By MANI THANGADURAI
Fifty-eight lives: extinguished. Over 500 people were left physically and mentally scarred last week from what is currently the deadliest shooting in U.S. history, barely a year after the dastardly shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando that claimed 49 lives and injured 58 others.
Despite these atrocities, there is always obstruction in the path of progress when it comes to controlling guns and passing anti-gun legislation for the sake of healing a shattered country. The culprit in this case is the National Rifle Association (NRA), whose bull-headed attitude towards protecting the Second Amendment stretches as far as using money to influence conservative politicians to stand up for the “liberty” of the American people and the right to “protect themselves.”
Protect themselves? In Stephen Paddock’s case, he had a total arsenal of not one, not two, but 47 firearms, 12 of them being modified semi-automatic rifles with the capacity to fire hundreds of rounds of ammunition in one minute alone. We’re not talking about purchasing a small handgun here. Clearly, no one in good conscience can use the Second Amendment to claim the right to acquire and possess automatic weapons like these, which are nothing but killing machines. Possessing a handgun for protection is perhaps fair enough, but demanding the right to possess a huge collection of automatic assault rifles is a terrible case of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too.
As a proud and passionate Briton, I remember only too well the sickeningly evil act committed by disgruntled Scout master Thomas Hamilton in the quiet Scottish town of Dunblane, more than 21 years ago. He walked into a primary school with four handguns and brutally murdered 16 children and a teacher before committing suicide in an act which shook the entire United Kingdom to its core. Our equivalent of the horrific Sandy Hook massacre, if you will.
It prompted a huge outpouring of grief across the country, not to mention a great deal of soul-searching and calls for tougher action on guns. Not long afterwards, the British Government passed legislation which led to the banning of private ownership of automatic weapons and handguns, although members of hunting clubs and the like could still possess them. A step in the right direction, which has led to the welcome, if gradual, decrease in gun-related violence across the UK with only one mass shooting since the measures, in 2010. In fact, the UK currently has one of the lowest gun-related death rates among developed nations, with a rate of two fatalities per million people.
What seems apparent though, is that the NRA and other passionate defenders of the Second Amendment will stop at nothing to portray supporters of gun control as a bunch of quasi-communists intent on taking away the freedom of the people, while also claiming that decent, law-abiding citizens are the most at risk from gun control measures; one of many reasons, a large number of them political, why gun control will probably not be a reality despite the efforts of many citizen groups, judges and even politicians.
Rather than continuing the debate on gun control or speculating on what could have led Stephen Paddock to commit such an atrocity, let’s ask ourselves, how was Paddock able to acquire such a large collection of powerful firearms? He was portrayed by his near and dear ones as a good man who made a responsible living, although he was addicted to online gambling. This is contrary to other accounts from former neighbors who considered him to be an unpleasant character. He also had a license to purchase guns, and records show that he acquired them legally. It is simply alarming how a man who was licensed to purchase firearms was able to slowly and surely build up his ‘collection’, a trait and action very similar to the perpetrators of other mass shootings in this country.
A possible way to go about things would be for a Government agency to maintain a database of records on all legal gun purchases and to issue a cap on such purchases, while also eradicating all devices or measures meant to enhance the power of those weapons. People will never attempt to acquire such a large collection of dangerous firearms simply for the purpose of ‘protecting themselves’, and even professional shooters and hunters will have limited collections. Despite broad legislation which has prohibited the maintenance of purchase records and demanded that the results of all background checks on prospective gun owners be destroyed after 24 hours, there are more than a few small databases maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) which deal with the purchase and registration of guns. Moreover, individual states like California and New York have taken initiatives to clamp down on multiple gun sales in a short span of time, thus reducing the likelihood of gun trafficking. If legislation were passed to severely limit the overall number and type of guns purchased by private citizens, and not just over a certain period of time, we could go a long way towards decreasing the level of gun-related violence in this country.
In addition, action should definitely be taken to crack down on the trade of illegal weapons on the black market or otherwise. In order for this to be a reality, work needs to be done to close loopholes on existing regulations like the Brady Bill of 1994, which was meant to facilitate compulsory background checks on people who purchase firearms but has indirectly enabled transactions of illegal firearms. And despite an admirable effort by Senator Dianne Feinstein to bring about a ban on the same bump stocks which Paddock used to enhance the killing capacity of his arsenal, the NRA has recently been forthright in its opposition to that. As long as the same NRA which contributed US$30 million to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign continues to exercise an unhealthy influence over select politicians and lawmakers with no room for compromise, there is little chance of coming to a common-sense resolution on this issue. And as for Trump himself, where his heart and mind are on this issue has been made perfectly clear with his decision to throw in his lot with the NRA, clearly backtracking from an earlier assertion that a cap on assault weapons made sense. We can also never forget his loose-lipped, irresponsible comments pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Second Amendment at a rally in Wilmington during his campaign.
What is clear here is that with the right to possess firearms should come the responsibility to exercise restraint in both acquiring and using them. Citizens need to realize that as long as supposedly good human beings can exploit their privileges and legal loopholes to effectively turn into sociopathic firearm hoarders and mass murderers, the safety and harmony of their entire community is at grave risk. It is my hope that by adopting these or other measures, we will be able to bring about a safer, more responsible society whose citizens recognize the rights of other citizens as well as their own. Until then, all we can do is continue to make this an issue every day, and not just after the next mass shooting.
Mani Thangadurai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org