Sampan interviews former government official on gun violence in Haiti
[Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of SAMPAN interviews with people living in countries with strict gun laws.]
The recent devastating mass shootings in the United States have once again brought the issue of gun violence into the limelight. In 2022 alone, the Gun Violence Archive counted over 250 mass shootings in the United States. The director of the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has even come out to say that gun violence in America is a “serious threat to public health.”
So how do ambiguous gun control policies in the United States compare to a country that has strict gun laws?
With a population of around 11.68 million, Haiti is plagued by corruption, natural disasters, years of political instability and gang violence. The resurgence of gang violence has caused major conflict in Haiti, and gun violence has been extremely prevalent in a country that has extremely strict gun laws. Haiti also prohibits the possession of firearms in public and in homes. Therefore, unless individuals have licenses or are authorized by the Armed Forces of Haiti, firearms are strictly prohibited.
Why has gun violence become a major problem in a country that has strict gun laws?
Last March, hundreds of Haitian migrants fled to the Florida Keys by boat to escape “armed terror in Haiti led by a federation of violent gangs that now control much of Haiti and its capital, Port-au- Prince,” according to public radio WRLN. The federation leaders of these violent gangs can be seen in videos wielding military-style weapons and semi-automatic rifles. Since these weapons cannot be purchased legally in Haiti, how is this the case? The answer is that half a million firearms in Haiti are smuggled illegally from the United States. Most of these illegal weapons are high powered firearms. In 2020, the United Nations reported that there were approximately 270,000 illicit firearms in Haiti, while the National Commission for Disarmament, Dismantling and Reintegration reported approximately 500,000. recorded fires, declared in 2017, is only about 20,379.
Overall, in 2021, there was a 62% increase in violence over the previous year in Haiti. The rise in violence has made citizens feel unsafe in Haiti, according to UNICEF.
To dig deeper into how guns and gun violence are viewed in Haiti, we interviewed François. He is originally from Haiti and currently lives in Boston. He previously worked for the government of his country.
In Haiti, any citizen aged 18 or over is allowed to obtain a firearms license. However, it takes a long time to get the license. If you want to buy a gun, you must write a letter to the national police. Then there’s this investigation period, where background checks are done to see if the person has a mental illness and a clean criminal record. They also need to see if the gun is legal to own. There are two different types of permits you must carry. One lets you own the weapon at home, and the other lets you carry it outside. In Haiti, gun laws are more restrictive than in the United States. Haitians living in the United States usually buy the guns for the mobsters and then send them through customs. There, the customs service is not doing a good job. This is how weapons easily enter Haiti – via the United States.
Ordinary people are kidnapped in Haiti and the crime rate is extremely high. It was very difficult for the population. There is strong anti-gang sentiment among ordinary citizens. Because the process of obtaining a firearm takes so long, the rate of people owning registered firearms is very low. However, most people in Haiti now want a gun to protect themselves from gang violence, as it has become a major problem. The current prime minister in Haiti isn’t very popular right now because he hasn’t taken a stand on guns – most politicians don’t, anyway. Usually, businessmen and entrepreneurs are the ones targeted by gangs because they are after their money. On the other hand, for ordinary people, there really isn’t a gun culture in the house.
For me personally, my family does not believe in the presence of firearms in the house and neither do I. I don’t own a gun because I feel like when people own guns they get arrogant and don’t use their negotiating skills. There are better ways to resolve conflicts between people. I think ordinary people who own guns will not reduce gang violence. On the contrary, my solution to the gang violence in Haiti is to reform the judicial system, because the judges are extremely corrupt, and to strengthen the police by equipping them. Ordinary people in Haiti should not own guns.
This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.