Gun violence remains major issue to overcome
The new Progressive Labour Party government will have its plate full with a wide range of complex issues. Among them will be the deeply disturbing trend of gun violence, believed to be gang-related, which seems unstoppable despite numerous efforts by previous governments, police, community leaders, and cries from various sections of public life that something needs to be done to halt what could become a nightmare for every Bermudian who desires a safe and healthy society.
On an island where guns are illegal, it is extremely worrisome that there have been so many lives lost in recent years through use of these weapons, and although the police have had considerable success with conviction of a number of perpetrators, the deadly activity continues, with yet another young man falling victim to the bullet, the second so far this year. The mere fact that this type of crime fails to shock our communities into demanding more powerful legislation to discourage even the possession of a gun is a significant issue for Bermuda.
While the economy, education, better healthcare for seniors, employment and keeping our tourism growing are areas of considerable concern, the danger of violent crime, especially involving gunplay, requires something more dramatic than words promising to tackle this beneath-the-surface world of criminality, which puts every single Bermudian in danger. Perhaps the biggest challenge is trying to alter the mindset of those who feel the gun is the ultimate display of power over another.
That concept is causing grave concern in parts of America, where noted civil rights activist the Reverend Jesse Jackson, in a recent interview, described a section of Chicago as an “international disgrace”. Some neighbourhoods there are so riddled with ferocious gang activity that people are afraid to make a short trip to the grocer’s for a loaf of bread out of fear of being the victim of gang crossfire.
Even children on playgrounds have fallen victim from rival gunfights. According to Jackson, it is a tragedy that persists because of joblessness and poverty, along with a sense of hopelessness by too many who rely on the gun to survive in an atmosphere of utter despair.
All of Chicago is not in the grip of such violence, with many parts bustling with highly successful business activity. However, in the Chicago troublespots, there are reports that almost every hour someone falls as a result of the gun. Police have confiscated thousands of weapons, but word on the street is that gangs know where to purchase guns smuggled into the area with no problem.
Because of tighter gun laws, many countries, such as Australia, Japan and Britain, are not plagued by the amount of shootings seen in parts of America, where to own a gun is seen as a constitutional right — even to the point of being in possession of an assault weapon usually found on the battlefields of war.
That nation is strongly divided on this issue, mainly because the National Rifle Association, has powerful connections with many in Congress, who seem reluctant to tighten rules for gun ownership, keeping the almost Wild West syndrome alive throughout much of that country. In fact, there is a planned march by a women’s group from Virginia to Washington to protest the influence of the NRA on policymakers in the nation’s capital.
In Bermuda, the new PLP government will not be able to wave a magic wand to erase the many troubling issues that have been with us for decades, including the undercurrent of divisiveness that remains as a result of social conditions of the past. However, they are expected to carry the torch to build diversity and economic growth, along with taking steps to make criminals tremble at the thought of being caught with a gun.
There is no room for legislators to be wishy-washy in tackling this deadly issue, and most of the country is tired of talk from those who have authority to review laws to determine whether something more dramatic is required to make the island safer.
A landslide victory in a democratic setting is a heavy endorsement from the electorate, and with it comes the enormous responsibility that much is expected in moving the island forward. In other words, winning the toss to bat first in cricket is wonderful, but unless sufficient runs are scored, the opposing side will be in position to take advantage of the situation.
It might be said that the One Bermuda Alliance fell short in scoring when it came to reaching the heart of community, even though it gained credit for steering the island out of a dismal economic state after taking office five years ago. However, when there is a gap between the people and how the Government operates, there is usually a weakening of confidence, which provides an opening for those of a different political persuasion. That is what politics is really about.
In trying to deal with the present state of gun violence, the island could possibly benefit with both the Government and the Opposition pledging to set differences aside and have frank discussions aimed at finding ways to stem this trend that is eating away at values most Bermudians want to preserve.
The public should be encouraged to work closer with police and authorities in doing whatever is possible to make Bermuda safer for this and future generations. No miracle will occur overnight, but with diligence from every section of our communities things may slowly change for the better.