Pandora’s Box, of Greek mythology, was actually a large jar containing a miasma of evils. Once opened, it was near impossible to contain the evil now escaped. The lid on the Pandora’s Box of gun violence in The Bahamas was blown open in the late 70s with a lethal compound of mass drug trafficking and vulgar greed by those who facilitated and benefitted from the deadly trade.
We became entangled in a double-bind and the cross-fire of battles waged with illegal weapons from North America over illicit drugs headed to North America. Today, the killing fields of drug-, gun- and gang-related violence stretch across the Americas.
Geography is only partly destiny. With our archipelago of islets and inlets ideal for trading in illicit gain, and proximity to the world’s largest gun producer and largest consumer of illegal drugs, we too became addicted to drugs, fast-money and blood-letting.
Like fish-poisoning, it is difficult to rid one’s organs and bloodstream of certain toxins once in the system. Likewise with the toxins unleashed by the drug-induced frenzy of the last three decades of the 1900s.
The Christie administration has blundered with eyes, seemingly, wide shut. More important than the politics are the ramifications of a potential policy disaster that may ricochet beyond the capacity of the incumbent and future administrations to contain.
The new Government may have opened even wider the Pandora’s Box of gun violence, a development troubling to Bahamians of every, or no, political stripes.
It cannot beg the excuse of advice from the Royal Bahamas Police Force in allowing for the carrying of such weapons by Ministers Nottage and Bell. This is primarily a policy decision by the country’s civilian leadership.
If the Secret Service had its way the US President would rarely leave the confines of the White House or be allowed to work rope-lines at events. At home, the implications of the decision are many; the obvious one is that of perceived fairness.
Bahamians want various public officials well-protected. Those of different political affiliations desperately need the Government to succeed in combating crime. But potential excess is another matter.
Despite armed protection by the best of the RBPF including additional personnel, who are armed, protective vehicles and home security by the Force, the Ministers are now allowed the further protection of a personal handgun.
Will other officials now clamour for such a weapon? The potential applicants may include Supreme Court Justices and Magistrates dealing with criminal matters, prosecutors in the Attorney General’s office, off-duty police and prison officers, and others in the national security and criminal justice establishments.
Business owners, single-mothers, heads of household and ordinary citizens will ask as a matter of equity why they are restricted from carrying a handgun. The mantra cum logic is clear for many: “If they can have all of this protection, why can’t I get a handgun to protect me and my loved ones.”
The message the public has digested is, “Be afraid, very afraid.” A frightened public may demand access to handguns, a sense of inequity heightened by tougher gun laws which will land someone in possession of an illegal weapon with a mandatory sentence.
With an increasingly angry and fearful public made resentful by a sense of unfairness, the Government may be increasingly pressured to relax a long-standing national policy restricting access to licenses for handguns.
Bahamians often have a strong communitarian ethos. But when frightened, even the more communitarian-minded may evince a libertarian streak on handgun-ownership when it comes to their safety, and that of their family and businesses.
The glorification of guns in popular American culture and the prevalence of gun-ownership in the United States may increasingly be affecting the psyche of law-abiding Bahamians relative to greater tolerance for handgun-ownership.
Just as the country transitioned from police officers rarely carrying hand guns to being armed as a matter of course, how quickly might we move to civilians demanding that they be allowed to do likewise?
Matters of internal affairs quickly have international implications. It is not only the message certain decisions telegraph purposefully or inadvertently. It is what external publics perceive that often have unintended consequences. How will various publics overseas view the carrying of handguns by the top civilian national security officials?
None of this has been helped by the comments of Senator Keith Bell. His response to the revelation that he and Minister Nottage were armed with handguns misfired tonally -- he came across as belligerent -- and in terms of the substance of his remarks. It was like a bullet gone astray, missing its target resulting in collateral damage in the form of friendly fire on his colleagues.
His explanation that he and Dr. Nottage needed to carry handguns because former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham allowed the country to “become a war zone” is unconvincing and not a substantive rationale for the decision taken.
His language was more than intemperate. It was reckless. If it is indeed a war zone citizens will ask to be armed. If a war zone, Bahamians are caught between the difficulty of getting a handgun licence or going to jail if they purchase an illegal weapon for what many may view as the legitimate end of protecting their very lives. This poses an ethical dilemma.
A weary public is more concerned with actions than excuses. For most, the issue is not Hubert Ingraham. The compelling fear and overriding issue is the virulence of unabated violence and the nature of the most recent gun-violence and murders.
Tourism officials must be incensed that Minister Bell said to the world that The Bahamas is a war zone. That should sell very nicely with summer promotions, inviting tourists to a tranquil Bahamas complete with tropical daiquiris, pristine beaches, and oh, by the way, bullets flying and dead bodies.
With the country struggling economically and millions being spent to attract tourists, talk of a war zone by a government official is incendiary risking damage to tourism bookings.
Every diplomatic mission in the country has likely sent a note to their respective governments detailing the junior minister’s comments. Such comments today often become tomorrow’s travel advisory by foreign governments.
A more hopeful picture appeared in the media of Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez, a regional expert on HIV/AIDS, and Dr. Duane Sands, one of the region’s best trauma specialists. Despite differing political affiliations, they enjoy common cause in saving the lives of crime victims and combatants.
Some months back, Dr. Sands spoke to the notion that various aspects of crime and gun-violence are also public health issues. With three medical doctors in the Cabinet, one of whom is Minister of National Security, the Government must more fully appreciate the public health aspects of criminal and other violence.
But even as the Government grapples with the complexity of crime, it might recall a classic oath of medical ethics, namely, “First, do no harm”. Doctors also know well the unintended consequences of various actions and perceived remedies.
The potential harm and unintended consequences of Nottage and Bell being armed may not be immediately felt. But given time, a seemingly singular event can mushroom into unforeseen problems.
We have, thus far, resisted the insanity of mass gun ownership. With the decision to arm the two Ministers, the Christie administration may be opening the door to a citizenry demanding access to the same firepower available to Messrs. Nottage and Bell. Our great challenge is to curb the gun culture, not encourage it whether inadvertently or not.