Guns in The Bahamas: Firearms in Bahamian homes


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Guns in The Bahamas: Firearms in Bahamian homes
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20 p.
Hutcheson, Stephanie.
Brennen, Shane.
Bethel, Nicolette.
Carrol, Marie.
College of The Bahamas
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Nassau, Bahamas
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Guns--Bahamas.   ( lcsh )


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This study assesses linkages between firearms and domestic violence in the home.

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College of The Bahamas
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College of The Bahamas
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Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Guns in The Bahamas: (1) Firearms in Bahamian homes Stephanie P. Hutcheson, Shane Brenne n, Nicolette Bethel & Marie Carroll School of Social Sciences The College of The Bahamas, Nassau, New Providence, The Bahamas Abstract An Internet survey of 1,281 Bahamians was us ed to obtain information on the number of firearms in Bahamian homes, and a ssess linkages between firearms and domestic violence in the home. The rate of firearm ownership is es timated at 8.8 guns per 100 persons and guns were found in between 19% and 31% of households. Ri cher households owned more guns than poorer households. Both household income and the presen ce of a gun were associated with domestic violence in homes. The level of gun ownership is discussed in the context of a society with an increasing number of homicides and where re sidents are demanding firearms for protection. Introduction In 2010, the media reported the Commissioner of Po lice for The Bahamas as stating that there were 15,545 licensed shotguns and 1,565 rifles ( no figure was given for the number of hand guns) in the country, and that thes e were a “noticeable increase” (p ara. 1) on the previous year (Rolle, 2010). A firearm is, by its very design, in tended to inflict harm on animals, human or non-human. The danger which guns can pose is we ll recognized and a whole chapter (213) is devoted to firearms in the Statute Laws of The Bahamas (Bahamas Government, 2007). The recognition that firearms need caref ul regulation is related to the need to control or manage the number of guns in society. In Brazil, regulation and enforcement of gun controls is credited with a substantial decrease in firearm related viol ence (de Souzaet al., 2007). This is important because in the United States of America (USA), Gius (2009) dem onstrated that higher rates of firearm ownership are associated with higher ra tes of homicides while Altheimer (2008) noted a similar result for assaults. These findings are of concern in a country wi th a homicide rate which


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 has increased in recent years (Plumridge & Fielding, 2009) and where even in 2004 the United Nations Statistics Division reported the in tentional murder rate as 13.7 per 100,000, which placed The Bahamas 22nd in a list of 133 territo ries (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2010). These figures do not account for the econo mic cost of violence. Turnquest (2010) reported that at the main public hospital in New Providence that ‘trauma secondary to criminal activity is taking a "major toll on the health care system’ (par a 2). While the cost of gunshot injuries has not been quantified for The Bahamas, in the USA, the tax payer pays almost half of the cost of the medical bills associated w ith gunshot injuries (Cook, Lawrence, Ludwig, & Miller, 1999) and in South Africa, treatment of gunshot injuries to the abdomen alone consume almost 4% of the annual hea lth budget (Allard & Burch, 2005). In The Bahamas, while it is possible for a person to get a license for a range of firearms, the most common weapon which can be legally owned by the general public is a shotgun; obtaining a license for a handgun requires what is called a “special licence” (Government of The Bahamas, 2007). Consequently, if a household has a licensed fi rearm it would be expected to be used for hunting. However, as Brennen, Hutcheson, & Carro ll (2011) have pointed out, the majority of these hunting weapons are kept wi th the primary purpose of protec tion, i.e. to shoot people. The need for the citizenry to arm its elf for protection appears to be based on Lott’s (2000) proposition that an increased gun ownership should reduce cr ime, an idea which was not supported in a study by Branas, Richmond, Culhane, Have and Wiebe (2009). Although the police make background checks on potential gun owners (anyone who “is of intemperate habits or unsound mind, or is otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with such a firearm”


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 or under 18 years of age is pr ohibited from owning a firear m, amongst other restrictions) (Government of The Bahamas, 2007), there is no ps ychological testing of li cense applicants to ensure that they are psychologica lly stable nor is there firearm safety training. Further, there appears to be no formal mechanism to stop an ab user, or perpetrator of domestic violence from purchasing a weapon, despite the link between gun ownership and vict imisation which has triggered restraining orders in the USA (Vittes & Sorenson, 2008). Despite the restrictions on guns, it should be noted that guns are ke pt and used illegally. Guns are the number one choice of weapon used in murders (Hanna, 2005) an d the police confiscate many weapons annually (Figure 1). The recent surg e in confiscated weapons could be due to extra vigilance on behalf of the authorities, and/ or represent an increase in the number of illegal weapons in circulation. Either way, the presence of illegal weapons in society is of concern.


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Figure 1: Number of illegal firearms c onfiscated Royal Bahamas Police Force, 2010 [Confiscated weapons]. The introduction of a firearm into a home can c onfer power, to harm or not to harm, to the person who controls the weapon. The power asso ciated with a gun in the household has been noted by Doherty and Hornosty (2008) where homes with firearms were at higher risk of having domestic violence than those withou t a firearm. The Bahamas is cons idered to have a high rate of domestic violence (Brennen et al, 2010)and so the association between gun ownership and domestic violence identified in North America ma y be a matter of concern here if women are to be adequately protected from femicide where gun ownership is an el evating risk factor (Campbell et al., 2003). Further, as stated by Sp rinkle (2007) “Research documents that children raised in homes where domestic violence is presen t are far more likely to replicate the cycle of


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 violence in their own relationships” (p.145), C onsequently, the effects of gun ownership in today’s homes, may be evident in future generations. Accordingly, there are important implications, bo th inside and outside the home to residents owning guns. At one level, there are the harmful uses within society to which guns can be put, and at another level, the presence of a gun in a ho me can lead to violence within the home which may affect both adults and children. These aspect s alone require that th e ownership of weapons be studied to appreciate what occurs at a national level. Study purpose There appears to have been no prior research on gun ownership in The Bahamas, so this study focused on ownership of guns in Bahamian hous eholds. Its purpose wa s to ascertain the prevalence of guns in Bahamian society, to co mpare homes which do and do not have guns, to describe the guns kept in homes and to describe the person who controls a gun in the household. Questions were asked about the childhood of the person who controls a g un to identify possible links between his/her upbringi ng and adult behaviour. Therefor e, the questionna ire enabled a number of research questions to be asked whic h included: (1) Are homes with guns different to guns without homes? (2) Are guns used for the pu rposes permitted by the conditions of their firearm license? And, (3) Do ch ildhood experiences have influe nces on the behaviour of the person who controls the gun which may be a cause fo r concern? This paper will focus on the first of these research questions. Ca rroll, Brennen and Hutcheson ( 2011) and Brennen, Hutcheson and Carroll (2011) address research ques tions (2) and (3) in related papers.


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 The research project was carried out with the co nsent of the Office of Research, International Relations and Graduate Programmes of The College of The Bahamas. Methodology A survey form was devised which looked at three components of gun ownership: (1) Economic and behavioural characteristics of the home, (2) Characteristics of the person who controls the gun (when more than one gun was in the home, the respondent was asked to given information about just one person who controlled a gun) and (3) Information about the gun itself (when more than one gun was in the home, the respondent was asked to give information about just one gun which was controlled by the person identified in (2)). Demographics of the person who completed the form were included so that only respondents who were Bahamian citizens living in The Bahama s, our target population, would be included in the analysis. The HITS screeni ng tool (Sherin, Sinacore, Li, Zitter & Shakil, 1998) was used to classify the presence/absence of domestic violence in the home. An outline of the areas covered in the questionnaire is given in Table 1.


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Table 1: Outline of the survey form used. Demographics of the respondent: Age, se x, citizenship, usual place of residence About the household: Income, o ccurrence of domestic violence, sexual abuse, killing of companionable animals, hitting of children as a means of discipline, household is considered “loving”. Guns in the home: Number, type. On one selected gun (which we term the “reported” firearm): source, license status, availability of gun to be used. Demographics of the person who controls a gun Sex, age, upbringing, primary purpose of the firearm (including information on hunting habits), characteristics of the person who controls the gun (criminal activities, behaviours towards other members of the household), employment status. The survey was posted on Survey Monkey™. In Spring 2010 students from several Social Science classes contacted people by email to soli cit participation in th e study. These contacts were also asked to forward the survey link to their friends, thereby using a snowball sampling technique. Students were give n credit for participation in th e solicitation of respondents. This non-probabilistic sampling method preven ts us claiming that the respondents were “representative” of the wider community of The Bahamas, but this does not invalidate associations within the re spondent group. A 2009 study using a random sample of school students, in primary and secondary public sc hools, found that over 63.7% of primary students and 71.2% of high school students had access to th e internet at home (Bahamas Ministry of Education & College of The Bahamas, 2009). In 2008, the United Nation s Statistics Division (2009) estimated that 31.5% of the population of The Bahamas used the Internet. While not every home has internet access, it is widespr ead and possibly increasing. Gosling, Vazire, Srivastava and John (2004) in the USA found th at internet based surveys may result is some biases, but that they may not necessarily be any more biased as other survey methods which rely


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 on self selected participants. As a check on the re liability of the data from this study, a simple survey of College of The Bahamas students was unde rtaken this asked if there was a gun in the household. Students visite d classes, with the permission of the lecturer, selected through a convenience sample. Of 413 respondents, 29.3% knew that there was a firearm in the home, 58.9% said no, and the remainder either did not know or did not respond. These figures compare with another internet survey by Fielding et al (2011) which reported firearms in 26.0% of 1,308 homes. While the police know the number of licen sed firearms are in the population (Rolle, 2010), they do not appear to release informati on on the percentage of homes with firearms. A total of 1,813 replies were re ceived. Some of these were sp arsely answered and others appeared to be duplicates (possibly because the participants may have thought that their first submission failed). As the purpose of the study was to examine gun ownership in The Bahamas by Bahamians, only responses from Bahamians liv ing in The Bahamas were retained in the analysis. Consequently after cleaning the data, we report on 1,281 responses. Results Of the 1,281 respondents, 53.0% (679) were member s of the general public 44.3% were college students and 2.7% college employees. The majority of respondents were female (64.4%) and the modal age group was 18-20 years (42.1%) and 68.1% were aged under 26 years. The median household income (of 1,144 respondents) was $4 1,072. Some respondents knew that there was a firearm in the home while others thought proba bly yes, and others probably no. We focus on those homes in which respondents either knew the number of guns in the home, or thought that there was at least one in the hom e (which we term homes with guns). Firearms were reported to


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 be or thought to be in 23.0% (of 1,281) of re spondent homes. This proportion of homes was similar across the Bahamas (New Provide nce, Grand Bahama, Family Island), 2(2, N=1,281) = 3.8, p =.15. The median number of firear ms per home was 1.0 and 18.6% of 295 homes had more than one gun, giving a mean of 0.30 ( SE =.020) per household. When the gender of the respondent was taken into account, females were less likely than males to report weapons were in the home (18.9% compared with 30.5%, Fishers exact tes t, N =1,281, p <.001) Firearms were present in homes in all income brackets. Homes with firearms had higher household incomes than those without firearms, 2(5, N=1,144) = 23.9, p <.001) (Table 2). The primary purpose for having a firearm was simila r across all income groups, namely that the reported firearm was wanted for protection ( 76.7% of 240 responses) and the remainder for hunting, 2(5, N=240) = 1.9, p =.87). Table 2: Household income by pr esence/absence of a firearm. At least one firearm in the home Household income No, probably no Yes, probably yes N <$10,000 84.1% 15.9% 82 $10,001-20,000 84.0% 16.0% 175 $20,001-$40,000 80.5% 19.5% 302 $40,001-$60,000 74.6% 25.4% 252 $60,001-$80,000 77.8% 22.2% 171 >$80,001 64.8% 35.2% 162 When a firearm was in the home there was an incr eased risk of domestic violence occurring (OR (gun vs. no gun in home) =1.42; 95% CI [1.06-1.89) from 25.1% (of 957 homes), no firearm, to 32.2% (of 286 homes), at least one firearm. A lo gistic regression to assess the presence of weapons and income on domestic violence found that while income was an important predictor


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 of domestic violence, gun ownership was, in its own right was a useful pr edictor, although it just failed to be so at the standard level of statistical significance of 0.05 (Wal d statistic (W) for gun ownership, W =3.5, df =1, p =.06, and income, W =14.3, df =5, p =.014). Respondents who lived in homes with a firearm we re less likely to think that they lived in a “loving’ household than when a gun was not in the home, with 88.6% of them responding yes, compared to 84.9% when guns were in the home; of interest was that whil e 8.3% were “not sure” when a firearm was not present this increas ed to 13.1% when a firearm was present, 2(2, N=1,277) = 6.51, p =.039), (Table 3). However, a multinomial regression to assess the influence of both income and the presence of a gun in the home and the association of the home being “loving”, indicated that income was a more usef ul indicator than gun ow nership (gun ownership, W =3.3, df =1, p =.07, and income, W =13.6, df =5, p =.018). Table 3: Association between a firearm in the home and the home being “loving”. At least one firearm in the home Respondent lives in a loving household No/probably no Yes/probably yes Yes 88.6% 84.9% No 3.0% 2.1% Not sure 8.3% 13.1% N 986 291 The occurrence of sexual abuse was simila r in homes with an d without firearms, 2(3, N=1,274) = .68, p =.88), with 10.8% of 983 responding yes or definitely yes, when a gun was absent compared with 11.7% of 291 homes when a gun was present. The use of violence to discipline children (those under the age of 18) was less common in homes without firearms and child abuse was lower compared to homes with guns, 2(2, N=878) = 6.61, p =.048), Table 4.However, a multinomial regression to assess the influence of both income and the presence of


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 a gun in the home of violence to wards children, indicated that gun ownership was a more useful indicator than income (gun ownership, W =7.4, df =1, p =.007, and income, W =9.6, df =5, p =.09). Table 4: Association between the presence of a gun in the home and vi olence towards children. At least one firearm in the home No, probably no Yes, probably yes Yes, the children are hit 71.6% 63.2% Yes, the children are hit and sometimes I would consider this abuse 3.7% 6.2% No, the children are never hit 24.7% 30.6% N 669 209 The use of violence to discipline cats and/or dogs was similar in both hom es irrespective of the presence/absence of a firearm, pets were hit in 40.4% of 465 homes without guns and 37.4% of 163 homes with guns 2(2, N=628) = .56, p =.76). Discussion Overall, the presence of firearms occurred in 23 % of the participants’ ho mes, a number which is similar, if a little lower, to that reported in earlier studies. This figure may be an underestimate as females were less likely than males to report firearms in the home, a finding already noted by Ludwig, Cook and Smith (1998). If assume that our figures can be applied to the entire Bahamas, and if no adjustment is made for possible under reporting by our female respondents, the data point to a total gun population of around 31,000, or 8.8 per 100 persons (based on a population of 353,658 (Bahamas Information Servi ce, 2010) and an average household size of 3.45 (Department of Statistics, 2002). This ra te of gun ownership puts The Bahamas above Jamaica (8.1 per 100 persons) and just below Russi a (8.9 per 100 person). The estimate from this


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 study is higher than that given by Alpers and Wilson (2010) of 5.31. Consequently, the citizenry of The Bahamas may be as armed as other countr ies with a reputation fo r violence (Harriott, 2003; Forbes, nd.). As such, this may help to explain why the gun is th e weapon of choice in homicides (Hanna, 2005).While this level of ownership per se may not be a matter of concern, when firearms are linked to increased death, or injury (Turnquest, 2010) it invites a discussion as to the purpose to which firearms are being put, irrespective of the guns being licensed or otherwise. Additionally, this level of gun ow nership requires society to re visit the need to control the availability of firearms as “it is now generally accepted that cont rolling the legal trade in small arms is critical to combating and preventing the illicit trade in weapons” (Kirsten, 2008, p. 205). As noted in the introduction, the ap parent increase in ille gal guns would appear to be linked with an increase in the number of licensed firearms in society. The fact that not all once licensed firearms are re-licensed (Carroll Brennen & Hutcheson, 2011) conf irms the leakage of firearms from the legal to the illegal domain. Further, in the USA, it has been found that guns shops can be important suppliers of guns to criminals (Daniel, Jon & Bulzacchelli, 2006) which again points to the need for regulation prior to and from the point of sale onwards. Firearms were found to be present in homes in each economic group. Even in homes which are probably below the poverty line (expenditure less than $10,000 a year) (Bahamas Department of Statistics, n.d.), about 16 % of these homes contained at leas t one gun, but this figure more than doubled in the highest income homes. Protecti on seems to be the driving force for keeping 1This figure appears to be base d on the number of gun licenses.


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 firearms, even though with shotguns being the most commonly licensed weapon, the designated purpose for the permit would be hunting. This st udy cannot answer why higher income homes were more likely than lower income homes to own multiple guns, or if the multiple guns were of similar types or otherwise. The use of hunting weapons to protect property and harm humans is regularly reported in the pre ss (for example: Turnquest, 2011 ) and shotguns are the second commonly used firearm to commit murder (Hanna 2005). Future research could usefully expand on the socioeconomic aspects of firearm ownership and if different weapons are really owned for different purposes. The link between household income and other as pects of the home was found, not only of gun ownership, but also domestic violence and the ho me being considered loving. These latter two aspects, domestic violence and loving homes, we re however less associat ed with gun ownership than household income, once household income was ta ken into account. This contrasted with the case of violence towards children when the pr esence of a gun in the home was a stronger predictor than household income. These results al so contrast with the finding that gun ownership was not related to the use of violence towards pe ts. These findings indicate that gun ownership as well as household income can be associated with important aspects of household behaviours. Consequently, while Blank (2005) emphasises the importance of the economic aspects relating to youth and violence, this study shows that gun ownership should not be overlooked when considering violence towards child ren and other household members. The association between guns a nd household income and violence requires the debate in The Bahamas regarding the ownership of firearms to be extended beyond that commonly voiced in


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 the media with regard to opening up firearm owners hip for protection. The li terature cited above, together with the results from this study suggest that The Bahamas already has a relatively large number of citizens who are armed. Unless these owners are trained in firearm management (currently there is no requirement that they should), and the behaviour of these owners monitored, these weapons may increase the risk of firearm victims rather than make society (both inside and outside the hom e) safer. If weapons are licensed for hunting, but not used for that purpose, as suggested by, Carroll, Brennen an d Hutcheson (2011), it raises the question as to whether or not these weapons should be recalled by the police. As noted in the literature above, if licensed weapons become a source of illegal weapons and if gun shops supply criminals with weapons, a fundamental debate as to the wisdom of arming citizens needs to be instigated so that the law is aligned with the needs of society, yet al so protects society from the misuse of, what is by design, an item designed to cause harm. Such a debate should ultimately inform revised public policies which should re duce the emotional and economi c costs of gunshot related violence in the country. Limitations of the study It should be noted that not-proba bilistic samples such as this one can result in samples which may not reflect the wider population from which the sample was drawn. While little is known about the biases in internet samples in The Ba hamas, evidence from the USA suggests that they may not be any more biased than other self-sel ected samples. The median household income in our sample was $41,072 which compares with a m ean household income of Bahamian homes of $39,914 obtained in the 2000 census (Bahamas Department of Statistics, n.d), particularly if one considers that the census data are 10 years old. This suggests that desp ite the non-probabilistic


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 nature of the sample, respondent households had a household income which was not greatly different to the wider population. As income is associated with gun ownership, this point of similarity suggests that in at least one important aspect that our sample may be representative of the wider population. Including more female than male respondents in the study appears to be a feature of surveys in The Bahamas where no quot a is set on the sample, for example: Fielding and Samuels (2002). Studies on gun ownership ar e limited by the knowledge of respondents on the presence of a gun in the home. Given the se x differences in reporting on weapons noted in this study, future studies may need to focus of personal gun ownership, rather than household gun ownership. Acknowledgements We are grateful to Kevin Sherin for permission to use the HITS screening tool, for financial assistance from the Office of Research, Graduate Programmes and International Relations to undertake this study and to Virginia Ballance and William Fielding for their for help in preparing the paper. References Allard, D., & Burch, V. C. (2005). The cost of tr eating serious abdominal firearm-related injuries in South Africa. South African Medical Journal 95:8 Retrieved from: ndex.php/samj/article /viewFile/13706/15756 Alpers, P. & Wilson, M. (2010). Small arms in the Bahamas: Facts, figures and firearm law. Sydney School of Public Health The University of Sydney., 12 November. Retrieved from:


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Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Hutcheson, S., & Brennen, S., Bethel, N., & Carroll, M. (2011). Guns in The Bahamas: Firearms in Bahamian homes. Violence Symposium, 3rd November, Nassau, The Bahamas. Karp, A. (2007). Completing the count. Civi lian firearms. Retrieved from: admin/docs/A-Yearbook/2007/en/Small-ArmsSurvey-2007-Chapter-02-EN.pdf Kirsten, A. (2008). Citizens, guns and the state: the changing relationship between civil society and the state on reducing armed violence. South African Review of Sociology 39 (2), 201217. Retrieved from EBSCO host Lott, J. R. Jr. (2000). More guns less crime: Unde rstanding crime and gun control laws Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ludwig, J., Cook, P. J., & Smith, T. W. ( 1998). The gender gap in reporting household gun ownership. American Journal of Public Health 88 1715-1718. Retrieved from EBSCO host Plumridge, S. J., & Fielding, W. J.(2009). Domestic violence in the homes of college students, New Providence, The Bahamas. The College of The Bahamas Research Journal, 15 ; 4555. Retrieved from http://journals.sfu. ca/cob/index.php/files/ar ticle/viewArticle/116 Rolle, K. (2010). Greenslade spike in number of firearm license applications. July 7. The Nassau Guardian. http://www.thenassauguardia Sherin, K. M., Sinacore, J. M., Li, X., Zitter, R. E., & Shakil, A. (1998). HITS: A short domestic violence screening tool for use in a family practice setting. Family Medicine, 30 (7), 508-12. Retrieved from LLPDF/JULYAUG98/cram1.pdf Sprinkle, J. (2007). Domestic violence, gun ownership, and pare ntal educational attainment: How do they affect the aggressive beliefs and behaviors of children? Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal 24 (2), 133-151. doi:10.1007/s10560-006-0071-8 Turnquest, A. (2010). Huge in crease in gunshot victims. 13th December. The Tribune. Retrieved from: Turnquest, A. (2011). Man shot dead after resisting armed robbers. 28th February. The Tribune. Retrieved from: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2010). Intentional homicide, rate per 100,000 population. Retrieved from: http://data.un.or g/Data.aspx?d=UNODC&f=tableCode%3a1 United Nations Statis tics Division. (2009). Internet users per 100 population: Bahamas Retrieved from et+users+BAHAMAS&d=MDG&f=seriesRowID %3a605%3bcountryID%3a44


Draft: Violence Symposium, 3rd November 2011 Vittes, K. A., & Sorenson, S. B. (2008). Keep ing guns out of the hands of abusers: Handgun purchases and rest raining orders. American Journal of Public Health 98 (5), 828-831. Retrieved from EBSCO host