Americans still want their own guns | Sunday Observer

Americans still want their own guns

America may be the world’s most powerful country but its credentials as a democratic, peace-loving nation took another dive last week after the horror of the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and wounded over 500 others. The killer had with him over 20 guns in his hotel suite as, last Sunday night, he fired on an open-air music festival below and killed 58 and wounded hundreds in barely ten minutes.

A week later, the US is yet reeling with shock over what is the worst single mass killing in the US since, probably, the mid-19th century wars against Native Americans which saw several massacres of tribal bands. Yet, despite the shock over the Las Vegas massacre by a single gunman handling dozens of automatic firearms, American public opinion remains with a majority in favour of liberal gun laws allowing civilians to but firearms of various types virtually at will.

Opinion polls show that over two thirds of Americans want the right to possess firearms, including varieties of guns ranging from pistols to rifles and assault rifles. Although some statistics indicate over 90 mass shootings (several casualties per incident) in the US since 1982, public opinion has actually increased in favour of gun ownership by civilians.

By 2016, data reported by the BBC showed that American public opinion favouring private gun ownership had risen to nearly 80 per cent! Quick polls taken after the Las Vegas massacre showed no swing the other way at all. While gun laws vary in the different US states, they vary from the most liberal which allows you to own any number of guns of various types and even carry them in public (except, presumably, when a presidential motorcade goes by).

A recently elected Senator was seen proudly brandishing his gleaming revolver on his election stage. Of course he was elected from the Republican Party the official policy of which is to maintain the very liberal gun laws.

After three and more decades of successive insurgencies north and south and a rising gun-related crime wave, Sri Lankans would find it difficult to accept arguments put forward by Americans advocating gun freedom. In this country there is not an iota of public support for the right if civilians to freely bear arms.

Insurgencies

In fact, there is much growing public alarm here over the spread of illicit use of firearms in the criminal world, especially since the outbreak of insurgencies. That would be the case in the majority of societies across the globe.

Indeed, in most countries throughout the world, the dominant political philosophy on the Left and the Right is that firearms and other lethal weapons (except those modified for strictly controlled sports) should be the monopoly of the State and those state agencies with personnel specially trained for and tasked with specific duties to protect the peace and defend the state against external and internal threats.

The exceptions are those countries where there is compulsory military service for citizens, such as in Germany, Switzerland, Finland and Israel. In Costa Rica it is the opposite: that very peaceful central American republic has no army! It has only a strong police force, since that country has not experienced any external threat since its inception.

There are also certain yet developing and politically unstable countries where there is no well established gun control mainly because the the state has not stabilized enough to control the various rival tribal communities and ethnic groups that have had culture of bearing arms for hunting and community defence. The prime example of this is Yemen.

We all know the tragic situation in which Yemen is today. A cultural exception closer to home is in northern parts of South Asia, especially in the rural, tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the lack of a strong state control results in the traditional communities yet retaining their weapons. Some of them brandish traditional weapons like swords and daggers for ceremonial use, a phenomenon noticed in India with traditional kirpan-bearing Sikh gentlemen and our own bow-and-arrows bearing Veddas.

In Afghanistan, especially, the lack of central government control means that numerous tribes and ethnic groups are in insurgent mode and have armed themselves with modern weapons to defend their communities and, also to form political alliances in tradition-inspired rebellion against the modernising State.

Nevertheless, some of those same central Asian ethnic communities that also spill over borders from Pakistan and Afghanistan into Iran and the central Asian republics stopped bearing arms long ago. This is primarily due to modernisation by a State that is able to impose its writ and ensure compliance and co-operation throughout its territory.

The United States is no ‘under-developed’ country nor is it supposed to include medieval-type tribes and communities barely out of the war-like feudal ethos. But it seemingly does have kinds of ‘tribes’ in its very inward-looking fundamentalist Christian communities. It is some of these communities that cling most to the gun culture, perhaps deriving justification from theologies that reject State authority over the Deity and maintain a ‘survivalist’ kind of lifestyle amid perceived irreligion and decadence surrounding them.

In the American cities, too, the rampant crime, as well as the fragmented individualist nature of US family life, and its attendant sense of individual insecurity, there is growing support for the private possession and use of guns.

However, this gun freedom has become a fetish in the US with some arguing to retain the right to own and obtain weapons with little regulatory checking. Worse, even though federal laws ban the private possession of fully automated guns – like machine pistols and automatic rifles – people are allowed to possess the semi-automatic versions of these deadly weapons. In many states it also legal to obtain and use modification kits that enable an assault rifle owner to convert his weapon from semi-automatic mode to fully automatic mode.

An American brand M-16 assault rifle in its various brand versions, when fully automatic, can fire over 600 rounds (bullets) per minute. So can the various types of Kalashnikovs (Russian origin and Chinese derivatives). This is a typical firing rate for most heavy assault rifles of the world.

The US gun culture is such that macho-type Americans may take pride in owning such sophisticated weaponry. The lighter, but deadlier, machine pistols, such as the MAC-10, can fire over 1000 rounds per minute in fully automatic mode. The Heckler & Kock German-made machine pistol fires 800 rounds per minute.

Modified weapons

Modification kits start at just US$ 100, and can be bought over the Web! (Don’t Google for them and get tracked down by our over-worked police.)

Las Vegas shooter, retired millionaire accountant Stephen Paddock, 64, had several such weapons modification kits in the hotel room from which he fired and, also had such modified weapons in his two residences.

Now readers will understand how he managed to kill and maim so many in just ten minutes and in the dark at over 150 metres distance. It was a matter of simply spraying thousands of bullets at the dense concert crowd. Investigators suspect that Paddock had planned his act for at least a few months and had scouted out other concert venues in nearby states.

President Donald Trump called it an act of ‘pure evil’ but those advocating more rational weapons policies in society would rather consider the American system that allows single private individual to gather and use so much deadly fire power as an evil system.

Mandatory

In fact, under President Obama, the federal government had passed laws requiring background checks on people buying guns but only some states had actually begun administering such checking. These regulations would require mandatory reporting of all gun purchases to enable the authorities to check for criminal records, anti-social behaviour (e.g. race hatred) and psychological conditions of buyers.

The state of Nevada, a highly conservative Christian majority state, is yet to implement such background checks. If it had done so, Paddock may have been detected long ago.

While investigators have ruled out political or religious motivations behind Paddock’s act, they have learnt that Paddock’s father had been a wanted criminal for robbery and had exhibited murderous psychopathic tendencies. Perhaps a psychological check on Paddock may have revealed a late-life emergence of such tendencies. Who knows?

Ultimately, it is the system put in place by civilised and caring humans that will ensure a safe society. In any case, if Paddock had, indeed, lately developed psychopathic tendencies, that does not make him ‘evil’. ‘Evil’ is a term applied to acts of deliberate intention. The only intention in relation to a psychopath would be the deliberate ignoring of his/her condition by society. Such a systems failure should be called ‘evil’. 

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