The elementary school tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, in the United States has once again focused attention on the scourge of gun violence, an issue with which we in Trinidad and Tobago are already sickeningly familiar.
Of all the weapons of violence, the gun is surely the most deadly, turning life into death in the split of a second. In this country, guns have empowered and promoted organised crime to the point where it has developed the political muscle to gain concessions out of successive governments. To date, every attempt including gun amnesties, states of emergency and police/army crackdowns have failed to stem the rising gun tide. As we mourn the loss of so many lives to gun violence, we must pray that we never experience the kind of horror unleashed on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Awful and horrible as our statistics are, we hope we are not breeding the psychosis that would bring such sinister elements into our schools and public places as exist elsewhere. Still, we have to contend with the tragic reality that far too many of our people, including children, fall innocent victim to guns.
With a population of roughly 1.3 million people, this country is small enough for us to have produced a better record of success in ridding our land of illegal guns. It is clear that our anti-gun initiatives have not succeeded in tackling the problem of supply at its root. The gun trade remains a thriving business which, for the right price, will put guns into the hands of unlicensed persons, in an easy and relatively hassle-free manner.
There is enough information on the streets to not only allow the police to identify the interests involved in terms of both suppliers and buyers, but also to identify the source locations from which guns enter this country.
What has been lacking is the will to act and a sustained effort in ridding the country of illegal guns with a plan to keep it that way.
Such a programme will necessarily involved educating lawful gun owners about safe-guarding their own guns to keep their out of the hands of criminals.
On several counts, this latest school shooting in the United States should serve as a wake-up call for us. We need to pay closer attention to the people in our lives and learn to recognise the signs of mental illness; schools, in particular, should monitor their staff and student populations and not dismiss threats or ignore other warning signs of the imbalanced mind. Security hired by schools and public places should be skilled and regularly trained for managing emergencies. Same for the members of the police service.
We hope such evil as descended on Newtown never visits our shores, but if it ever does, the expertise and crisis management skills of our Police Service and other critical services should not be found wanting.