Gun Violence

As I reflect on the end of  my term as Secretary for Multidimensional Security, I have come to realize that there are a number of issues that affect the (in) security in our region more than others.  One of them is the high percentage of firearm related homicides and crime. According to the 2015 Global Burden of Armed Violence, the global firearm death rate for 2007-2012 was 3 per 100,000 and approximately 174,600 people lost their lives due to firearm-related homicides each year for that period.  Meanwhile, in South America the firearm homicide rate stands at 10.3 per 100,000 and at 22.5 and 28.8 for the Caribbean and Central America. In addition, unlike the rest of the world this rate is continuing to rise!

Analyses of the most recent data, again from the 2015 Global Burden of Armed Violence, also suggests that nearly half of all homicides—46.3 per cent—are caused by firearms. While coverage remains patchy, disaggregated data on the use of firearms in homicides provides useful insight. It reveals, for example, that the sub-regions with the highest prevalence of firearm–related homicides—in descending order, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America—are also the ones with the highest homicide rates.

Average firearm homicide rate and percentage of firearm related homicides, per sub-region, 2007–12[1]

A recent newspaper headline shouted in bold “Police chiefs discuss solutions to crime surge,” with police chiefs from major cities meeting to primarily discuss rising homicide rates and “blamed repeat offenders, drugs and guns with larger magazines for part of the increase.”[2] No, this is not a headline from Central America, but rather from a meeting, hosted in Washington D.C., of big city police chiefs in the United States. Not too long ago there was a similar lament from the Chief of Police in Toronto, Canada.

So what can we do about it?

The second amendment in the United Sates Constitution, the right to bear arms, has been debated for the last two hundred years and will probably be debated for the next two centuries; however, this should not be an excuse for inaction.

I am convinced that there are laws and conventions already in force in the United States and elsewhere that can limit the flow of illegal and illicit arms across our borders. Since 1997, at the OAS we have a binding convention, ratified by 32 countries called the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials (CIFTA). This is a clear reflection of member states concerns in this regard.

To support this convention the OAS has developed a number of firearm and ammunition marking, tracing, and destruction programs. Excellent education and prevention programs supported by voluntary and cash exchanges for firearms and weapons also exist.  Unfortunately this is obviously not enough, as there are still huge numbers of illicit firearms floating around.

Perhaps it is time to think outside of the box and enlist the support of the arms and ammunition manufacturers and retailers. Can we, for example, publicly shame big retailers and manufacturers into concerted action?  Name -and-shame approach has worked in other industries – why not this one?

[1] Global Burden of Armed Violence 2015: Every Body Counts. (2015). Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development. Available from http://www.genevadeclaration.org/fileadmin/docs/GBAV3/GBAV3_Ch2_pp49-86.pdf

[2] Simpson, Ian. (August 3, 2015) “Police chiefs discuss solutions to crime surge.” Reuters. Available from http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/03/us-usa-police-summit-idUSKCN0Q81RB20150803

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