course obvious potential targets for armed criminals, but it does not change the fact that wealthy people will have less trouble coughing up five grand for a gun, a safe, and a permit than a minimum wage earner.
Let’s not forget, apart from protecting property, a lot of people also feel the need to protect themselves. The have-not’s are put at a disadvantage here because they will simply not be able to afford a licensed gun.
That will also drive more people towards the black market where guns are slightly cheaper and where nobody asks you for a psychological evaluation or for the presence of a proper safe in your home. Hard cash is all that matters in these circles.
And so Duncan’s gun law might easily turn St. Maarten into a second Jamaica, where newspapers celebrate weekends when the number of murders stays in the single digits.
The Prosecutor’s Office strongly opposes the proposed gun law and it would not surprise it one bit if Chief Commissioner of Police Peter de Witte is similarly opposed.
The last stumbling block for Duncan is therefore the parliament of Country St. Maarten. Parliamentarians, as we all know, earn around $125,000 before tax plus generous benefits per year. They might just feel that they belong to the category that has something to lose, and therefore feel a strong need for protection.
But when the parliament approves this legislation it will take a self-serving decision that does a huge disfavor to the citizens in whose interest they are supposed to be working.
Results do not lie; we are not able to repeat this often enough. When the gun law proposal goes to the parliament, and when the parliament approves it, the people of St. Maarten will once again come to realize what is more important: the safety of all, or the safety of the happy few.

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