My first reaction to the killing of a cop and a civilian in Texas by a man armed with an automatic gun was disbelief. First Colorado, then Wisconsin, and now this, all in a space of weeks. This can't be happening, I thought. Are we turning into a nation of trigger-happy psychopaths? I really hope not.
But hope is not enough; it's time for Americans to act on gun control.
My first blog on this topic, "Why Gun Control is Patriotic," debunked the myth that it is un-American to want gun control. The second, "It's Time to Challenge the Second Amendment," dealt with the twisted interpretation of the Second Amendment by the NRA and the far right. Based on the responses, I want to put some wrong notions to rest and recommend actions that we can take to deal with this mess.
The Technicalities of Assault/Automatic/Semi-Automatic Weapons Matter
There is a lot of quibbling over which weapons should be available to private citizens and which should be banned. I know there are vast differences between different types of guns, but when it comes to deadly weapons, nuances don't matter. We are not talking about complex financial instruments here, but things that are used to kill people. If the real purpose of guns, as ratified by the Supreme Court, is defense of one's home, then anything that can be used to fire dozens of rounds a minute, accommodate high-capacity clips of ammunition, or spray bullets, should not be in the hands of civilians. Period. There are no legitimate uses for such weapons in civilian life, regardless of whether you need to pull the trigger once or multiple times. So stop the quibbling and let's agree on something reasonable on this front.
Guns are no different than Box Cutters or Airplanes Someone remarked that since box cutters and airplanes have both been used as weapons, should we impose controls on those as well? First of all, the primary purpose of box cutters is to open boxes and airplanes are used mainly to transport people over long distances; the fact that they have been used as weapons just demonstrates the perversion of the human mind. Guns, on the other hand, have only one purpose, which is to hurt or kill another living being, and so there is no comparison between those things. We regulate drugs, alcohol, driving, and even airplanes, so why should we not regulate guns?
Recovery of Existing Guns is Impossible It's true that even if we restrict gun ownership today, we cannot reclaim all the guns that are already out there (there are currently 88.8 firearms per 100 people in America, which translates to more than 270 million guns). But that doesn't mean we can't try. One method might be for the government to offer tax incentives to gun manufacturers to re-purchase guns, and to individuals to surrender their weapons. Such incentives would mitigate the costs to the gun industry, put money into the pockets of gun owners, and benefit society as a whole. It's not a perfect solution but even if it nets a portion of the guns, it's worth it. And whether we can get the existing guns back or not, let's at least stop putting more out on the streets. As they say, when you are in a hole, first stop digging!
Most Gun Owners are Law Abiding Citizens Yes, but so what? The condition for gun ownership cannot just be adherence to the law, but possible use. To take an example, a sane and law-abiding citizen does not need the type of rifle used by the Colorado shooter or a high-capacity clip to protect their home or hunt for deer. If they actually try to secure such items, then it is necessary to question their motives, and if we need to do that, do we really want such people having access to deadly weapons? Again, this problem can be solved by restricting the availability of certain weapons across the board.
Federal Gun Laws violate State Rights If the people of a state want easy access to guns, why should the federal government impose its own standards on them? The answer is simple: guns purchased in a state are often transported to other states, where they wind up in the hands of criminals, impacting the entire nation. These 'straw-man' sales, which Mayor Bloomberg has been trying to stop for a decade, are a huge problem, forcing states to pay for the irresponsibility of their neighbors. That is why the federal government must create uniform gun laws, regardless of what individual states want. It is not a question of states' rights but a question of the common right of all Americans to be safe.
More Guns make Everyone Safer The familiar logic goes that if everyone is armed, then no one can pull off a mass shooting since someone in the crowd will probably shoot them within seconds. People who suggest this are either in denial or just ignorant. Let's say that you are sitting at a restaurant eating your beef steak and downing your third glass of wine when a gunman walks in and starts spraying bullets around the place. Even if you are not too drunk or too well fed to recognize what is actually happening, the odds of your successfully a) Having the presence of mind to react, b) Retrieving your weapon, c) Taking the Safety off, and d) Aiming accurately and firing -- all the while ducking bullets -- are extremely low to none. More likely than not you will shoot one of your fellow patrons and compound the tragedy. Vigilantism is not a sustainable model for a peaceful society. We need less guns out there, not more.
So what is our government doing to address this problem? Nothing. Gun control is such political dynamite that no one wants to touch it. But that excuse is lousy, especially now. The recent shootings are a clear call for action on gun reform, and if our leaders have any backbone, they will get into it. I don't have any hope for Romney (who always evades the issue) and certainly not Ryan (who is a gun lover himself) but President Obama should do something.
If we are going to take aim at anything, then let it be at America's unhealthy obsession with guns and at the empty arguments against gun control, not at common sense.
Sanjay Sanghoee is the author of two thriller novels. Please visit www.sanghoee.com for more details and updates.