the way where the nights are gay, and the sun shines daily on the
mountain top, I took a trip on a sailing ship, and when I reached
Jamaica I made a stop."
in the fifties when Harry Belafonte sang "Jamaica
Farewell" (written by Lord Burgess), he lamented, "My
heart is down, my head is spinning around. I had to leave a little
girl in Kingston town." Then, a tourist in Kingston heard "Sounds
of laughter everywhere." Today, the tourists are long gone
from Kingston, and the defining sound of Jamaica's capital is gunfire.
round of trouble started on July 7 when a pre-dawn police raid went
sour. On July 11, England's Guardian
painted a grim picture of paradise lost: "Tanks and troops
in armoured cars patrolled the streets of parts of Kingston last
night as the Jamaican government struggled to restore order..."
By the time the shooting was over, police and soldiers had "fired
10,000 rounds, recovered no guns and found no criminals, but slaughtered
men, women, children, dogs, a cat and a goat in Tivoli Gardens...."
Jamaica's major newspaper, the Gleaner,
painted another picture, of financial ruin staring Jamaica in the
face: "The disturbance...received widespread international
attention...and already some hoteliers are reporting a high level
of cancellation." Ed Bartlett, opposition spokesperson on tourism,
commented that "crime and violence are threatening to destroy
the sector. More than anything else, they have served to tarnish
the country's image overseas and as the Tourism Minister rightly
stated, what we are now promoting is damaged goods."
publicity isn't new to Jamaica, because of rampant crime, out-of-control
police, and the consequences of gun prohibition.
no other country is the devastation caused by restrictive firearm
laws more evident than it is in Jamaica. Much of the criminality
present today can be traced directly back to the Gun Court Act of
1974, intended to "take guns off the streets, out of the hands
of criminals, and to lock up and keep gunmen away from decent society."
has accomplished exactly the opposite. The Gun Court took guns only
out of the hands of Jamaica's law-abiding, leaving them at the mercy
of the criminals and the state. The abject failure
of the Gun Court Act to achieve its stated purpose was pointed out
in the Gleaner on February 1: "Twenty-seven years after
the Gun Court was established as a division of the criminal justice
system illegal guns remain a plague on society."
Today in Jamaica,
easily acquired black-market guns have now largely replaced lawfully
acquired guns. For a price, a wide variety
of choice of guns are available.
a simple matter to get hold of a gun through illegal channels, legal
acquisition is an entirely different matter. In a guest appearance
at a recent local chamber of commerce meeting, Police
Commissioner Francis Forbes addressed "the problem faced
by both security firms and law-abiding citizens in obtaining firearms,
users permit and licenses." Reported the Gleaner, "The
Commissioner replied that there are procedures which must be rigorously
followed in granting firearm licenses...He appealed to persons experiencing
delays to be patient as the Force has to be satisfied that such
persons are worthy permit holders."
permit holders"? Few Jamaicans appear to have sufficient funds
or the desire to purchase enough "worthiness" to qualify.
It's much easier to purchase a gun on the black market, or build
one from scratch, than to satisfy a bureaucrat who's determined
to find you "unworthy." Even before the 1974 law, the
Jamaican gun licensing system was run so that only about 1% of the
population was "worthy" enough to own a gun.
the definition of what constitutes "criminal" behavior,
the Jamaican government has created a society predominated by criminals.
Much of the
violence stems from the often violent
rivalry between Jamaica's two major political parties
the People's National Party (PNP), and the opposition Jamaica Labour
Party (JLP) dating back to the 1970s. As the Associated Press
noted, "Politicians disavow ties to Jamaica's ruthless gangs,
but their histories are intertwined. The fearsome gang culture developed...when
politicians armed criminals to intimidate voters as the two main
parties fought for supremacy. The gangs, made financially independent
by the drug trade, now have evolved into a virtually uncontrollable
rate has long been among the world's highest, lagging only behind
South Africa and Brazil according to current U.N.
estimates. While rising crime rates were used to justify the
Gun Court Act and a variety of other repressive laws, crime today
is skyrocketing out of sight. The problem has been the focus of
ten comprehensive studies and recommendations
since 1976, the latest one released this year.
are a big part of the problem. Jamaica's rate of lethal police shootings
is among the highest
in the world. At 5.38 per 100,000 population (vs. about 0.11
for the U.S.), that's higher than the overall homicide rate in many
American states, and in most European nations.
Jamaica Constabulary Force is tantamount to obtaining a license
to kill. Of every two police officers who spend 25 years on active
duty in Jamaica, one of them is destined to kill in the line of
duty, suffering no legal or employment repercussions.
with the aftermath of a questionable fatal shooting here in the
US: an officer might lose his gun and badge, be sent to jail, be
sued by the federal government for the deprivation of the victim's
civil rights, or face trial for a wrongful death. Not uncommonly,
it marks the end of a career.
was exemplified when, in a prelude to July's public relations debacle,
more than 40 police and soldiers swooped down on a house in Braeton
during the pre-dawn hours of March 14, and shot dead 7 men, all
purported gang members. The police account
is that they identified themselves as officers and asked the occupants
to come out, but were greeted by gunfire. Relatives and residents
disputed that, calling the raid a "cold-blooded killing",
pointing out that not one of the lawmen was bruised or injured.
The high percentage of fatal headshots to the victims described
in the post-mortem
report strongly suggested that the police action amounted to
seven assassinations. Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga called
act of state terrorism.
side has taken a heavy toll. The economic lifeline of Jamaica is
with the island attracting nearly one million visitors each year.
In the 1970s and 1980s, tourists flocked to places like Negril,
Ocho Rios, and Montego Bay, ignoring the turf wars going on several
hours away in Kingston.
But no longer.
The latest outburst of violence came with a price tag estimated
at $14 billion in lost tourism
revenue. Frederick March, area chairman for the Jamaica
Hotel and Tourist Association, warned that the industry, already
in dire straits, can not afford to take another beating. As March
pointed out, Jamaica's image overseas is problematic and travelers
fear for their safety.
President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce, agreed:
"Crime and tourism do not go hand in hand and I am afraid that
if the crime rate continues to climb like this then we are really
in for some very rough times."
The problem is exacerbated by tourist harassment. The April 1, 2001
Gleaner noted that "Jamaica will lose an estimated $1
billion annually because of two cruise lines' decisions to redeploy
several of their vessels from Ocho Rios to other destinations."
The experience of American Matt Sauer in trying to retrieve
his camera from a tour guide at one of Jamaica's waterfall attractions
exemplified the problem. Before venturing up the falls, guides encourage
tourists to leave their cameras behind, and one goes around collecting
them. Sauer likened the experience to "a hostage trying to
negotiate [his] own release." Said Sauer, "We were told
on the ship to expect this sort of thing, but until you get here
one will not fully understand the magnitude of what is happening
American tourist, Gary Ghems, "This is a wonderful attraction,
easily the best of its kind in the Caribbean. However, what is happening
here is a major turn-off for a lot of visitors...This is simply
an elaborate scam, that maybe the authorities need to take a look
downward spiral reached the point of no return? Can anything turn
Jamaica around, or is it just a nation with nowhere else to go but
going to hell in a handbasket, reversing course is usually a good
idea, and the Jamaican government has recognized this with regard
to its drug policy: in August, it began to consider re-legalizing
marijuana, which is currently used by about 20% of Jamaica's population
(including Rastafarians, for whom it is a sacrament).
Many more policy
reversals are needed. The government has already acknowledged that
drug prohibition is a failure, that the 1974 anti-drug laws (enacted
at the behest of the Nixon administration) have devastated civil
liberties, enriched gangs, and made Jamaica more violent. The main
obstacle to the repeal of Jamaica's destructive laws appears to
be opposition from the U.S. government.
Peter Espeut put forth a
good recommendation: "The police force as presently constituted
seems unable (or unwilling) to cleanse itself, and the governments
of both parties seem to lack the political will or the testosterone
to step in and make the necessary changes." Pointing out that
"the large number of questionable police killings suggests
that there are a large number of police killers," Espeut advised
abolishing the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and establishing a Police
to firearms, Jamaica's government remains wedded to its failures.
At the recent United Nations conference on small arms, Jamaica's
proposed exporting his country's toxic policy, as he urged nations
which manufacture arms to reduce their output to a level sufficient
only to supply government agents.
Jamaica's antigun laws haven't protected the Jamaican people, and
because the police won't protect the Jamaican people, the Jamaican
government lacks any plausible moral authority to deprive its citizens
of the means of self-defense. Kingston has degenerated to the Hobbesian
nightmare of a war of all against all, aggravated by the government
supplying arms to one group of gangs (the police) and enriching
other gangs (through drug prohibition laws that provide the gangs
with their lucrative trade).
the Jamaican parliament is dithering over a new "Offensive
Weapons Act" that would impose still more controls on "anything
that can be manipulated by the hand of man." The country would
be a lot safer if, instead, parliament enacted a Vermont-style concealed
gun carry law allowing anyone without a criminal record to
carry a firearm for lawful protection. No police permit needed.
The crime rate would plunge as defenseless victims become armed
prey, willing and able to fight back without fear of government
retribution for exercising the fundamental human right of self-defense.
and the tourist industry will begin to recover, even in Kingston.
Repealing all the harmful antigun laws, besides saving the lives
of many Jamaicans, could also spawn a whole new tourist industry.
Gun-related tourism is already enriching Guam, which does a roaring
business from Japanese tourists seeking a go at rented guns. The
now-closed Diamond Head Gun Club in Waikiki, Hawaii, used to draw
Japanese who were willing to pay for the sheer fun of shooting a
gun. In 1997, manager Daniel Perez-Nava told reporters that the
majority of its customers came from tourist groups visiting the
island from other countries. "These people have flown halfway
across the Pacific for a chance to shoot 52 rounds of 22 caliber
ammunition. For some of them, it will be the only time in their
lives they will have an opportunity to shoot a real gun because
of the gun controls in their country...."
will fly to Guam just to shoot, they would certainly fly to Jamaica
for the same pleasure Jamaica being larger and more beautiful
than Guam. In 2000, approximately 135,000
Britons visited Jamaica. Why not offer tourists from countries
like Great Britain what they can't get back home?
tourists would come to Jamaica for shooting action hard to come
by in the States, like firing a fully automatic gun (legal in most
states, but not in some, such as New York), or shooting an exotic
movie gun from Robocop.
pursuing just such a tourist strategy. At the Pkorlan Club Shooting
Range near Phnom Penh, tourists pay to shoot automatic rifles
even including the M60
machine gun and to throw hand grenades. The cost is a $1
per bullet, which adds up very, very fast when one is shooting a
machine gun. But as a reporter from the Toronto Globe and Mail,
who had no previous shooting experience, explained, "you cannot
help but be thrilled by such a visceral experience." (Christopher
Vedelago, "'Do not point at anything you are not willing to
shoot': The transformation from happy tourist to grenade-lobbing
military warrior is easy in Cambodia. Just go to the Pkorlan Club
Shooting Range," The Globe and Mail, Aug. 18, 2001,
could continue to pass more laws that don't work, insist that citizens
trust the police to take care of protecting them, and hope that
27 years of failed repression will somehow lead to success in the
28th, 29th, or the 30th year, when the necessary quantity of civil-liberties
destruction is finally achieved.
choose the latter course, the gun prohibition and drug prohibition
bureaucracies at the United Nations stand ready and eager to help.
But when this tack fails, Jamaica will find itself without a legitimate
government, for, as Hobbes explained: "The Obligation of Subjects
to the Sovereign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than
the power lasts, by which he is able to protect them. For the right
men have by Nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect
them, can by no Covenant be relinquished." (Leviathan,