Jamaica's Crackdown

The one gun control law that was followed by a noticeable drop in crime was enacted in Jamaica, where a 1974 gun confiscation law was accompanied by numerous other repressive measures, including house-to-house searches, incommunicado detention, secret trials, mandatory life in prison for possession of a single bullet, warrantless searches and seizures, and military enforcement of the drug laws. The Jamaican violent crime rate dropped significantly for six months, returned to its former level over the next year, and then began to grow substantially worse than it had ever been.

As the homicide rate soared far above American levels, about a third of all Jamaican homicides were perpetrated by the police; a Jamaican suffered a higher risk of being murdered by the police than an American did of being murdered by anyone. According to the human rights group Americas Watch, policemen would murder personal enemies, and then falsely claim that the victims were killed in a shoot-out. Homicides perpetrated by the police were rarely investigated, as long as the policeman claimed that the victim had a gun. The increasing police violence, made possible in part by middle-class hysteria over guns, in turn fuelled a cycle of violence in the rest of Jamaican society.1

Almost every scholar who has studied the Jamaican crime situation shares the conclusions of criminologist William Calathes' award-winning analysis, which found that the gun restrictions, as well as the other restrictions on civil liberty, were the result of "highly developed skills of political management" which were designed not to reduce crime, but to distract public attention from the underlying problems of Jamaican society, including economic inequality.2

Jamaica's experience with a soaring rate of murder-by-government would not be particularly surprising to many American or Australian gun owners. In the United States and Australia, many gun-owners view the fundamental purpose of the right to bear arms to be resistance to a tyrannical government. Most gun-owners in Great Britain, Canada, and New Zealand, though, would chide their American and Australian cousins for placing guns in the context of resistance to authority, rather than innocent sporting purposes.


1. Calathes W. Gun control in a developing nation: the gun court act. Intl J Comp & Appl Crim Just 1991; 14:317-343.
2. Calathes W. Criminal Justice and Underdevelopment: A Case Study of the Jamaican Gun Court Act. J Carib Stud 1988; 6:323-358.

Written Testimony of David B. Kopel
Select Committee Investigating the Use of Automatic and Semiautomatic Firearms, September 8, 1994, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Copyright 2001 Crimefree South Africa, all rights reserved.