Gun laws in Jamaica
Gun laws in Jamaica began to be tightened in the early 1970s, when Jamaica experienced a rise in violence associated with criminal gangs and political polarization between supporters of the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party. After a rash of killings of lawyers and businessmen in 1974, the government of Michael Manley attempted to restore order by granting broad new law enforcement powers in the Suppression of Crime Act and the Gun Court Act.
The Suppression of Crime Act allowed the police and the military to work together in a novel way to disarm the people: both soldiers could seal off entire neighbourhoods and policemen could systematically search the houses inside for weapons without a warrant.
The goal was to expedite and improve enforcement of the 1967 Firearms Act, which imposed licensing requirements on ownership and possession of guns and ammunition, and prohibited automatic weapons entirely. Firearm licences in Jamaica require a background check, inspection and payment of a yearly fee, and can make legal gun ownership difficult for ordinary citizens. The new judicial procedures of the Gun Court Act were designed to ensure that firearms violations would be tried quickly and harshly punished.
Prime Minister Michael Manley expressed his determination to take stronger action against firearms, predicting that "It will be a long war. No country can win a war against crime overnight, but we shall win. By the time we have finished with them, Jamaican gunmen will be sorry they ever heard of a thing called a gun." In order to win this war, Manley believed it necessary to disarm the whole public: "There is no place in this society for the gun, now or ever."
The Firearms Act regulates the ownership and use of firearms and ammunition. It was first passed in 1967, and has been subsequently amended.
The Gun Court was established by Parliament in 1974 to combat rising gun violence, and empowered to try suspects in camera, without a jury.The Supreme Court, Circuit Courts, and Resident Magistrate's Courts function as Gun Courts whenever they hear firearms cases. There is also a Western Regional Gun Court in Montego Bay. Those convicted by the Gun Court are imprisoned for life in a dedicated prison compound at South Camp in Kingston. Until 1999, the Gun Court sessions were also held in the same facility.
According to David Kopel, the courts also function without the need for hard evidence, for all practical purposes. The testimony of any police officer is always sufficient to secure a conviction. Corroborating physical evidence is never required. For many years the only sentence issued by Gun Courts was indefinite incarceration. Pressure from Amnesty International caused authorities to amend the sentences (post conviction) to life in prison without parole. Anyone convicted in any Gun Court for any offense is removed from Jamaican society permanently.
- Luz, Daniel (June 5, 2007). "Gun Courts". En la mira – The Latin American Small Arms Watch. Retrieved 2009-06-13.
- Lane, Winsome (May 24, 1974). "Armed Troops, Police Patrol Jamaica Areas". The Virgin Islands Daily News. p. 5. Retrieved 2009-06-13.
- "Stalag in Kingston". Time Magazine. September 23, 1974. Retrieved 2009-06-13.
- Rowe, David P. (August 25, 1998). "Trial by jury - right or privilege" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-06-13.
- "The Firearms Act". Firearm Licensing Authority. 2006. Retrieved 2009-06-18.
- The Firearms Act, 2.(1):
"prohibited weapon" means-
- (A) any artillery or automatic firearm; or
- (B) any grenade, bomb or other like missile."
The Firearms Act, 29.(2):
No licence, certificate or permit shall be granted in relation to any prohibited weapon.
- Whyte, T. K. (November 24, 2002). "Legal gun supplies dry up". The Observer. Archived from the original on May 10, 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-13.
- "All is not well in Ja, Commissioner says". The Jamaica Gleaner. June 26, 2001. Retrieved 2009-06-13.
- Kopel, David (1992). The Samurai, the Mountie and the Cowboy. New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-0879757564.