Colombo Telegraph

America’s Insane Gun Culture: Second Amendment Must Be Repealed

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

America’s insane gun culture: US Constitution’s Second Amendment must be repealed

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” ~ Second Amendment of the US Constitution

Gunman Stephen Paddock, acting alone so far as is known, fired an automatic weapon from the 32-nd floor of the Mandalay Hotel, Las Vegas, at ten on Sunday (1 Oct) evening over the hotel grounds and a busy road into an open plaza, venue of a concert, killing 58 people and injuring 500. I was in the next hotel (Luxor) on Tuesday morning and walked out to see the broken windows through which he shot and the plaza across the street. Several guns were found in his hotel room and dozens in his home in a quiet retirement neighbourhood. The city was in shock and as expected many said “This is fishy there must be more to it than meets the eye”. The Las Vegas Police declared “What we know is Stephen Paddock is a man who spent decades acquiring weapons and ammo and living a secret life”. And that’s where today’s morality play starts.

The first ten amendments to the US Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, are not in the conventional sense amendments. They were enacted at the time and in the process of enacting the Constitution but placed in a annexe because of complex processes between Congress and States. The well-known First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and faith and effectively makes the US a secular state; splendid provisions. (Backward Lankans demand religious bigotry and racial bias in the constitution). The Tenth Amendment stipulates that all powers not explicitly allocated to the Centre belong to the States – the opposite of Lanka. If the First and Tenth clauses in the Bill of Rights are exemplary, the Second is palpably asinine. Where in the world, except bandit enclaves and remote regions like Pakistan’s inaccessible North West Frontier, is one allowed to store an arsenal at home or cart it along when visiting the mother-in-law? If a weirdo, or for that matter anybody, can legally procure, store and employ a jaw-dropping armoury, isn’t the legal system god-awful weirder?

About 75% of Americans support the country’s insane gun-culture

But seriously, the US has the worst statistics in many ways. With 113 guns per 100 people it has more guns in private hands than mortal souls on terra firma! Except Central America’s de facto failed states Columbia, El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela and a few others, the US has the world’s highest firearm related homicide rate. As against 3.6 per 100,000 people per years in US, the statistic in other rich countries is Hong Kong (0.00), Singapore (0.02), UK (0.06), Germany (0.07), Australia (0.16), France (0.21 and Canada (0.38). Not just lower, but one or two orders of magnitude smaller! There is no denying, though numb-skulls swear against the proposition: Unchecked availability of guns is responsible for a very high homicide, gun related suicide and accidental death rate in America.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), a big time right-wing political outfit masquerading as a sporting association, pours money into the election coffers of reactionary Congressional, Senatorial and Presidential candidates. It opposes curbs on sales, control, ownership, licencing, and background checks of prospective buyers. It is more insidious than the Ku Klux Klan because the latter is written off as a bunch of neo-Nazi loonies, and more pernicious than Lankan monks with a politico-religious agenda. The dreadful problem in America is that the public supports the unquestioned sale, retention and use of guns. The country is a slave to gun culture. A 2016 Gallup-BBC showed that while 35% of Americans supported hand-gun ownership in the 1960s it has risen to over 75% by 2015.

If you declare Lankans stupid on religion and race you will have to award the same ranking to Americans on guns. The Second Amendment (2A) must be repealed but the public won’t support this. Sensible things are often not possible because of people’s stupidity. I admire the US in many respects; its top universities are the best, its technology and scientific achievements, broadly, still unsurpassed and it is an open and plural society. Tens of thousands of people of all races and faiths frequently protest racial and religious injustice. But with a few exceptions Sinhalese Buddhists and Catholics/Christians did not lift a finger to halt the carnage of 1958, 1977 and 1983 – the leaders of the day actually egged it on. To my knowledge few Tamils took a stand against LTTE terrorism against civilians. Nevertheless though thousands of whites join civil rights campaigns and oppose anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim bias, this is soured by public foolishness on the gun issue in the US.

Merchants of fake news

Con artist Donald Trump popularised the term ‘fake news’ but it his cohorts who are expert at the black art. A proliferation of false propaganda led to Silicon Valley corporations facing scrutiny over their role in allowing false news to reach millions on their platforms. YouTube aired conspiracy theory videos claiming the shooting was a hoax, outraging survivors and victims’ families. Thereafter tech companies made little effort to prevent the spread false and offensive propaganda. YouTube, Facebook and Google spread false reports within hours and promoted right-wing conspiracy theories misidentifying the killer as a Democrat opposed Donald Trump, member a Muslim terror group and a person on a FBI watch list. Media personalities Alan Jones and Wayne Allyn Root who claim millions of listeners made incendiary remarks such as “Ladies and gentlemen, the October Revolution is here, the shooting is orchestrated by shadowy global forces fomenting war in America” and “Las Vegas is in the throes of a coordinated Muslim terror attack”. Leading ABC commentator Jimmy Kimmel was moved to respond “No breathing human on this planet produces more fake news than Donald Trump”.

Progressive Democrats such as Nancy Polanski do not mention repeal of 2A, though it is undeniably clear to any creature with a brain that this is should be done. Reflect on the misery of our wiser constitution drafters who know that the provisions on Buddhism/Religion are relics that should be jettisoned but they are bound hand and foot by intolerant public narrow-mindedness. Our drafters are constrained to juggle with “unitary”, éekiya”, “united and indivisible” and such bosh instead of a bold declaration of devolution of power away from the centre. So too Polanski, Bernie Sanders and the US Democrats are struggling to do only what is possible: Get some sort of bipartisan gun-control legislation pushed through instead of full-blooded repeal of 2A.

In Rakhine State, Burma soldiers use murder, rape and fire to drive hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from their homes. (References to jihadist terrorism and Wahhabism are to pull the wool over the eyes of public opinion). Burma is in transition from military rule to democracy with power still split between the two. But civilian politicians, including Aung San Suu Kyi have not lifted a finger in defence of the Muslim Rohingya. True, Suu Kyi is no Gandhi or Mandela in moral stature and her elected cohorts are not free of prejudice, but anti-Muslim bigotry is as pervasive in Burma as it is in Lanka. In this context standing for the rights of the Muslim minority there is more dangerous than making concessions to Tamils in Sri Lanka. Burman Buddhists will not hesitate to support a military coup and a return to dictatorship if the government attempts to protect Muslims.

Max Fisher and Amanda Taub say in the New York Times of 5 October: 

Quote: “It goes to show that even a partial transition to democracy imperil the ideals it is meant to protect. But how valuable is democracy if it leads to harsh, majoritarian populism, forcing the weak to pay a high price for that democratic option? At what point does an elected government lose moral authority? Today’s nascent democracies are held to a much higher moral standard than older ones were in their early days? The United States relied on slave labour and waged brutal ethnic cleansing against Native Americans. Europeans used slavery, torture and oppression to control their colonies. The atrocities are abhorrent and shameful, but it is easy for us to see it from the comfortable vantage of today’s wealth and stability. Much of what we have today is derived from the oppression of others. We need to take a cold, hard look at the difficulties of establishing democracy”. End quote.

We in Sri Lanka too need to take a cold hard look at these issues of fractured democracy in the context of an ever receding prospect of an even half-decent constitution – anodyne fixes aside.

Am I too harsh on Suu Kyi and the yahapalanaya government? The former terminated outright military dictatorship, the latter saw off the repressive and corrupt Rajapaksa regime; both valuable feats not to be belittled. So the purpose of my harsh criticism is to halt backsliding, and if need be, to move forward another step to a better alternative.

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