President of the Coalition of Gun Control in Canada, Professor Wendy Cukier, who is also Associate Dean of Academics at Ryerson University, has suggested that mothers can be more attentive to their young sons.
“When you have a teenager coming home with expensive clothes and limitless amounts of money, you need to be asking some questions,” she told Sunday Newsday in a recent interview. Cukier was invited by the Women’s Institute For Alternative Development (WINAD) to speak at their regional conference of Women Talking With Women: Crime and Violence in the Caribbean, which took place during the week of the Fifth Summit of the Americas.
“I don’t know how influential mothers are here in Trinidad and Tobago, but in certain communities mothers do have a lot of influence over their kids. Women can also become more attentive to the problem and every one of those young men have a mother and father somewhere. I think there are opportunities to become more vigilant and ask questions earlier,” Cukier said. She also suggested that young women who are in the roles of friends or girlfriends have a choice – they could either reinforce gun carrying behaviour in young men by encouraging the thinking that it is “cool” or macho, or they can resist it.
Cukier said the focus of the conference was to raise awareness of risks associated with guns.
“I think it’s important to make sure that people have an understanding of the broad context of gun violence, she said. “Domestic violence is one important piece of it and we have to be concerned about it, but women can also play a role in making sure that appropriate strategies are put in place to deal with other kinds of gun violence and to say enough is enough.”
She said from past experiences, the results have been encouraging, not just in terms of the approach in dealing with issues related to gun violence, but also the impact that women could have when they organised and decided to effect political change.
Cukier said she was also aware that the police preferred not to get involved in domestic violence issues.
“The police would get calls on domestic violence situations and they’d know the guy. He’d be their buddy from the beer hall and in many cases, especially in small communities, domestic violence was treated as a private matter. That’s changed in Canada. There were similar problems 20 years ago, but it’s changed and if it changed in Canada, there’s no reason why it can’t change here,” she said.
Cukier said in Canada, women’s groups worked in partnership with the police and victims and played an important role in moving the agenda forward on gun control generally, but particularly in the context of domestic violence.
She added that many countries were now building the infrastructure for women to have a place of refuge and the supports that were required were just as important as making sure that the police started to take action against violence. Cukier said it was time to start looking at the root of where guns were coming from into TT.
“Looking at the flow of guns themselves does have an impact because guns don’t cause violence, but they increase the lethality of violence. We have to focus attention on the guns, where are the guns coming from, who needs to be held accountable.
“It shouldn’t be the responsibility of Trinidad or Canada to keep the guns from coming in on their own. Most of the guns are coming from the United States and the United States should be taking more responsibility for controlling the guns within its borders. That’s a huge problem for your country as well as mine,” she said.
Cukier said while a World Bank study had focused on Jamaica, Honduras, Haiti and Colombia as sources for guns, she said that research they had done suggested that those may be trans-shipment points while, in fact, many of them originated in the US. “The reality is that in the US there are almost as many guns as people and there are few effective controls. So, it’s probably true that guns are coming from Latin America, but the US has almost a third of all the guns in the world and it would be astonishing if a good portion of your guns weren’t coming from there.
“But again, if you’re not focusing on tracing the guns, if you’re not focusing on trying to find the guns, if you’re overlooking certain kinds of crime because there are certain inconsistencies, then you wouldn’t be able to answer the question,” she said.
She said there was no doubt that gun violence in this country had increased dramatically in the last 13 years. In 1995 there were 123 murders in TT, 45 of which were committed with guns; in 2005, there were 325 murders with 233 carried out with guns; in 2008, there were 545 murders with 90 percent of them carried out with guns, or about 490.
“If that’s true, and it looks to be that way, your gun murders have increased ten times since 1995 and that’s astonishing. That’s ten times the rate of gun murders in the US and 50 times the gun murder rate in Canada.
“My conclusion would be that while the country’s gotten wealthier, probably the disparity between rich and poor has increased and probably the drug problem has increased as well,” Cukier said.
Cukier said since she has been working on gun control in Canada, murders of women with guns have declined by 66 percent while murders with fists and knives have declined by ten percent. This, she said, suggested that the focus on guns has had a real impact because while it did not stop violence, women were more likely to be killed if there were guns around.
“Nobody is naive enough to think if you banned guns tomorrow violence would disappear. You need a justice system that responds appropriately, support from the police – enforcement and justice that’s fair and equitable.
“There is a saying that what gets measured gets done and if you’re not tracking what’s happening with the guns, not tracking where the guns are coming from, not tracking how many women are being threatened by guns, how many people are being killed by guns, there’s not much that can be done,” she said.
Cukier also noted that the fixation on guns by boys said something about the culture and processes of socialisation, adding that it was more in the culture than the psyche.
“Take Great Britain, they had 20 handgun murders last year. Great Britain has 60 million people. They beat the crap out of each other, but guns don’t play the same role in their culture. I think we are shaped by the export of American culture which does have guns as its centre. How many action movies can you think of where there aren’t guns? Those things are very subtle but, I think they play a big role.
“Young men’s notions of masculinity and what it means to be a man tend to be associated with dominance and aggression and guns,” Cukier said.