Sunday, 16 January 2011

I have the right to own a Glock semi automatic

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Tucson, Arizona, there has been a frenzy of chest beating in the United States as to whether the poisoned and inflamed political rhetoric that is now commonplace, was a contributor to the tragedy. It took The Economist to say that was the wrong question. The real issue, as The Economist argues, is the gun control laws in the US.

For those unfamiliar with the Tucson tragedy, a deranged man attempted to assassinate a Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. Six people were killed, including a nine year old girl. A further thirteen were injured, including Ms Giffords, who is battling for her life in hospital.

Unfortunately, such incidents have become all too common in the United States. Even more unfortunately, many of them happen in school and university campuses. Wikipedia even has a depressing listing of such massacres here.

Guns are far too easy to get and own in the US. The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment to the US constitution. Rights being (laudably) sacred in the US, there is a huge body of opinion, led by the National Rifle Association defending this right at all costs. In the very same town of Tucson, barely a week after the shootings, a previously scheduled gun show went on, in an appalling display of insensitivity.

But all rights are set in a context. The Second Amendment was passed when the US, was being formed - independent states were coming together to create a federal government in the late 18th century, Each of the states had a militia and were wary of creating a tyrannical federal army that might trample on them. The Second Amendement was a compromise hammered out at that time to address that concern. It reads "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed". Is this context remotely valid today ?

In this world, where a terrorist threat is just around the corner, is it becoming a safer place where everybody carries a gun ? There are as many guns as there are people in the US. The defence that the gun does not kill, the shooter does, does not hold water. Any one of the massacres would not have been so awful, but for the power of the increasingly sophisticated weaponry that is available these days. It is also true that the vast majority of gun owners in the US do not commit crimes - but it is the sheer availability that enables the minuscule minority to perpetrate such atrocities. Sensible societies trade in some degree of personal right for protecting the rest of them. The right of free speech therefore does not extend to yelling Fire Fire in a crowded theatre.

Societies that have stuck dogmatically to the wording of a law or a belief that is no longer contextually valid have only sunk into depravity. Consider the verbatim implementation of the Sharia Law, which may have been relevant at its time, but sounds positively barbaric now. Rigid belief in every word of the Bible, brings tragedy to cults like Jehovah's Witness.

The greatness of the United States is its ability to assimilate the best from every culture in the world. A country that is at the forefront of reason and progress. Such an America might like to ponder over this fact. In virtually no other country in the world would a citizen be lawfully permitted to own a Glock semi automatic, the gun that the madman used at Tucson.


Sandhya Sriram said...

Maybe a lil different thought here ....some many people kill themselves with poison. have we banned poisons being bought OTC?

Maybe, taking this one step further, let us assume some maverick mixes poison in some food meant for many.. would we ban the poisons completely? I am not sure

And if we really think, incidents like this would be a miniscule percentage. the larger problem of terrorism is by no way going to solve even a small bit just because you have banned some local people from keeping semi automatic.

why should a priviledged few hold the power to threaten a large many because they are able to illegally or legally possess destructive machines?

I agree that it isnt a cow boy world. But i also believe the law needs to find its way of strengthening itself to handle this. Ban in public gatherings could be one solution. Maybe, very very stringent punishments for misuse could be another. but can the law and lawmakers by themselves protect the society from the risk of poison? No!!

Is banning the solution. Personally - i dont think so....

is there a better solution... Maybe no?

it isnt a perfect world anyways.

kiwibloke said...

there are more people killed every year by incapable madmen driving vehicles than madmen with a Glock or a S&W. Coming to think of it, banning guns is not the answer. Enforcement and discipline (especially gun discipline) is possibly the solution.
PS: Have tried my hand at an Uzi in one of the central american countries where you spend a half a dollar a round to try out under closely controlled and monitored situation. I now know what it means to have a firearm for all the gun nuts

Ramesh said...

@Sandhya - Mmmmmm. As always your comments are very incisive and thought provoking. I can see where you are coming from, but I still don't buy it. Actually you can't get your hands on poisons that are lethal all that easily. Things like rat poison or such stuff cannot be easily mixed with food. But lethal poisons that can't be detected are illegal to hold. Criminals will always find a way to kill, but at least we make things difficult by not making it easy. Most atrocities are committed with weapons, because they are the easiest to get legally or illegally. The reason why we haven't ye seen a major chemical or biological atrocity is because they are not easy to get. I still hold that other things being equal, a place with gun control will be safer than an identical place without.

@kiwi - I would be terrified of facing you with an Uzi, especially in that stunning photograph you sent for the new year !!! Yes , madmen behind vehicles kill a lot of people. But they are usually unintentional. With a gun, its shoot to kill. You need a car to go from plac A to B. You don't need a gun in daily life. I can understand for sport - in which case hire at the range. But why own a Glock or an Uzi ???

Anonymous said...

As an American living in the US, I wish more of my countrymen understood the amendment, that they so vigorously defend, as well as you do. At some point, a document written hundreds of years ago will begin to seem no longer relevant with regards to specific issues. However, the Constitution and the ideals that founded the country are treated with the untouchable aura only associated with religous doctrine, to put it into identifiable context for those who have never been to the states.

The fear is always, when it starts being tampered with, where will it end? Our country was founded on protecting freedoms for all, not just for some. Its just a shame that many of the gun toters don't realize that this applies to other areas as well, such as freedom of religion. Many of these same folk on the far right in this country, who want their freedoms defended, were fighting to keep a NYC mosque from being built close to ground zero.

While both the gun show and the building of the mosque displayed a bit of insensitivity, I will personally defend the rights of both groups because as an American I believe that our freedoms are the one thing we cannot begin to tamper with, no matter how much I may agree that the original ideals of the Constituion are being warped.

RamMmm said...

Running through the comments at the Economist page had me spinning. Very polarized views. It would be impossible to get the 'gun' out of the American DNA, it seems. One side of me is not yet convinced with the 'restrict guns to restrict crime' factor, the other side states the exact opposite. Anyway, I'll rather watch the views than participate in it, as I don't have a clear one.

Anonymous said...

If we were lawfully permitted to own a Glock semi automatic, it would'nt be just mad men shooting..bham! bham! :-)

Mark said...

A well-balanced, insightful article, Rasmesh. I've come to expect nothing less from you on whatever you chose to write about.

You get America on a very deep level.

I constantly think about the US' second amendment and what it means for my country. I try to understand all sides and points of view on the issue.

The older I get, the more I wish that we could get over our love affair with guns. My family has never owned a gun and I can't say that I understand "gun culture" completely, no matter how hard I try to see where gun lovers are coming from.

My barber as a kid used to have "Guns & Ammo" magazine in the shop. We talked about guns and the second amendment a few times.

I remember him telling me - "People who have the right to bear arms are citizens. People without that right are subjects." I get what he was going for on this catch phrase, but I can't say I buy into this line of argument.

To me, the right to buy guns isn't a litmus test for a free society.

Unfortunately, I don't see the US getting over its love affair with guns anytime soon. And there's no way we'll ever make guns illegal.

I've told a couple of my Chinese friends (in discussions about US gun ownership) that Beijing will recognize Taipei as the capital of the country of Taiwan before the US repeals the second amendment.

I'm sure that there will be several more incidents similar to the one in Arizona over the course of my life. I'm equally sure that despite having to deal with the aftermath of such disasters, Americans will continue to see gun rights as something we refuse to compromise upon.

Vishal said...

That was something outstanding Ramesh! I am open-mouthed looking at the range of your knowledge and elegance of your writing. Once again hats off!

It is indeed in everybody's benefit to do something about the process to own a gun. Simply, adds no value in today's context. The more difficult it is to get one, the better it is for peace and non-violence.

Ramesh said...

@Hopfrog - Thanks for a very insightful comment. I appreciate the value you guys place on protecting fundamental principles and freedom - that's what makes America so great. Coming from a different culture, I however find the obsession with guns difficult to really understand. Freedom yes, but where the limits to freedom are, is what I debate.

@RamMmm - Incredibly polarised the US has become; almost rabidly so. Doesn't bode well in the short run. And yes there's no way guns will go out of American life anytime soon.

@hema - Oh yes. The finger on the trigger will always itch, madman or not.

@Mark - Thanks for commenting. Extremely insightful and balanced comment. Yes, I understand that guns will not go away - its too deep in the way of life. And yet the dilemma persists for those who don't believe in it. While gun ownership is a right, what sort of guns is the question. The stuff that the Tucson madman carried was not legal in the US before 2004, I believe. The middle path would be to outlaw semi automatics, automatics, assualt rifles and the like and keep the simple ones legal. Of course, the NRA would never permit it !!

@Vishal - Thanks. I feel like you too, but of course we come from a different culture and what is right for us, isn't necessarily right for the US. Won't stop us from debating that though !!

Anonymous said...

Just a quick follow up. Mark brings up an excellent point. The people who have latched onto the second amendment are so fervent that it is not realistic, at this point and the foreseeable future, that it will be repealed. I also wish this wasn't such a gun loving society and if I was forced to pick one thing in the Constitution that was no longer valid and should be erased, it would be the right to bear arms.

Again, though, I gotta go back to the principle that we need to protect the freedoms that others hold in high value, not just the ones I hold in high value. I can't start saying that the Constitutional right which Mark's barber holds sacred, should be done away with, because it is not sacred to me.

Your last line keeps resonating with me: "In virtually no other country in the world would a citizen be lawfully permitted to own a Glock"

For good or for bad, that speaks volumes about the freedoms we do have in this country.

On another topic, I have been catching up on the blog entries that I have missed lately and I must say your form has excellent recently. Some really good stuff since your return to India.

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

I once spent a very happy two hours at a People's Liberation Army firing range near Mui Tan Yu (one of the access points from Beijing to the Great Wall) shooting off pistols, an AK47 and several species of HMGs. There is a thrill and a kick that has overcome the constitutional provision to ensure that citizens do not become subjects. I am sorry, but there is no justification for putting a semi-automatic in the hands of a lunatic. The founding fathers of the United States, who were quick to recognize that there are limits to citizen and state rights, would be turning in their graves. But then they have been doing that with great regularity over the years.

J said...

I couldnt get myself to comment earlier - somehow the debate takes on a different meaning when the event happens in your own backyard. But taking a more pragmatic approach to the issue, I will sadly forget about banning guns. But I think a strong case can be made for responsibility that goes with any right. I cannot drive a car out of the dealer's lot without proving that I have a valid driving license. To get that driving license I have to take lessons, a driving test and get that license renewed periodically. Why cant we follow the same procedure here? I think at a minimum there needs to be strong licensing procedures including detailed background/ medical checks. There needs to be education on gun safety including videos with realistic images of these kinds of awful consequences of carelessness with guns and periodic renewal. I am not saying this will prevent all accidents but at a minimum a civilized society cannot sell guns like it is selling candy. I truly believe women and younger American will be on board and they need to be mobilized to put their support behind such changes.

Ramesh said...

@J - I was looking forward to your comment, knowing that the incident was uncomfortable close to your backyard. Yes, I know banning guns, even dangerous ones, is a no no in the US - says something about the state of the political system that anything (even the declaration of Utopia) is a no no. Your argument for strict licensing is the next best one. Such a system is supposed to be in place now - the trouble is that there's no easy way to identify a murderous lunatic beforehand.

Ramesh said...

@Ravi - I know your sympathies extend on the liberal side. But how on earth did yo manage to infiltrate a PLA shooting range ??

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

Ramesh, the answer is guan xi.

Ramesh said...

@Ravi - If you have that sort of guanxi with the PLA, I better watch my words !!!

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