Editorial — 04 February 2014

“One military arena in which some of the traditional hierarchies remain intact is arms sales – at least of the traditional kind. The same dominant suppliers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany, Italy – still account for the overwhelming majority of arms deals, in a top tier that has held intact for decades.”

– pg. 144, The End of Power, Moisés Naím, Basic Books, 2013

It is fair to say that the legal minds of Belize have failed us where this gun law is concerned. We have to point the finger of accusation at the Bar Association, which is the organized body of lawyers, attorneys, barristers, and so on in this country. Where was the Bar Association when the gun law was being contemplated, when it was drafted, when it was debated, and when it was being implemented so drastically as to imprison great grandparents and minor children in its unconstitutional net?

The people of Belize became horrified by the explosion of violent crime in the early 1990s, and they turned desperately to the dormant death penalty. The Belizean people were told by the politicians, however, that the European Union was very much opposed to our proposed hanging of convicted murderers, because this was something the Europeans considered inhumane and dreadful. The Belizean people were told that the Europeans were being friendly to us in various trade and other arrangements, and that the Europeans would become hostile and break off these trade arrangements if we began to hang convicted murderers.

Well, we know what happened. After a while, Belize essentially lost the ability to convict gang-connected murderers, because all the witnesses were being intimidated or executed. The state lost the power to punish capital offenders, and these hardened killers began to rule the streets in the toughest sections of Belize City. Very few murderers are convicted nowadays, and when they are they are never executed.

Without the death penalty as an option, the people of Belize became vulnerable to crazy suggestions. Since the intimidations and executions of witnesses were being carried out by guns, not to mention the original murders themselves, the idea came from somewhere to create a law which would take guns off the streets because the penalties for possession of illegal guns and illegal ammunition would be made so arbitrary and so scary.

The gun law reversed the constitutional rights of Belizean citizens to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Under the gun law, in the presence of any illegal gun or illegal ammunition, a Belizean is treated as guilty and immediately sent to jail. Even if someone takes legal responsibility by pleading guilty, everyone present is still sent to prison.

After a few weeks, you become eligible for a bail hearing if you can afford a lawyer to begin the proceedings. Most poor people have trouble paying for legal assistance. The gun law is a crazy law which has wreaked havoc on the poor sections of Belize City. This has been going on for years, and the Bar Association has accepted the injustice of it all.

The Bar Association should call on the members of the House of Representatives, the elected lawmakers of the land, to vote across party lines for the immediate examination and revision of the gun law. In the first place, it is a law which has not achieved the objective for which it was designed. When there was finally a reduction in gun-related violence in the second half of 2013, it had absolutely nothing to do with the gun law. All of us know that. Belize’s violent criminals hide their guns and ammunition in bushy lots, abandoned houses, and other places where the guns and ammunition can be accessed on specific occasions.

In the United States and other developed countries, it is legal to manufacture and export guns and ammunition. The rich nations are the ones who arm the world. Poor nations like Belize are flooded with these weapons, and this means that disputes are settled with guns and bullets in certain areas of the city. Guns and ammunition are foreign industries which seek their export market in vulnerable countries like Belize.

The solution to our problem of violent crime is not the gun law. That much is evident. The gun law has victimized citizens in the areas of the city where disputes are settled with guns and bullets.

Recently an apparently “favored” person was caught in a compromising situation where an illegal gun was involved. The police bent the law on the spot to free the “favored” person, one Reynaldo Verde. Soon afterwards, a case where a policeman had been targeted by a few of his associates became headline news. This was the Gino Peck case. In the handling of the Verde and Peck cases, the gun law became crazier than it had ever been.

The Bar Association is countenancing insanity. That is the long and short of it. The law, in the words of Dickens’ Beadle, has become an ass.

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