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#BTEditorial – Unsafe at any calibre

by Barbados Today
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Friday’s horrific incidents in New Zealand are but the latest in a long line of sobering lessons that high-powered semi-automatic and automatic assault weapons have no safe place in civilian hands.

In the United States and in other industrialised metropoles the trail of blood is a seemingly never-ending river of tears as time and again the manufacturers of these instruments of death seize the argument and win the day.

Firearms, like cigarettes, are among the tiny number of goods which, when used in the proper manner prescribed by the manufacturer, are guaranteed to cause death.

So it is cold comfort indeed to count ourselves fortunate for being spared the ravages of mass murder with the latest, heinous crimes of the past weekend here. It is noteworthy to no one in particular if the murder death toll is not the product of these mechanised harbingers of doom – Tech 9s, Ar-15s, and other such firearms that are capable of firing scores of rounds per minute.

It takes only one bullet to end a life.

Nonetheless, we could not be more unequivocal in calling on the authorities to push even more vigorously against the purveyors of assault weapons and to ban them entirely except for specialist armed police and military use.

Thankfully, last time we checked, there is no gun lobby here. To the best of our knowledge, there is no Barbados branch of the National Rifle Association, no constitutional right to bear arms, and thus, no defiant declarations that the Government may have to pry guns from the cold dead fingers of their owners.

We focus on the proliferation of assault weapons now, as we have already detected a deeply troubling trend among gangland killers in Barbados – shooting with an intent to kill and impunity such as has been seen only on inner-city streets of America and in violent movies until now.

We hesitate to say it may be just a matter of time before the urge to kill takes on a grim multiplying effect. We hope we are not too late. Under no circumstances, whether for recreational, sporting or self-defence purposes should our island nation of near 300,000 souls accommodate the presence or purpose of assault weapons.

No, bans, amnesties and buy-back campaigns alone will not stop the shedding of blood. Another island familiar to us, as it happens our former imperial power, Great Britain, which has been free for more than a generation from readily available guns (following the Dunblane massacre), now wrestles with an epidemic of murderous knife crime.

Here again, it is cold comfort indeed to the souls of British folk, wrenched by the loss of young lives – women, girls, men and boys to knife-wielding thugs – that London and some of its towns and cities are spared deaths by the dozen.

But if the impulse to take human life is as old as the Book of Genesis suggests, beginning with brother against brother, then the cruel and barbaric desire, the fleeting moment of thoughtless passion, or even the cold and calculating conspiracy of one or a tiny few should not be able to bring to its aid the firepower of armies.

In the cataclysmic Great War of 1914-1918, a full century ago, a single British Army infantryman’s main weapon was the bolt-action Enfield rifle that could fire 15 rounds in one minute and hit a German soldier 1.4 kilometres across No Man’s Land. Today, its replacement, the M-16 and other variants of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle are capable without modifications of unleashing four times as many rounds in the same timespan.

What is noteworthy that it only takes a maximum of 45 rounds per minute to kill, main and disfigure scores of people, especially when armed with multiple weapons, magazines, body armour, and time.

In lethality, AR-15 style weapons of the kind mass shooters or our military possess do not come close to one of the most brutal killing machines the world of war has ever known, the Kalashnikov AK-47 – with 580 rounds per minutes.

And many more mass shootings use 9 mm semi-automatic handguns. Semi-automatic merely means one bullet is fired each time the trigger is pulled. With clips and magazines, six-shooter revolvers are all too easily surpassed by modern machines of mayhem.

Since 2012, the crazed butchers of Aurora, Colorado (cinema), Newtown, Connecticut (primary school), San Bernardino, California (offices), Sutherland Springs, Texas (church) and Parkland, Florida (high school), sites of the deadliest single gun attacks in US history, were all armed with the semi-automatic weapon the NRA  (a lobby association of gun-makers not a gun-lovers’ club) calls “America’s Rifle”.

But these American weapons of mass destruction need not be a Barbadian or indeed Caribbean stain.

While we join with the Prime Minister in expressing our nation’s collective sorrow and sympathy with the people of Christchurch, we seek complete details of the efforts being made – from Christ Church to St Lucy – to find and render useless guns that are unsafe at any calibre once in the hands of reckless traffickers and malevolent users.

All the more reason why our Attorney General, Home Affairs Minister and fellow lawmakers in the singularly most parliamentary powerful Government in Barbadian history must waste no time and not only outlaw military-grade.  weapons but impose only the severest possible penalties on those who hide behind guns to commit crimes.

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