America’s Gun problem and surprising hints from the Indian Epic Ramayana
America has a gun problem. No, it is not about the second amendment. I love fundamental rights and freedom as much as the next guy. Let’s not fall back to the cliched arguments of individual rights vs society, or hackneyed discussions on freedom vs tyranny. No. I am not interested in that. But we can not deny the fact that we do have a problem with guns.
Unless one is living under a rock or only watching a cooking channel, it is hard to escape on what traversed in the last four weeks was the worst form of gun violence in America. A religious anti-semitic and most likely mentally imbalanced individual gunned down 11 Jewish worshipers and injured 7 more in a Synagogue. Before the country can reel from this tragedy another gunman killed 12 innocent pub goers in California. Ironically, as if being haunted by Karma, some of the victims of the California shooting spear were, in fact, Vegas shooting survivors. As the readers recall Vegas shooting (2017) is the bloodiest event in our recent memory.
The tragedies do not end there.
There are other noteworthy, gun-related deaths but never got any highlights from the news media. Not because they were any less tragic, but as they were way too common of an occurrence to deserve any front page attention. A grim reminder that, as a society, we are getting too complacent about these afflictions.
Two more gun-related deaths that happened in two different part of the country needed a special mention.
An Oklahoma mother was accused of killing her 18-year-old son and wounding a teenage daughter, who died after 4 days. She shot her children in their heads while they were in deep sleep. Her justification was as shocking as her actions: she thought she was protecting her children from an unknown danger by shooting them in their heads. The third child, a 13-year-old daughter, fortunately, escaped. The family bought guns to protect from intruders, never realizing one of their own becomes one.
An 11-year-old boy in Arizona fatally shot and killed his grandmother and later on himself, as the grandmother was constantly asking him to clean up his room and pick up after himself. The boy shot in the back of her head while both the grandparents were watching TV in the living room. The gun belongs to the grandfather.
Unlike mass shootings, these nondescript tragedies are lowkey but way too numerous, causing permanent devastation in our families, neighbourhoods and communities.
There is clearly a gun problem in our country.
America’s gun problem is, ironically, guns. Having lots of them. According to a recent study, there are more than 393 million civilian-owned guns in America; more than enough for every man, woman, and a child in the country with the total population is about 326 million. The number of guns in America households is equivalent to arming all the armies, 173 million firearms, in the world nearly three times over. Let that sink in.
The numbers look even starker as we consider only 42 per cent of American households claimed of owning guns. That means 393 million guns were concentrated in just less of the half of the households in the country. This gives an average of 8 guns per household. That’s a lot of guns.
What are the consequences of having lots of guns in civilian hands?
Deaths. A lot.
There is no surprise in this outcome. This is an unfortunate, perhaps avoidable, consequence. In fact, the effects of weapons on safety and violence in non-battlefield had been warned about almost 5000 years ago, in the great Indian Epic, Ramayana.
There are two great epics that Indians revere; Ramayana and Mahabharata. Both are the stories about the triumph of good over evil and about the God who descended onto earth (Avatar) to fight evildoers, restore faith and righteousness in the world. Although the context, time, culture and place where those events might have had happened feel remote, however, the overall message transcends all the peripheral differences.
In Ramayana (literally “The Journeys of Lord Rama”), Rama was ordered, by his stepmother, to spend 14 years in the forest and give up his right to the throne. To honour the promises given by his father to the stepmother, Lord Rama begin his journeys into the forest and reluctantly agreeing to the company of his wife, Sita and the brother Lakshmana.
In these travels, Sita objects to carrying high calibre weapons wherever they go. She rightfully notices that having a constant exposure to weapons in itself incites violence. To convince Rama about these dangerous, she reminds him of a story happened a while ago. There lives a pious monk in a village, whose daily routine revolves around, mediations, prayers, penance and observing nonviolence. As in all traditions to test the resolve of the monk, God sent a divine-tester, Indra, disguised as a soldier returning from wars, stops at the monk’s abode and requests to safe-keep a sword as he was planning to spend peaceful time with his family in a faraway village. He promises to collect the weapon back when he is ready to go back to the war. He had no intention of returning.
Unaware of this cunning nature, but having entrusted in safeguarding the sword, the monk constantly carries the weapon with him wherever he goes. As the days pass by, the monk started using the sword; at first for small things like cutting this and that. But slowly the monk becomes comfortable in using the sword for its real purpose; as a weapon. Gone are those days of meditation, the monk now spends most of the time in hunting, quarrels and settling disputes. He is no longer a peace-loving, nonviolent, meditating pious monk. NO. The weapon and its usage completely transformed his personality. Eventually, he lost his life in one of the disputes.
It is true that we all are not monks, our times and necessities are very different, however, the timeless moral of the story is that having a constant exposure to weapon transforms one’s own personality and not only dangerous to one’s own life but also to the others around him is still valid. Modern scientific research backs this claim.
Way back in 1966, two American scientists from the University of Wisconsin, Berkowitz and LePage, made a fascinating discovery. In their experiments, the authors noted that aggression of an angered person is noticeably enhanced by the mere presence of a weapon (a shotgun or a revolver) as compared to non-weapon sports goods (shuttlecocks etc.). They coined a term “weapons effect”. Over the decades there are numerous lab and real-life experiments confirmed this effect. Prof. Leonard Berkowitz puts it succinctly: “The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger.”
The data on gun violence in our country bears a chilling reminder of this effect.
As of today, according to the gun violence archive, the number of gun-related deaths and injuries in the country are 12,558 and 24,425 respectively, not including 20,000 annual suicides by guns. Of his only 308 deaths were from mass shootings. Ironically, the number of children aged 0–11 either killed or injured by accidental gun discharge is almost double the number (508). The following chart illustrates a strong correlation between gun ownership and deaths. Deaths considered here were caused either by suicide, accidents or from self-defence.
Access to the firearms triples the risk of death-by-suicide. Although, firearms are used in less than 6% of the suicide attempts, however, more than half the times the attempts are successful. Once again the grim reminder that guns are deadly weapons.
Besides being a “right’s issue”, another strong reason why Americans amass such a large quantity of guns in their households; for personal and family protection. This is a strong emotionally charged issue. Who can say no to protecting the family? Family comes first. No one disagrees.
However, as it turns out, this mythical guns-for-protection is more of a marketing gimmick than rooted in real safety or supported by data. People rarely use guns for self-protection. Contrary to the anecdotal stories one normally hears from bumbling enthusiasts and gun lobbyists who glorify self-protection by guns, data shows that people defended themselves with a gun in nearly 0.9 per cent of crimes from 2007 to 2011. This is such a small percentage of protection compared to the risks associated with the guns. Risks outweigh benefits.
Ok, now what? Am I proposing to ban guns? No.
Do not get me wrong I am not advocating no-gun policy or demanding to take away guns or even put restrictions on certain guns. None of it. As my student trainer testifies, I enjoy shooting, esp AR-15. I am not good at it; still, boy do I love it. I love the whole ritual: driving up to the gun range, socializing, setting up the shooting targets, preparing the guns and of course feeling dejected that many my shots are nowhere near the target but jubilant like a child when I hit the bulls-eye. I love it - the whole nine years.
I do not want anyone to infringe on our right-to-bear arms or curtail the freedom of owning any type of gun that we would like to acquire, or even trying to prevent me protecting my family in the best way possible. Nope. However, I do want to reduce all the unnecessary deaths, violence and accidents associated with firearms. Death is an irreversible chemical reaction.
What is the solution?
Both the epic and common sense agree that keeping the firearms closeby is a dangerous proposition. So what I propose is the following; let’s buy whatever firearm, as it is legally allowed today, and as many of them as one can afford but KEEP all those products in a GUN CLUB! Whenever one feels like shooting; go to the club, take out your firearms from the safekeeping and practice to one’s own heart content.
The idea is not as unusual as it looks. For example, we dock our boats in a marina. It offers several advantages. It is convenient to get your boat in and out of water, security, and socialization. The same thing applies to the ‘docking’ of guns in the gun club. The additional advantage is that one can also have access to several other types of firearms that are either too expensive to buy or too dangerous to own.
One final question that still needs to be addressed. How about protecting the family? We live in such blessed times, there are several non-lethal protecting gears available, for example, tasers, stun guns, bean bag guns and much more. These devices not only protects your family from intruders but also protect a family from our weapons. What if an intruder comes with firearms? All the law enforcement officers and security experts agree that the best course of action, in the case of all our security barriers fail, is to remain calm. Pulling your own gun to shoot the intruder in that charged environment only exacerbates the problem.
Therefore, friends, buy guns as many as you want, use them, celebrate the individual rights and protect the freedoms and also secure these deadly weapons at the gun club. As a result, you can reduce the harm, accidental deaths, and perhaps violence. Protect your family by having non-lethal weapons.