According to a 2012 report on gun smuggling in Mexico, an estimated 2 000 illegal firearms entered that country every day from the United States. The report noted that 40 per cent of the firearms used by drug traffickers in Mexico came from just one state alone – Texas.
A more recent study has suggested that the number of guns trafficked between those two countries is higher than previously believed. Indeed, the number of weapons seized along the US southwest border by the Department of Homeland Security from 2010 to 2012 increased 189 per cent compared to statistics for the period 2006 to 2008.
In 2012, United States officials admitted they could not identify the source country for 30 per cent of the seized weapons suspected of being used for crime in Mexico.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revealed in a report that between 2008 and 2010 over 62 000 firearms were missing from licensees’ inventories with no record of sale. The bureau also found that over 16 000 firearms had disappeared from gun manufacturers’ inventories without explanation between 2009 and the middle of 2011.
In March 2014, as part of a memorandum issued by the US Customs and Border Protection, chief of the border patrol Michael Fisher urged his officers to make greater use of technology, inter alia, in the fight against the smuggling of firearms and other illicit items.
The United States is a sophisticated, high-tech nation, with significant financial capacity to assist in the detection and interdiction of those involved in the illegal firearms trade. Yet, firearms’ trafficking remains a major problem in one of the richest nations in the world. Border and custom authorities have to deal with criminals using ingenious methods to circumvent their security controls. The United States is a manufacturer of firearms and therefore has to deal with legitimate weapons reaching the hands of criminal elements via an assortment of avenues, inclusive of the greed of corrupt public officials.
And this brings us to Barbados.
According to statistics provided by the Royal Barbados Police Force, about 30 illegal firearms have been seized so far for the year. Put differently, 30 firearms connected with criminal activity have been confiscated in the first 74 days of 2017. Within the context of the demographics of our minuscule 166 square miles, and our small population, these numbers are startling. If the logic that applies to the seizure of illegal drugs is used, where it is believed that drugs seized are usually a mere sample of what actually enters Barbados, then one can only speculate on the number of firearms still out there in the hands of criminals.
Yet we get the impression that the problem of illegal firearms is not appreciated by all and sundry, especially the uninformed in positions of authority in agencies such as the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).
There was a laughable hue and cry from the NUPW when the Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith asserted that illegal weapons were entering the island via the sea and airport, either through negligence or the collusion of customs officials. There have been interceptions of firearms before and since Mr Griffith made his statement. Yet, closed-circuit television cameras remain absent from throughout our ports of call. Successive Governments have been intimidated by the union’s vapid shouts, rather than stand firm in a situation where they were bound to receive overwhelming public support for enforcing a national good.
In August 2015 Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite publicly declared that the installation of closed-circuit television cameras at the island’s ports would be an option to address the influx of illegal guns. But, like attorneys general before him on both sides of the political divide, no action has been taken and security at our entry points is not as enhanced as it could be.
Rather than take the necessary action to tighten our security, we throw our hands up in the air, shed futile tears, hold meaningless candlelight vigils and pray for Divine intervention on each occasion that someone is gunned down, invariably by an illegal firearm. Perfunctory, reactionary nothingness!
But there is more that can be done.
If firearms are entering our ports of call through the collusion of officials then some monetary gain must be involved. It cannot be too difficult a task for the hierarchy of the Royal Barbados Police Force to initiate a probe into the finances of targeted officials within the context of their lifestyles and given Government salaries, and use this intelligence as the starting point for closer monitoring of specific personnel working at our ports.
There is also the need for closer monitoring of the imports and inventories of those involved in legal firearms transactions.
The point is that the time has long passed for lame duck responses to this very grave problem. Young men and women are being apprehended with multiple weapons. The make-shift pump guns which misguided but inventive youth once made in the island, have now been replaced by high-powered weaponry brought into Barbados and made available to lawless hoodlums-for-hire.
This problem goes way beyond petty political or labour movement posturing.