The Problem with Guns

In San Bernadino, California, one couple with links to terrorists (but operating largely independently) have killed 14 civilians and injured 21 more. But terrorism itself is not the major problem in the contemporary US, but the fact that so many people (88 guns for every 100 people) own guns, resulting in over 400,000 gun deaths between 2001 and 2013 (CNN).

The defenders of the second amendment usually claim that we should not increase restrictions on gun access and gun control, because (1) taking weapons away from people would indiscriminately target law-abiding citizens, and (2) law-abiding gun owners can stop criminal gun owners during emergency situations. And less seriously, there is a paranoid fringe in the country, which claims that (3) they need guns to protect themselves against an evil big government.

We can very easily dismiss each of these points.

(1) America is a country, which prides itself with the freedom to do many things, but the question is whether these additional rights (which some would deny, because the second amendment only grants militias free gun access, not private individuals) create more harm than good. Is it not better to deny gun access to law-abiding individuals than have criminals have access to guns?

Some would claim that preventing law-abiding people from acquiring guns will do nothing to stop criminals from acquiring guns. But the point is that if we have such an active gun culture where it is so easy for anyone, whether law-abiding or criminal, to access guns, then it will automatically be easier for the criminals to also acquire guns. Some people just want to add a background check to rule out that criminals can access guns, but I think even that measure does not go really far enough, because many gunmen do not have active criminal backgrounds, so they acquire the gun legally, and then create the mayhem.

In other countries, it is true that law-abiding citizens have a hard time acquiring gun rights and access to guns, but it is also harder for criminals to access them too. They might still get it via the black market, but the risks for that are higher, and the lack of gun culture resulting in the lack of much gun violence is reflected in the gun violence statistics in other developed countries of the world.

(2) It is a plain myth that law-abiding gun owners will stop active shooters. In most situations, even normal gun owners mostly keep their weapon safely stored at home (or not, because many kids in the US get killed by unsafely stored guns at home), which implies that during emergency situations, there won’t be anybody with the gun ready. Even if they had the gun with them, I have never heard of a story of a heroic John Wayne stopping a killer with his own gun. I have heard some stories of courageous individuals, who are stopping petty thieves robbing the handbag of a woman, but I don’t remember the robbers having any guns with them. The heroic savior with the gun is an altogether unlikely situation. All of the gunmen were stopped by an overwhelming show of force of the police. They come in large units with their helmet, Kevlar vests, shields and rifles. Not even policemen have been told to go in there alone, and pull a Rambo.

(3) There is this ridiculous paranoia in the country that the government will come to take away the guns of individuals, so there will be nothing for the citizen to protect himself against the evil government. All state provisions are apparently bad, except when it comes to the second amendment, which the forefathers had placed into the constitution to ensure the liberty and private property of individuals. But one should note that the second amendment was designed to erect a state militia against the British colonial rulers, because in the early days there wasn’t any strong federal army, so the exigencies of the moment required the founding fathers of this country to add this amendment to the constitution.

And let us consider the substance of the argument. I am all for civil liberties and protecting people against an overpowerful surveillance state, but that does not mean that guns can make people safer against the government. Martin Luther King and others have shown the example that it is possible to challenge government policies via peaceful means, and it is not necessary to use guns to achieve political aims. In addition, if the government wanted to target individuals, they could do so easily. They could blow out our brains with a drone strike in a moment in the middle of the night, even as we are clutching our AK-47 in our sleep. It is entirely ridiculous to defend ourselves physically against a state, whose primary prerogative is the monopolization of the use of violence, or else we have anarchy and warlords ruling the neighborhoods.

The political ramifications of this discussion are all too clear. We don’t need more vigil marches, prayers, sermons and other war on terrorism campaigns. What we need is commonsense legislation to significantly restrict gun rights, by making it at least difficult for most people to acquire new weapons. It would be a blow to the NRA and the weapons industry, but it is a small cost relative to the immeasurable human cost that the society currently has to pay for its foolishly liberal gun laws.

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