Day after Orlando shootout: Why America won't put the guns down

Once any right is given to the people, it is difficult to repeal it.

 |  6-minute read |   13-06-2016
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On June 12, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen opened fire in the gay bar Pulse in Florida's Orlando and killed at least 50, while wounding a similar number. With that he broke the record of 32 set during the Virginia Tech university massacre.

That's not a kind of record that any kind of country wants to be proud of. It is estimated that the amount of deaths, suicides, injuries and accidents as a result of gun shots are in excess of one lakh per year in the US.

For a non-American these are mindboggling statistics. Very few people can make sense of the gun culture that doesn't just survive but flourish in America. While it is derided outside that country, it is celebrated inside it.

stream_img_061316014924.jpg Omar Mir Seddique Mateen shot at least 50 people dead.

The first reason for this is: The gun is just there for the taking.Indians may understand this by taking the case of Bihar's Jungle Raj and the lawlessness of certain areas in Uttar Pradesh. If you are a criminal, then (illegal) guns are there just for the asking.

India has many lawless areas in Naxal zones, the Northeast and the Kashmir valley where arms are freely available. For bad things like drugs, guns, prostitution and the like, if the supply comes, then the demand will automatically appear out of nowhere.

Punjab is one such case and the film Udta Punjab is merely showing the grim reality of the rampant drug culture there.

Darra Adam Khel in Pakistan produces thousands of guns from small firearms to anti-aircraft guns. And we all know the current state of Pakistan, what with its unending terror attacks. You get the picture.

While these are examples of "black markets" of guns, America is the fountainhead of the "white market". The gun laws in America are the most liberal in the world and it's easy to for the citizens to buy as many as guns as they want.

Once a country is flooded with guns, it becomes far easier for them to be invariably used to settle scores and even vent out your frustrations as seen from the many mass shootings that take place in America with Orlando merely being the latest.

The second reason is the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) which was formed in 1871. This is again something Indians will easily understand. In India sometimes it's not just people power that triumphs, but it has to be backed by some strong political group or party.

In the US, the NRA is that political group.It prevents any meaningful gun legislation from taking place. In fact, it becomes even more powerful. Such legislation was indeed attempted after the years that followed the assassination of the then President John F Kennedy in 1963.

That ultimately resulted in the formation of the NRA's Institute for Legislative actionin 1975 and subsequent Cincinnati Revolt of 1977 where the hardliners took over and politicized gun rights and took on any and every legislation head on.

The NRA has successfully marketed the good old gun as a symbol of freedom and power for the common citizen. It is presented as something that can make a poor ole citizen more powerful than a criminal who should choose to attack him or her.

In 1994 when the then President Bill Clinton introduced the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, there was a gun buying frenzy in protest!Similar gun buying frenzies have been seen in America whenever current US President Barack Obama rants against the gun culture.

One media outlet cheekily called Obama "Gun salesman of the year" after one such surge!

Now the NRA has a membership of about 5 million. Yes you read that right.That's another thing Indian masses will understand. The NRA is a powerful votebank.

With five million members, the NRA regularly threatens American lawmakers that if they support anti-gun legislations, then they will lose this votebank.

In India we have the caste/religion votebank and in America they have one of guns.

The NRA is cash-rich and propagates the gun culture aggressively.

"I'll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands" was an extremely popular NRA slogan in the 1970s.

This was popularised by Hollywood legend Charlton Heston in the 2000 NRA convention when he attacked the then Democrat Presidential candidate Al Gore's efforts to promote anti-gun legislation.

After ranting against his opponent, Heston ended it with…

"…Mr Gore: "From my cold, dead hands!"

That got a thunderous applause.

Gore lost to George W Bush by the narrowest margins in the 2000 US Presidential elections. Did the millions at the NRA have anything to do with that? Your guess is as good as mine!

When any mass shooting happens in America, while the world looks in horror, the NRA thinks differently. After the horrific San Bernardino attack in 2015 declared grandly NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne Robert LaPierre, Jr…

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

While everyone is aware of America's First Amendment which guarantees free speech, the Second Amendment secures the American citizen's right to bear arms.

While the origins of this are nebulous and may have served a different purpose when introduced in 1791 when the integrity of the country was at stake, today it is used by an individual as his right to have a gun.

Indians will recognise this. Once any right is given to the people, it is difficult to repeal it. India is still struggling to repeal all the bad laws that have been imposed by the British Empire before 1947.

Mainstream media outrage has backfired. The media demonised Narendra Modi for more than a decade and the people made him prime minister. The media demonised Donald Trump and the Republican voters made him presumptive Presidential candidate.

Nothing has been more demonised in the American media than the NRA and gun culture. The gun users of America became even more resolute.

A key point to note is that Americans have been desensitised to the gun culture by watching and celebrating endless westerns and gangster movies.

"An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by the age of 18!" said a senate committee report in 1999.

In summation, the US Constitution guarantees guns for every American. You can't take away guns from them. All efforts to take them away will backfire. As long as millions of guns are there in private hands, incidents will continue to happen.

It will take a very strong President to come out with an all-encompassing legislation that will stand the scrutiny of the Second Amendment. Then he or she will have the tough job of pushing all the Senators and Congressmen to actually pass that bill!

Obama is not that President. Neither may Trump nor Hillary Clinton who are both hardliners in their own way.

Americans love affair with guns may just last forever!

Writer

Sunil Rajguru Sunil Rajguru @sunilrajguru

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.

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