It is almost laughable to read the daily editorials, columnists and social commentators agonising about the need to address the root causes of crime in our country, when we are apparently incapable of treating even the surface symptoms – like the widespread availability of guns.
The ultimate causes of high violent crime rates are complex. But the immediate cause is not. It relates directly to our judiciary’s inability/unwillingness to keep dangerous people behind bars once they are caught by the police.
Among the agonising headlines about the need to get serious on crime are almost daily reports of judges and magistrates treating the possession of illegal firearms as a trivial offence and handing out sentences that should outrage any society bedeviled by gun crime. Somehow in The Bahamas it doesn’t.
Jamaica just enacted a minimum sentence of 15 years for anyone found in possession of an illegal firearm, with a recommended further 5 years for failing to disclose from whom it was obtained.
In Jamaica, too, news editors severely criticize the Judiciary where it makes decisions that harm society. In The Bahamas, our politicians have many of us believing that the conduct of the judiciary is somehow above the control or even none of the business of the citizenry. For their part, judges frequently misunderstand and abuse the doctrine of “contempt”, compounding this sense.
As he travels the country promoting his book, Hubert Ingraham should take a few minutes to reflect publicly on the results of his decision (yet to be reversed by his successors) to remove minimum sentencing for the possession of firearms – a decision taken (typically) with no genuine public consultation, but in deference to a small, privileged professional lobby.
I can even help him to reflect: In one example from just last week, a young man was given a mere two year sentence for possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition by Magistrate Samuel McKinney. It turns out that just four years ago (in 2018), the same man was convicted of possession of an illegal firearm.
In any of our sister jurisdictions, the second offence would not have occurred because the sentence for the first would not yet be half over. Here in the Bahamas, it is anyone’s guess what other criminal activity involving that same gun may have transpired in the intermediate years. And nobody cares.
If we are serious about addressing the root causes of crime, then we must also be serious about addressing its immediate causes.
Any move to seriously reduce crime in the immediate term must begin by addressing our courts’ normalisation of firearm possession in Bahamian society – and our politicians’ failure to remove from them a discretion that they have handled with deadly incompetence.