Today’s Opinion: The case against more guns

POSTED: 03/14/11 11:44 AM

Justice Minister Roland Duncan’s plan to ease existing firearm legislation is mainly based on the thought that people have the right to defend themselves. But does the local crime level give reason to believe this is really necessary? We doubt it.

Examining 33 court cases about armed robberies going back to April 2007, we found that robbers showed a gun and actually fired shots in just one third of these crimes. The court cases cover many more robberies. There is one case for instance with eleven armed robberies, another one with seven of these crimes. In two cases, shots were not fired by the robbers, but by an ex-cop who happened to be on the scene. In one case, the robbery victim defended himself and he was killed. Of course, there is also one case that has not come to court yet – the robbery at the Afoo Food Club in Dutch Quarter in December 2009, whereby the armed robbers killed manager Eric Yuan Sam. It is hard to see though, how Sam could have defended himself against the robbers even if he had a gun somewhere in his supermarket.
There is not a single case whereby the victim had a gun and used it successfully to foil the robbery. Some would consider the 2007 Papillon case, whereby a man was threatened to such an extent by his later victim Maurice Hughes that he fired a wild shot but we question if it is possible to say that someone saved his own life by defending himself against uncalled for aggression with a gun that was, by the way, illegal.
Now maybe the proponents of Duncan’s gun law will use this as a point in their favor. If only law-abiding citizens had guns, they could pull it on their robbers, who are then supposed to pale in the face of such brutal resistance and give up their evil plans. Unfortunately, this is not how things work out in reality. Let’s examine the one case whereby the victim defended himself and got killed.
It was not a case of criminals against law-abiding citizens, but a rip-deal in the drugs circuit that went awfully wrong on May 1, 2009. The robbers wanted to sell the victim, Marco Beaumont, fake-cocaine and rob him of a substantial amount of money in the process. But when Beaumont discovered that he was buying sugar instead of coke, he pulled a gun, and shot at his robber, Hercules Remigio Rogers. That was a bad idea. Rogers was standing behind him and though he had not come with the intention to kill Beaumont, he returned fire and killed the drug dealer instantly.
That the Beaumont-case plays in criminal circles is irrelevant, because the principle we see at work here also applies to law-abiding citizens. The question here is what has a higher value: one’s life or one’s possessions. Obviously, Beaumont did not want to get fleeced for $15, 000, money that probably did not belong to him but to his own prospective buyer, but he made a bad call when he decided to pull his gun. In hindsight he would have been better off saying something like, “okay you got me, but I won’t forget this.” He would have lost a lost of money, but he would still have been alive.

In 2007 an illegal resident committed seven armed robberies but he never fired a shot. In 2008, several teenagers committed armed robberies. They had guns, but they never pulled the trigger. In November 2008, a hairdresser fired two shots at a man with whom he had had an argument without hitting anything. A 32-year-old American shot a hole in the roof of his house after a drunken argument with his Russian girlfriend. Then, in June 2009, an armed robber at work in Madame Estate encountered an off-duty police officer. While he was on the run, the cop fired at him and hit him twice.

Other robberies, like the Diamond International heist in Oyster Pond in August 2007, the robbery at the Pelican Resort in May 2009, and the one at Toppers in Simpson Bay in February 2010 all went by without a single shot being fired.
In January 2010 however, there was an armed robbery at a home where an 18-year-old boy fired shots that hit his victim in the leg. It was more or less a panic reaction. The boy had dropped the gun during the robbery, picked it up and then started firing. It earned him a 6-year prison sentence for attempted manslaughter. The Gold Creation Jewelry store robbery in Maho in August 2009 is one for the history books, because on that occasion shots were fired. Not in the store, but outside, when one of the robbers took aim at a policeman to facilitate his escape. No one got hit or hurt, even though one of the shots smashed into the window of an ice cream parlor across the road.

In October 2009, there was an armed robbery at the Cucha Allegre Bar on Illidge Road. Here, the robbers ran into an ex-cop who happened to have a gun license. Not only that, he was also carrying his weapon. The robbers threatened customers with their guns and they would have never fired a shot if the ex-cop had not started shooting. His bullets hit one of the robbers in the belly and a hand. Only then did the other robber return fire. Fortunately, he did not hit anyone. Another case that comes to mind is an incident at Club 111, where a man who was already on his way out after an argument hit a bouncer on his head with his own weapon.
All this is, of course, not an argument to let armed robbers do what they have been doing on our island all the time – robbing people of their possessions under threat of a firearm. The case-history shows that armed robbers seldom pull the trigger, and that the only attempts at defense against someone holding a gun ended in death or injury for the victim.

Criminals and youngsters who are seeing crime as the only way to get their hands on a little bit of money read newspapers too – believe it or not. They will anticipate Duncan’s gun law, if the decree ever is put into practice.
When criminals know that their adversaries might be armed, they will want to strike first. Hence, armed robbers who until now only used their weapons to threaten their victims will be inclined to shoot more often – if only to stay ahead of a scenario whereby the victim pulls a gun on them.
Putting more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens will therefore lead to more gun violence and more deaths. It will also put law-abiding citizens who take the sensible decision not to apply for a gun license at a greater risk, because young criminals will simply assume that their victims have weapons.
Making our community safer will therefore not be achieved by putting more guns in circulation. It is a losing proposition, and it is a good thing that Members of Parliament have shown that they have little confidence in Duncan’s plans. The question however is if this parliament will have the guts to show some backbone and to call the minister to order.
At the same time, the parliament ought to take its own responsibility and come up with initiatives to tackle the root causes of all this violence. The interview with departing prosecutor Rienk Mud (see Today of Saturday, March 12) gives our MPs several useful clues. What we need is a strong youth policy, and to put that policy in place in a meaningful way the organizations that have to deal with it have to be properly equipped. That demands creativity from a parliament and a government that is struggling to put together a balanced budget. But, as we have pointed out before, a lack of money, or a perceived lack of money, is not a valid excuse for doing nothing. What we need is a significant creative effort that does justice to our youth.
We will not be able to turn the situation around overnight. Nobody expects that. But if our parliamentarians keep sitting on their hands, looking at others for solutions, nothing will ever happen. That is not a good way to handle the people’s business – a favorite expression of parliamentarians who have nothing to show for their role as the representatives of “the people.”
If they do not act, our youth will. And as we all know, the more desperate these youngsters are, the more desperate their actions will be as well.
Opposing the idea of putting more guns in the hands of ordinary citizens is a good idea, but it will prove to be worthless if this position is not accompanied by positive action that offers our young generation a true perspective.

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