Gun violence: A tale of territorial triumph and despair

by Jun 21, 2022Opinion0 comments

Senseless shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo, and Laguna Woods have rekindled calls for common-sense gun legislation across the country. Senator Chris Murphy (D) of Connecticut’s earnest appeal to Republican colleagues reflected a melancholic hope for bipartisan action; however, the pervasive power of the NRA corrupts the very backbone of the government, impeding any progress from being achieved. As politicians point to red flag laws, universal background checks, and a ban on assault weapons, the underlying factors facilitating territorial gun violence are left ignored. 

The Giffords Law Center recently published a report detailing the alarming scourge plaguing US territories. Largely fueled by illegal firearm trafficking, the US Virgin Islands are a hotbed for rampant gun violence. In 2016, the archipelago experienced a gun homicide rate 7 times the national average, tripling the rates of the nation’s most ravaged states. However, gun laws in the Virgin Islands are by no means lenient. Firearm licenses can be withheld for a wide array of conditions, providing the commissioner ultimate discretion in determining weapon eligibility. Heaps of firearms flowing from Florida, Georgia, and Texas rot the Virgin Islands, yet politicians put forth proposals that will narrowly serve the US mainland. 

Puerto Rico is no exception to the firearm epidemic. Following decades of stringent gun laws, the NRA’s ironclad lobbying force propelled toothless legislation into effect. The “Ley de Armas de Puerto Rico de 2020” removed “character and fitness references” prior to firearm purchases while granting concealed carry to any existing gun owners. Governed by self-serving special interests and institutional corruption, Puerto Rico boasts a gun homicide rate 4 times greater than the US average. Firearm trafficking also corrupts the archipelago, partially fomenting the spike in violent crime that riddles the Puerto Rican population.

Meanwhile, across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands reside as tranquil havens, undistributed by the bitter violence plaguing the continental US. It appears as if these archipelagos are sufficiently detached from the waves of brutality and hatred emanating from mainland American shores. 

The vicious cycle of gridlock and inaction must not repeat itself. Congressmen possess a moral responsibility to uphold the safety of their constituents, regardless of political ideology or high-pressure lobbying. As Senators John Cornyn (R) of Texas, Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia broach bipartisan compromise, the American people may bask in the long-awaited closure they so desperately desire. However, the fruits of cooperation rarely yield the substantive change required for true progress, much less for territories deemed “measly afterthoughts.” In fact, all of the data included in this piece is not derived from the CDC but from independent researchers who illuminate governmental injustice and neglect. There simply is no standardized method to track territorial gun violence. 

The congressional rat race will churn along, fulfilling the partisan aims of self-serving politicians while disregarding the nation’s most vulnerable sectors. Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders perish as a result of the mainland’s inadequacies yet hold no power to rescue their own lives. Will these citizens be denied the fundamental right to life? Only the futile desire for humanity, cooperation, and decency can guarantee their security—it is safe to say the priorities of the US government lay elsewhere.