Armed and dangerous
Seventy thousand members of the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) met over the first weekend of May in Houston to assert their right to hold personal weapons and to oppose this right in any manner despite the episode in Kentucky a few days earlier.
Successive US governments have been unable to amend laws that would introduce stricter requirements regarding possession and sale that need background checks, because the powerful NRA has strong interest groups among Congressmen and the arms industry’s commercial interests.
The Kentucky killing of a two year old girl in an accidental shooting by her five-year-old brother with his personal gun, did generate some debate but it was not the first such incident in the US. Even recently, a four-year-old boy shot and killed a 48-year-old woman in Tennessee in April and a few days later, a six-year-old boy was accidentally shot by another four-year-old. While parental responsibility is undoubtedly an issue, a lot of this also has to do with the gun culture of America and the interests of the NRA that seeks to arm its members with a gun to protect the citizens against what it calls government tyranny. It is this gun culture that allows incidents like Sandy Hook in Connecticut which killed 20 young school children and six teachers last September and will recur unless there are attitudinal changes and legal restrictions. Constitutional rights are cited by the NRA while the private industry capitalises.
Keystone Sporting Arms is an American company that also advertises its Crickett range of rifles among which is one proudly called “My First Rifle.” Guns of this kind come in different colours. It was one of these weapons killed the two-year-old in Kentucky. Other companies too offer similar weapons for toddlers.
one, Savage Arms (do note the genteel name) manufactures the Rascal another .22 calibre single-shot rifle, while Thompson in New Hampshire sells the Hot Shot and is supposed to be a look alike of Dad’s hunting gun and Mossberg markets a .410 shotgun popularly known as the Mighty Mouse. All of these and possibly others specifically target small children in different age groups for their lethal products. Web page advertisements appear as innocuous or as seductive as those for modern toys. Private entrepreneurs also offer body armour to children while others offer training courses to second-graders to counter attack mass shootings.
There is also a great deal of romanticisation about possessing guns in America. It goes back to the days of the pioneers and the opening of the west to defend themselves against the natives protesting against intrusions, bandits and wild animals. This tradition became a symbol of freedom and insurance against a government that they did not initially trust. Later day Hollywood icons John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, of the cowboy fighting the native American or the Mexican bandits and winning, only embellished this image.
Today, it is estimated the law enforcement and the military possess four million weapons while US civilians own 310 million assorted weapons. This means roughly one weapon per individual, man, woman, young or old for a population of 311 million in 2011 or 7.9 guns per owner. This also makes US the most weaponised country in the world. Estimates also reveal that 80 million Americans own 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns. Numerically speaking the state is outgunned. Worse, around 50 per cent of legal gun sales involve private sellers and do not require background checks.
More young Americans are killed and maimed each year by gunfire in America than all US casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan and gun homicide is one of the biggest killers among the youth. There are 30,000 gun related deaths in the US every year. The US government spends billions of dollars annually on its military and intelligence and has spent trillions of dollars fighting futile wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet is unable to enact stricter laws to protect its own citizens at home. Bowing to powerful NRA interests, the US has ensured that the International Arms Trade Agreement approved by the UN was only meant to cover international trade and transfers and not domestic trade.
Unrestricted possession of lethal weapons and an increasing propensity to use them, ultimately brutalises society. It only produces a society that is armed and dangerous.
The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)