So the first phase of my first Trans-Atlantic visit comes to an end. I thought of beginning to write this at Houston Airport but somehow the mood did not set in (all it takes is one COSTA coffee to do that). Sitting in the Dubai airport (watching 10 hours wiped away from my life – that too of a weekend – due to time difference), I try to sum up the things.
At the end of it, I still feel I do not connect so well to the country. Perhaps I don’t want to. It’s India where the heart is. But some innate tendency to always understand the place where I am made me take that step to understand the US – the politics, culture, people, traditions, problems, principles (Republicans and Democrats) and so on. I always enjoy it – to be a part of the place, to know it, to build sensitivity to the culture. This was probably the reason I had numerous conversations with my colleague and the project SPOC, Georgina, on different topics concerning the country. While we think that the US society is one of the most forward thinking, there is of course a certain extent of bias associated to it – mostly due to what media (not just news but also movies and televisions series) projects about these countries. But what I understood that just as India is not Mumbai, US is not New York. With topics such as Gay Marriage legalization creating such uproar, there requires a great amount of research to understand the basis of the two views (opposite) on the same and acknowledge them. I realized this after watching some of the debates around the same.
However, here, I would be talking about another topic that has been the talk of the town across US and has triggered a debate on the ideology that forms the basis of creation of the United States of America.
14th December 2012, brought a horrific day for the school kids and the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut as a lone gunman killed 20 kids and 6 adults with his two 9mm handguns. The gunman himself was found dead later on. This event triggered a debate on one of the fundamental rights that was incorporated in the US Bill of Rights (collective name for the first 10 amendments) and adopted since 1791. One of the amendment in the Bill says “right to keep and bear arms” for personal use and self-defense. This provides every American citizen, the right to possess arms for their own protection – the primary reason – and also for hunting. However, after the recent shootouts, the US polity is having second thoughts about it – especially the Obama administration.
Luckily, in this trip, I also got an opportunity to come close to an American family. A colleague, and now a friend, of mine – Arion – invited me over dinner. It was indeed a privilege considering that I had only spent three weeks in Houston and had only few interactions with Arion – mostly work related. It would have made the schedule hectic for me because it was Friday night and I was not able to start my packing (hadn’t finished the shopping as well) for the flight which was 24 hours later. However, I did not want to miss this opportunity (and in retrospection, I did the RIGHT THING – as Chinese would say it!). It was a typical American nuclear family but still complete. A beautiful and loving wife and two sweet and cute little daughters – what else a man can ask for? The next 3 hours, we all talked about everything from family to office to marriage (this devil won’t leave me alone anywhere) to life in India and Life in US. All these discussions also included Gun control.
Although opinion of two people might not be statistically significant to represent the entire state, but somebody born and brought up in Texas does carry weight enough to indicate the general thinking. Fundamentally, the genesis of the “right to keep and bear arms” is when Britishers left the US. Post-independence, the Constitution of the US was drafted in a way to protect the fundamental rights of the citizen – which included right to self-defense – not just against the criminals but also against the government. This is also one of the fundamental philosophies of the Republican Party.
So tomorrow, if any government actions violate the fundamental rights of the citizens, they are equipped to protect them. Also, the basic philosophy that allows citizens to bear arms is that “Humans Kill, Guns Don’t”. It is up to the person who decides how to use the gun. The principal argument against gun control is that while it will strip off the innocent people of their arms, the criminals will still get them one way or the other, illegally. This will make the innocent defenseless against criminals, which violates their fundamental rights. While Police is always there for protection of citizens, to put the entire responsibility of protecting you and your family on others does not make sense. Police has its own limitations – they will protect you only when they are informed and by the time they reach, the damage would have been done. Instead of imposing control on guns, controls should be imposed on gunmen.
Arion has a shotgun to protect his angels and is not ready to give that up and expose his family to the criminals. And, going by what he said, similar is thinking of all families in Texas. Why handing over huns to innocent works is because criminal will think twice before committing the crime since the other person is armed as well. Needless to say, that the debate is endless. If gun control actually comes into effect, agitations would be inevitable (mostly expected from Republicans and Republican dominated states).
Definitely, I couldn’t stop putting this into the Indian context. While dominated by Britishers since centuries, many of our basic principles are adopted from British way of democracy which puts significant power in the hands of government. Citizens also expect government to take care of them, including security. We blame government for high crime rates. We blame the police for not controlling rapes and murders. What if the girl, gang raped few days back in Delhi, had a gun with her? Could that have been avoided? Generally said, Indian laws are pro-criminals. While a person needs a solid reason to get a license for a gun, Indian government has even banned pepper spray that can be very handy for any women to protect her. But Indian government has no history of taking strong steps on women safety. We depend on the society to decide whether a woman can safely walk down the roads in the night or not. If it is Ahmedabad, Yes, if it is Noida-Gurgaon, No.
My discussion with Arion ended with his suggestion to hand over guns to every Indain to protect themselves against the terrorists. Not a bad idea! Considering that it took the complacent government 4 years to hand the person who, along with 9 other terrorists, killed 166 people in 2008. What if even half of those people had a gun at that time? Pakistan would think million times before launching such attack in India. That was the reason Japan quoted for not attacking US (“You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.” – Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto). That is the reason why there can’t be any emergency in the US. It is highly debatable topic. But it gave me a chance to understand the topic from an American’s perspective. Getting a perspective of American woman (two, if I include Georgina as well) removes a certain amount of bias as well.
It would be interesting to see how US tackles this menace.