EDITORIAL – Gun amnesty: One tool in our fight against crime

“A man deserves a second chance, but keep an eye on him.”
– John Wayne

Will this month’s gun amnesty rid Cayman of the scourge of illegal firearms? Not entirely. Still, it is a worthwhile effort.

The amnesty offers a convenient way for licensed firearm owners to dispose safely of weapons they no longer use, thereby ensuring they do not fall into the wrong hands. It offers a critical opportunity for those in possession of illegal firearms to get on the right side of the law. (Need we remind readers that the penalty for illegal possession of a firearm is a 10-year stint in prison?)

Perhaps equally important, the amnesty is a reaffirmation of our community values: A clear signal that Cayman does not countenance the plethora of firearms that plagues too many other jurisdictions; that we are, and intend to remain, safe and peaceable islands.

Until June 30, anyone possessing a firearm illegally may turn it in to police or participating pastors without fear of repercussions. Weapons must be unloaded, wrapped in a plastic bag and duct taped. Ammunition should be similarly wrapped and secured. All can be turned in to any police station from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day, or to the pastors at any one of 11 participating churches.

We encourage anyone who has found themselves in possession of a firearm to take advantage of this opportunity, and to encourage others to do the same.

Three previous amnesties declared by police since 2005 have yielded 48 weapons and many hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Having those guns “off the market” is unquestionably good for public safety.

But while gun amnesties are a positive gesture, we should not mistake them for a panacea. Here, as elsewhere, it is difficult to know exactly how great an impact gun amnesty programs truly have, as the correlation between the presence of illegal guns and occurrence of gun-related crimes is complex and murky.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has noted a tentative, but perhaps spurious, correlation between the number of weapons seized and the number of gun-involved crimes that are reported. For example, last year, they seized 29 illegal firearms and received reports of 25 gun-related crimes. In 2016, police seized only 15 guns and recorded 36 firearms-related crimes. Those figures reflect results from larger, more well-known amnesty programs, such as Australia’s gun buybacks in 1996 and 2003.

Still, it cannot be known whether it was the buybacks themselves, greater awareness of the problem, or some unknown other factors that triggered the improvements.

There are obvious reasons to believe that guns recovered during amnesty periods represent “low-hanging fruit,” leaving weapons held by hardened criminals – the ones most likely to be used in violent crime – to remain untouched. Nor do amnesties staunch the flow of new illegal weapons into Cayman.

It is not easy to keep guns out of our community – it is an ongoing struggle compounded by many factors (not least, our long, quiet coastline). That does not diminish our support for the amnesty – nor should it dissuade anyone from participating. A multiplicity of strategies is needed to maintain the peace.