If I die in a school shooting, drop my body at the NRA… (A placard in one of the Marches Against Gun Violence in 2018)
Our hearts shadowed and strange,
Minds made muddled and mute.
We carry tragedy, terrifying and true.
And none of it is new;
We knew it as home,
— Amanda Gormain
By Shivaji Sengupta
Four years ago, I wrote these lines in one of my columns:
I will be 71 years old this year, will be completing 50 years in this country in June. Just as I was getting ready to write my swan song, my wishes seemingly complete with the election of Barack Obama as president, just as the shadows of my life’s evening seemed to be extending over life itself, come the youths. Shot, killed and maimed by senseless gun violence, they are saying “Enough is Enough!” Their unequivocal message to legislators is: Ignoring the toll of school shootings and everyday gun violence will no longer be tolerated.
It’s the last day of May today, 2022. We are reeling from another equally senseless, cruel, appalling gun violence, this time in Uvalde, Texas: twenty-one people killed, 19 of them elementary school children! The gunman, predictably, shot dead. Our publisher-editor, Prashant Shah, is himself outraged. He is asking publicly: “What is this with Gun Culture in America? Who are Responsible? Are there loopholes in gun control laws protecting the Second Amendment, or the NRA who spend millions of dollars after politicians…Or is it a societal issue? How many mass murders have taken place in the last ten years in America?”India Tribune is declaring Gun Culture and Mental Health the biggest enemy of America, not China, not Russia, not even the international terrorists.
Frankly, I am at a loss; dumbfounded and inert. Th present article is the fifth one I am writing for the Indian newspapers in the U.S. Others have appeared in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Never mind the last ten years. My arrival in this country, on 6thJune, 1968, started with the shooting death of Senator Robert Kennedy. Since then, according to a report from the B.B.C., 1.5 million other Americans have been killed from gunshot wounds, “That is a higher than the number of soldiers killed in every U.S. conflict since the American War for Independence in 1775,” writes the B.B.C.
“Political power booms from the barrel of a gun,” the Chinese Chairman, Mao Zedong had once famously declared. It’s time to reconstruct that famous saying, “NRA power booms from the barrel of a gun!” Within two days of the deaths of the nineteen children in Uvalde, Texas, last week, the NRA held its national conference in Houston, advertising a total of 560 different handguns, automatic rifles and pistols. In 2020 alone, 45,000 Americans died at the end of a barrel of a gun.
I am disgusted, frustrated.
N.R.A. routinely blames mental health issues. The attendees in the Houston conference last week, including Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, one after another blamed mental health for the mass murders. The governor of Texas announced to the conference, “Anybody who kills another with a gun is got to be mentally depraved!” There is certainly a connection between mental health and murders committed with handguns. But to blame mental health, and refuse to introduce a single law having to do with gun control is like laughing at the face of gun violence.
There was a darkly comic op-ed in The New York Times this Tuesday morning. A man belonging to an ancient tribe got shot with a poison arrow. It pierced his flesh. Instead of seeking help to cure the wound, he asked, “Who shot the arrow? Where is he from? What was arrow like? Did it have feathers on it?” Needless to say, he died.
The NRA Conference attendees’ response to the murder of innocent children in Uvalde reminds me of the afore-mentioned op-ed. As President Biden would say, “Folks, you are asking the wrong questions! Fix the wounds! Change the laws! Bring in tougher mandatory checks before selling guns. Ban military grade automatic rifles!”
No, says the NRA.
Yes, there are loopholes in the gun laws. Each state has its own laws, some strict, others lax. Worse, gunmen from the state with loose laws enter other states and kill. But one law or two restricting guns is not going to do anything to change the present situation. We need to pass one law after another, making them stricter and stricter, almost impossible for ordinary people to own guns. There should be heavy taxes levied on gun ownership like they do on cigarettes. Currently, Americans own guns at the rate of more than one per person – 393 million handguns owned by 339 million people. Compare that with Britain’s 5 gun owners per 100.
The NRA and pro-gun politicians argue that stricter gun laws will not curb deaths by handguns. Guns don’t kill, they are fond of saying, people do. And they will somehow manage to bring back the discussion to inner cities and mental health. They point to the example of Chicago, a city they claim with one of the strictest gun laws and yet have the highest number of deaths by gun shots. I submit that the NRA is intentionally playing fast with statistics. Chicago has a high number of deaths by gun violence, it is true. But Chicago is also a very large city with a population of almost three million. It is not the city with the highest death-by-gun rates. That bravado belongs to St. Louis, MO. The fact that gun violence will decline if people cannot possess guns, is common sense.
Then there is the Second Amendment, by which the Constitution gives each individual in the U.S. the right to own guns. From Donald Trump down, the Second Amendment-ers swear that they are going to protect their right by hook or by crook. Yet the framers of the Constitution themselves describe their work as an “imperfect constitution” for the very reason that they foresaw the complications that might arise two-hundred-and-fifty years hence. Barak Obama, our former president, and a formidable scholar of Constitutional Law had once said that the Constitution was purportedly “imperfect” so that future generations might adapt it to their own social conditions.
The right to own guns in America was bequeathed primarily for two reasons, both by now outdated. The first one was to maintain a militia in every city and locality to fight the British who, despite having been defeated in the War of Independence in 1775, still conducted routine raids on innocent civilians. A militia was necessary to resist the “red-coats.” If citizens did not possess guns, they could not form the instant army necessary to fight back.
Well, it’s 2022 now, not 1775! Every state has National Guards, a powerful police force – where is the need for private citizens to own handguns? Ah, but argues the NRA, Americans have a long and rich tradition of hunting. Its open fields and dense forests lend themselves to harboring deer and other animals. Hunting is a noble sport! Granted; but military grade automatic rifles and magazines of bullets to kill deer? I rest my case.
The second reason is also hopelessly attenuated. It has to do with this country being so vast that until about early nineteenth century not a single American president until James Polk in 1845 had visited California owing to the lack of transportation! The federal government was practically useless when it came to defending its citizens in the Midwest and California. Local citizens had to possess their own guns to defend themselves. It was the reason all kinds of vigilante groups emerged in the South and West to fight robbers and bandits. Famous cowboys like the Lone Ranger and Gene Autrey became public heroes and even myths. They made sense over two hundred years ago; not anymore. To cling on to the Second Amendment today is purely for business and political reasons. The fact that the Second Amendment is an amendment, created to meet certain defense requirements in the 18th and 19th Centuries itself implies that the amendment may be further amended given the contemporary environment. But tell that to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
This should be abundantly clear to everyone, and it is! The fact that nothing is being done about it is for purely political and business reasons. The NRA has from five to eight million members. At $45 per year fees, it nets $225-360 million in just one year. It lobbied Congress to the tune of almost 5 million dollars in 2021; over seven million in 2020, an election year.
In spite of these enormously disappointing statistics, more Americans believe tougher gun control laws ought to be passed than those who don’t. There are millions more who grieve at the deaths of innocent people from gun violence. The Uvalde incident has created the hope for some laws – any law – in the Senate to be passed to control the violence. There is a bipartisan move afoot among the Senators.
Dare we hope?
Let Isiah’s apocryphal call in the Bible ring true: “And a little child will lead us…” (II, 6)