Saturday, January 15, 2011

I have the right to own a Glock semi automatic

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Tucson, Arizona, there has been a frenzy of chest beating in the United States as to whether the poisoned and inflamed political rhetoric that is now commonplace, was a contributor to the tragedy. It took The Economist to say that was the wrong question. The real issue, as The Economist argues, is the gun control laws in the US.

For those unfamiliar with the Tucson tragedy, a deranged man attempted to assassinate a Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. Six people were killed, including a nine year old girl. A further thirteen were injured, including Ms Giffords, who is battling for her life in hospital.

Unfortunately, such incidents have become all too common in the United States. Even more unfortunately, many of them happen in school and university campuses. Wikipedia even has a depressing listing of such massacres here.

Guns are far too easy to get and own in the US. The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment to the US constitution. Rights being (laudably) sacred in the US, there is a huge body of opinion, led by the National Rifle Association defending this right at all costs. In the very same town of Tucson, barely a week after the shootings, a previously scheduled gun show went on, in an appalling display of insensitivity.

But all rights are set in a context. The Second Amendment was passed when the US, was being formed - independent states were coming together to create a federal government in the late 18th century, Each of the states had a militia and were wary of creating a tyrannical federal army that might trample on them. The Second Amendement was a compromise hammered out at that time to address that concern. It reads "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". Is this context remotely valid today ?

In this world, where a terrorist threat is just around the corner, is it becoming a safer place where everybody carries a gun ? There are as many guns as there are people in the US. The defence that the gun does not kill, the shooter does, does not hold water. Any one of the massacres would not have been so awful, but for the power of the increasingly sophisticated weaponry that is available these days. It is also true that the vast majority of gun owners in the US do not commit crimes - but it is the sheer availability that enables the minuscule minority to perpetrate such atrocities. Sensible societies trade in some degree of personal right for protecting the rest of them. The right of free speech therefore does not extend to yelling Fire Fire in a crowded theatre.

Societies that have stuck dogmatically to the wording of a law or a belief that is no longer contextually valid have only sunk into depravity. Consider the verbatim implementation of the Sharia Law, which may have been relevant at its time, but sounds positively barbaric now. Rigid belief in every word of the Bible, brings tragedy to cults like Jehovah's Witness.

The greatness of the United States is its ability to assimilate the best from every culture in the world. A country that is at the forefront of reason and progress. Such an America might like to ponder over this fact. In virtually no other country in the world would a citizen be lawfully permitted to own a Glock semi automatic, the gun that the madman used at Tucson.