I have been Americanized in many ways, but I am still uncomfortable with the idea of owning a gun even after living in the USA for more than fifty years. The recent explosive surge in mass shootings and other gun-related violence in this country has prompted me to express my thoughts. I have been listening to both sides of the gun control arguments for years and it is always the same. On one side you have the absolute believers and defenders of the Second amendment; the ones who consider owning guns for personal protection and recreational hunting as their rights guaranteed by the Constitution. They believe that it is people who kill other people. On the other side is the same old call for ban against assault weapons, repeal of the Second amendment, anti-NRA protests and emphasis on the correlation of the highest murder rate in the US with the largest numbers of gun owners compared to any other country in the world.
Nothing gets resolved. There are two key reasons for this continuing inaction. First, it is not a clear-cut Republican versus Democrat issue. Gun culture is inherent among all Americans on both sides of the aisle, dating back to the Wild West. Secondly, the gun industry is a major economic force employing tens of thousands of people. Just like oil companies and big pharmaceuticals, they carry enormous political clout. Is there any practical way to minimize if not end this gun violence? Unfortunately, we cannot change two facts: bad people like criminals and smugglers will always be able to procure guns illegally no matter what strict law we impose on purchase of guns such as extensive background checks.
Secondly, there will always be mentally-ill individuals no matter how much money the government pours into programmes to treat them. I believe that solution lies in protection from violence and not in a plan to fundamentally eradicate the root causes, at least in the near term. The situation is similar to how shoes were invented. The story goes that a king was so disturbed by all the dirt and mud collected on his feet as he walked on the streets that he ordered his courtiers to cover all the roads in his kingdom with leather. Fortunately, a wise man suggested that it would be cheaper and quicker to simply cover his feet with leather. The same strategy works in the fight against viruses by taking vaccines and not by efforts to make the world virus-free. Let us first look at where gun violence is most likely to happen. It is abundantly clear that such massacres take place where large numbers of people gather – bars and dance clubs, supermarkets, concerts, churches, parades and of course schools.
One possible solution is to reduce the number of such gatherings. One great lesson of the Covid pandemic is that we can live without such gatherings for months. Owners of all such facilities certainly have rights to limit the number of their customers. Yes, such a limitation is a little inconvenient and annoying, but people get used to it. It is surprising to me that some common-sense protective solutions have not been widely implemented already. For example, we can erect tall walls (say 7 ft high) around the entire perimeter of public facilities. The main and only entrance can be monitored using scanners. This should be made mandatory in all schools and colleges because the lives of young people are so precious. This was the case in my high school and college back in India when I was a student, even without any threat of gun violence. Remote learning and home schooling are other options which should be seriously considered as permanent solutions for students in elementary schools.
Any desired socialization among kids can be achieved in neighbourhood playgrounds under close supervision. I can tell once again based on my own experience (I was home-schooled for my first three grades) that it will not have any negative impact on the development of a child, socially or intellectually. Killing by gun is highly impersonal. The killer does not even have to see the bloody gore left behind. It has been demonstrated from confessions of murderers that there is a correlation between this “trigger obsession” in real life and playing violent video games. Such games desensitize young kids to violence. As one key step, all such video games should be banned. This would not take away the livelihood of video game companies because they can re-channel their resources on developing more constructive, non-violent but still “fun” games. It is shocking to know that while there are federal regulations and restrictions on sale of firearms (the ones which politicians are trying to improve upon), there is nothing similar about controlling the sale of ammunition.
That responsibility lies with the states and the rules vary widely from state to state. Some states do not have any regulations! I do not know if an outright ban on selling bullets and cartridges would be a violation of Second amendment rights, but America can enact federal laws to restrict ammunition sale to a handful of designated dealers who could be required to keep accurate logs of customers, quantities, dates etc. in addition to background checks.
Without ammunition, a firearm is only as dangerous as its weight. Apparel makers can think about designing bullet-proof shirts, jackets, and blouses. With advancement in material science, it is not unreasonable to expect that lightweight bullet proof outfits can be made available which look exactly like normal attire. If that turns out to be impractical to make or to wear, one can wear, at least, a chest band (which can be integrated with a tubular brassiere for women) and some type of head gear with reinforced material; these outfits can protect our two most vulnerable organs – heart and brain. By the same token, bullet-proof windows in cars can save lives. Such windows already exist and are used in limos used by dignitaries; they are not super-expensive, compared to the price of the car itself. Their introduction in cars and SUVs for common people is only a matter of cost reduction and such cost reduction would be feasible by economy of scale if use of such windows is made mandatory. In many mass-shootings around the country, there had been plenty of advance warnings from perpetrators through social media posts and comments to their associates.
We should not only encourage reporting of such threats but make it easier by cutting through some privacy and civil liberty related issues and perhaps even making non-reporting a criminal offense. Unfortunately, we do not teach our kids all the devastating consequences of gun violence. We leave the responsibility of gun ownership to individual parents. It would be a great idea if we introduce mandatory courses in high schools which talk about the uses of guns, impact of a bullet on our body in graphic details, statistics of gun violence and legal ramifications if someone gets killed or injured. Gun violence inevitably gets linked to politics. If we accept the idea that there will always be guns and lunatics/criminals who would use guns for destructive purposes, control of violence can become the obligation of a socially responsible household using protective measures and not a political football.