The Caribbean’s War on Guns

Criminal violence, employing a wide variety of firearms, has emerged as a singularly important challenge for countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in the modern era. Up to three years ago, regional authorities were estimating that more than 70 percent of all murders were the product of a wide variety of both modest and increasingly sophisticated weapons.

When CARICOM leaders met in Port of Spain in April, they were unanimous in declaring crime and violence as a public health issue requiring a slew of official and public interventions at different stages of a continuum leading to disturbingly high criminal violence statistics. Accordingly, at that meeting, a special spotlight fell on firearms, including their entry into a region that neither manufactures such weapons nor plays any significant intermediary role in the global trade in guns.

Through this series of articles by correspondents in Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, readers can acquire a basic understanding of the multi-faceted nature of the phenomenon of gun violence in the Caribbean.

For example, we learn that while firearms are not currently the weapon of choice for criminal acts in Grenada, officials in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago wrestle with organised networks activated to secure a growing presence and usage. In Barbados, we examine the journey of firearms via porous ocean borders and through both lawful and unlawful entry points. In Guyana, both land and sea frontiers are frequently breached, and vast unpoliced regions have provided ample cover for a lucrative trade.

What seems clear is that a multi-pronged attack on all aspects of criminal violence, with special focus on the use of firearms, is being recognised as a key component of addressing an unfolding scenario of violence and death. With evidence that the vast majority of weapons land on Caribbean shores from the United States of America, regional governments have joined with Mexico to hold U.S. gun-makers legally liable for the trafficking of arms along the island chain.

Correspondingly, at the April summit, CARICOM leaders declared a ‘War on Guns’ and invited the U.S. to “join the Caribbean in its ‘War on Guns’.” There are also efforts to address some of the domestic circumstances leading to the increasingly deadly resort to violence, especially by the young, and to ensure that all institutions, including the criminal justice system, are on the same page when it comes to addressing the situation as a matter of urgency.

This CIJN series attempts to get a handle on the current state of play with the Caribbean’s troubled relationship with guns.