B S Raghavan

Deadly provision in US Constitution

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on March 12, 2018

The horror and savagery marking the cold-blooded shooting of innocent young children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Town, Connecticut, on December 15 in the US have shaken to the core the people all over the world. But, alas, it was not the first of its kind; nor, one can be sure, will it be the last, so long as the US Administration and the US Congress do not act fast to put in place legislation banning the indiscriminate and uncontrolled sale of all kinds of firearms by the innumerable gun stores in every State to whomsoever walks into them and wants to buy them.

Available figures give the impression that such gory mass shootings have been occurring close on the heels of one another and are actually on the rise in recent years.

According to one study, since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders carried out with firearms across 30 out of the 50 States in the US.

Of these, 12 were in schools and 19 at workplaces, while the other 31 cases took place in locations including shopping malls, restaurants, government buildings, and military bases. The average age of the killers was 35, with the youngest among them being only 11 years old.

Since 2005, such multiple-victim shootings are said to have occurred every 5.9 days in the US, with 87 people dying of bullet wounds each day.

The most dangerous city for mass shootings is Chicago which has seen 17 shootings, including 13 in public places, causing 30 deaths and 72 injuries. New Orleans, Kansas City and Philadelphia were all tied for the second bloodiest American cities, with nine shootings in the seven-year span.

As one of the talk show hosts, himself a former Republican Congressperson from Florida, put it: “The violence we see spreading from shopping malls in Oregon, to movie theatres in Colorado, to college campuses in Virginia, to elementary schools in Connecticut, is being spawned by the toxic view of a violent popular culture, a growing mental health crisis, and the proliferation of combat-style weapons.”

UNABASHED SLOGAN

President Barack Obama, during his visit to the scene of New Town massacre, poignantly asked, “Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

A resounding ‘Yes’ will be the answer of the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the most powerful lobbies, dead set against any fettering of the US citizens’ right to purchase and possess what firearms they please. It has long been its unabashed slogan that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”! Even in the wake of Sandy Hook massacre, the NRA had the temerity to say that if only all the teachers and pupils had carried arms, the tragedy would not have happened.

Another lobbying group, the Gun Owners of America is reported to have declared that the members of the US Congress who voted to ban guns from schools had "blood on their hands", adding, "They are the ones who made it illegal to defend oneself with a gun in a school, when that is the only effective way of resisting a gunman."

The NRA has become powerful only because it reflects such opinions of a large number of Americans for whom any sort of gun control is anathema.

Their mindset is still frozen in a context in which the Founding Fathers were convinced that an armed population, or the militia, was the only means of averting the possibility of a tyrannical government and adopted the Second Amendment to the Constitution stating: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

FIXATED MINDSET

This is the provision that has turned out to be deadly. The NRA, and champions of rigid adherence to the provision, have interpreted it to stubbornly demand that the right to keep and bear arms should be unconditional and unregulated, even though the provision itself talks of “a well-regulated militia”.

Indeed, it has become, in their eyes, an inviolate and inviolable fundamental right, without which life, liberty and pursuit of happiness will themselves be negated.

This fixated mindset that has made a fetish of the Second Amendment. That is what needs to be changed before anything like the stringent conditions that had always been part of the law in Britain, which is no less a democracy than the US and equally committed to citizens’ rights, are imposed in the US as well.

No one can keep firearms in Britain (as also in India, on the same model) without a licence which is issued only after exhaustive background checks. Sale of certain types of firearms, such as handguns and automatic weapons, is totally banned.

Jolted by the Sandy Hook shooting, some prominent US law makers have proposed the appointment of a National Commission to go into the feasibility and necessity of adopting similar safeguards, and, at the same time, scrutinise the mental health system and the role that violent video games and movies might play in shootings.

The US already has two precedents in this respect. Following the assassination in rapid succession of President John Kennedy, Reverend Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson set up a National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence.

Contemporaneously, the US witnessed widespread riots, most notably in Watts, Newark and Detroit, and the appointment of the Commission on Civil Disorders followed. Study of violence became a whole new brand of science, called Polemology, with a new breed of scientists researching the subject.

On gun laws too, a National Commission can be of great help in at least creating a consensus and preparing the ground. The sooner President Obama sets up such a Commission, the better.

Published on December 18, 2012

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