Today’s Opinion: Saturday night special

POSTED: 03/11/11 4:50 PM

Minister Duncan’s plans to regulate gun ownership by ministerial decree will probably do nothing to curb the circulation of cheap illegal hand guns, commonly known as Saturday night specials. If anything, the regulation will encourage more citizens to apply for, and obtain, a license – not to kill, but to carry.
Chief Prosecutor Mr. Hans Mos expressed his objections against the gun law for the first time in a front page article in this newspaper on March 5. Today, we publish more details about his objections and those of Chief Commissioner Peter de Witte.
In a four-page expose he submitted to Minister Duncan on January 7th, Mos examined the pros and cons of the intended gun policy and its ramifications for St. Maarten. First of all, he acknowledges that the feelings of unsafety among citizens are significant. That sentiment came about after a series of violent crimes, committed, Mos says, by youngsters who would have been arrested much earlier, had law enforcement been properly equipped in terms of resources and tools.
“The result is that often young boys disappear for ten years or more into the prison. They could have shaped the future of St. Maarten, but they have to be written off for a long time. I find that a pity.”
And why do these youngsters end up behind bars? Mos finds the answer in the districts where they come from, places where there are no after-school activities, no recreation facilities, places where boredom is king. Parents are often absent, either because they are both working, or because they have split up. This social condition, Mos says, is a fertile soil for ganging up.
The Chief Prosecutor commends Duncan’s plans for community policing. “When people trust a neighborhood policeman he will obtain a lot of information about what is going on. That that information is there is something the prosecutor’s office takes for a fact, but people are reluctant to share it with the police out of fear for retaliation.”
Liberalizing possible firearms possession will lead to more casualties, Mos says. The same underprivileged youngsters will start paying a high price for their criminal behavior. They will either disappear for a long time in prison, or they will be shot in the act. That’s the Chief Prosecutor’s assessment of increased firearm possession.
But who is to blame? Mos point the finger at the state: “A whole group of young St. Maarteners is placed outside the society, while the state does not do anything to tackle the root causes.”
Mos points out that America has recognized the need to tackle the root causes; that’s the bases for the introduction of community policing.
Another aspect of the gun decree is, in the Chief Prosecutor’s opinion, the creation of have’s and have-not’s: obtaining a license and a legal gun complete with a weapon’s safe is expensive. That will stimulate black market activities among people who are unable to afford all this but who still do want to keep up with others.
That, Mos argues, will result in an armament race, and he points again to America for the potential consequences. “Nowhere in the world is the number of violent deaths as a result of firearm-use as high as in the United States.”
The gun decree might also have an effect on the opinion of Judges in the Court in First Instance, Mos says. Already now, the prosecutor’s office is sometimes taken by surprise when the court sends a defendant who is facing 12 months imprisonment for firearm possession, is simply sent home.
“Liberalizing the gun law will make upholding the firearms ordinance not simpler. On the contrary, the judge could see this as a changed sentiment at the government about the acceptance of firearms in the community. This way we achieve exactly the opposite of what is intended.”
The Chief Prosecutor’s conclusion leaves no room for doubt. “A more liberal gun law will complicate the work of all departments involved in maintaining law and order, while the feeling of unsafety will sooner increase than decrease.”
It’s a good thing that most parliamentarians have serious doubts about the minister’s plans. They may be well-intended, but if there are so many objections, so many possible negative effects, we’d say it is time to withdraw the initiative and to come up with something better.

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