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A war against guns

EditorialA war against guns

Monday, September 4, 2023

It’s the “multi-sectoral” approach, alright; that is the best way to tackle this continuing plague of gun violence and murder in our once peaceful and loving Belize. Belize was never like this, at least in the distant memory of a couple generations past, before then U.S. President Richard Nixon (who later resigned in disgrace from the White House) declared his “War on Drugs” in 1971 (See history.com.: “The War on Drugs Begins”). The fallout since then has affected every country south of the U.S. border which falls in the path of illegal drugs transshipment to the U.S., the #1 illegal drug-consuming nation on the planet.

Our older folks keep recalling their “good old days” in Belize when anyone could walk the streets of Belize City any time of day or night and feel completely safe. Indeed, that’s “the way we were” up until a couple generations ago, before this crazy, unending “war on drugs” got underway and generations of our young males got caught up in chasing “the paper”. For many young men on the edge of poverty and ignorance and yet without a ticket to a possible dream life in “the Big Apple” or “L.A.”, the lure of “getting rich” or making some “good” money through joining the street armies of illegal drug sellers and movers across the country, was/is too much to resist.

It’s not like there is a robbery or murder on every street corner in Belize City. But only one such event is enough to traumatize a neighborhood and put the entire city and nation on edge for a number of days afterwards. And, as the police swarm an area, and the usual suspects are picked up, and the days turn into a week or two, and police vigilance relaxes in another area for a while … BAM! Another gun-shot incident occurs. And more often than not, it involves a young man “known to the police” being either the perpetrator or the victim. Ironically, the perpetrator often becomes a victim of his own wrongdoing, either by becoming a target of the law, or a target of vengeful street opponents.

While the beauty and treasures of our country are acknowledged by all, it matters little to many young men who find themselves on the short end of education or job opportunities, and also without a successful connection with relatives abroad to get a ticket to the fabled “land of milk and honey,” the U.S. of A. With the allure of our beautiful young Belizean females, the temptation is often overwhelming—especially if they come from homes where poverty is resulting in hunger and deprivation—to submit to the gang culture that pervades impoverished neighborhoods. Sometimes, because of peer pressure, they may see it as their only choice for survival, financial success. So, for whatever their reasons, despite the carnage that keeps piling up over the years, a number of our young men keep taking that dive into the treacherous waters of the drug trade, where rules are enforced with guns, and maybe live the “good” life for a while, until their “number is called.”

With all our “multi-sectoral” strategies, it has been conceded by the experts that success will not come quickly, as the problem is too deeply rooted now in our culture, grievances and “beefs” too hard to overcome, so that revenge killings often catch up with those who have tried to change their path in life. It’s not an easy road, and while all the “multi-sectoral” efforts are being employed, another crop of young males is coming up, and the challenge remains to change the playing field that they will have to traverse in hopes of fulfilling their dreams.

But, here is a question for our experts and security officials. Have we been barking up the wrong tree? Granted, marijuana/weed has been in Belize, and used by some of our citizens from time “immemorial”; and even when it was declared illegal by our local authorities, being influenced by the U.S., we never had a gun and murder problem. The police dealt with law- breakers when they could catch them; but Rasta still found a way to smoke their weed, those who cherished that particular herb. Belize society was still a tranquil haven.

While there are undoubtedly health risks by indulgence in any substance, especially any that might get you “high,” so far the CDC (Center for Disease Control in the U.S.) has listed no “death by overdose” statistics for marijuana. While the CDC lists health and “pregnancy risks”, “youth risks” and “behavioral risk” for excessive marijuana use, they have a whole lot of statistics on “death by overdose” for various prescription drugs, especially the so-called opioids (derived from the narcotic drug opium, a product from the poppy plant).

The U.S. does have a serious drug problem. According to drugabusestatistics.org, over 96,000 deaths from drug overdose were recorded in the U.S. in 2021, and in terms of the particular drug used or in combination with another in those mortality cases, it was “Opioids – 67.8%, Cocaine – 21/2%, Psychostimulants – 20.6%, and Methadone – 4.03%.” Moreover, it revealed that “Drug overdose deaths exceeded homicides by 306.7%” in the U.S. (In Belize that rate would translate to over 350 Belizeans dying from drug overdose yearly.) The article further clarifies that “Opioids” includes “natural opioids” like “morphine and codeine”, as well as semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids like “Methadone,” “heroin” and “fentanyl”, the latter reported to be “a factor in more than half of overdose deaths” in the US.

We don’t have that kind of drug problem in Belize. (There is no category for “death by overdose” in the Statistical Institute of Belize’s “Leading Causes of Death” in 2021, which included 148 deaths by homicide.) But this “war on drugs”, and our young men being willingly enlisted because of “the paper” dollars in bundles, continues taking a big toll in lives lost and the heartbreak of grieving families.

America will get its drugs, because the big money corrupts people big and small along the way, but it is the guns that create havoc for Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and on down the line to the source of cocaine and marijuana shipments in South America, as it must pass through our territories toward its U.S. destination.

While U.S. dollars pay for the drugs that arrive from the south, much of those dollars come back to the US to pay for guns, the guns which are killing over a hundred Belizeans annually since the “war on drugs” picked up steam in the 1990s, while over the past two decades there have been close to 20,000 homicides annually attributed to the drug cartels in Mexico. The gun production/sales business is booming in the US, and while many Americans are dying from drug overdose, the trail of blood through Central America is marked by American-made guns in the hands of traffickers. According to safehome.org, “Gun Sales in the U.S. 2023 – Approximately 17.4 million guns were sold in 2022, and 1.4 million guns have been sold monthly in 2023.”

So, in Belize we are harkening to the call from the developed countries to tighten up our laws against drug trafficking. But the drugs are not killing us here; the guns are. Rather than raising the illegal drug trafficking penalty to one million dollars; why not do that for illegal guns, and stop issuing gun licenses so easily, as too often they end up in the wrong hands. Aside from traditional shotguns for farmers/hunters, only police and military personnel should be carrying guns. Forget the war on drugs; what we need is a war on guns.

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