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America’s deadly love affair with guns


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Another day, another tragic massacre in the United States. As parents of the 20 children killed in Newton, Connecticut, struggle to come to terms with their agonising loss, voices are being raised for tighter gun controls. But as we all know, this is a recurring theme: each time some nut goes on a shooting spree, newspaper editorials call for tightening up gun laws.

However, lawmakers in Congress, scared of the lobbying power of the National Rifle Association, don’t follow through. Right- wing libertarians invoke the Second Amendment that gives Americans the right to bear arms. And the whole thing dies down until the next shocking atrocity.

This time, observers think it might be different because 20 out of the 27 victims were children below ten years of age. An emotional Obama made a vague statement about ‘doing something’ when he spoke about the tragedy. But I’m not holding my breath for any meaningful legislation to be passed any time soon. The Republicans control the House of Representatives, and in any case, the procedure for making changes in the constitution are so complicated that only a bipartisan effort has any chance of curtailing the rights granted under the Second Amendment.

And the current polarisation in Congress as well as the whole country makes such a unified approach highly unlikely.

The relevant provision of the amendment is fairly unambiguous: “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.”

It is important to remember that when the constitution was ratified by the federating states in 1788, the founding fathers of the newly established country were very conscious of the threat posed by an overbearing central authority. The idea behind the Second Amendment was to serve as a check to authoritarian rule.

But this has led to a situation where nine out of ten Americans own at least one firearm. The three guns used by Adam Lanza to carry out the massacre were legally registered to his mother, another victim of her son’s rampage. And even the tightest gun controls being discussed would not have prevented a schoolteacher without a criminal record from buying firearms.

Even if, by some miracle, no further arms were sold in the United States, there are already nearly three million legally registered guns out there, apart from millions of unregistered ones. There is simply no way any government could possibly force Americans to give up their guns.

FISCINATION WITH ARMS: As the thousands of gun clubs and shops across the country attest, Americans have a strange fascination with firearms. Magazines and websites feed this love affair. Although some states have a mandatory

waiting period before a gun is delivered, there are few other restrictions beyond a quick check for criminal activity. And for those who do have a shady record, unregistered weapons are easy to come by.

At one website (, I saw thousands of guns from virtually every manufacturer under the sun. And there are many, many such sites.

The mantra the National Rifle Association and its many members and supporters have adopted is: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” But this glib formulation ignores the fact that a gun makes it much easier to kill. Shockingly, some 34,000 Americans are killed by gunshot wounds every year. On average, guns take the lives of five children under ten every day. There are an average of 1,260 homicides with guns in the European Union (with a bigger population) every year as against nearly 11,000 in the United States.

Fuelling this mayhem are the lax gun control laws: in 32 states, anybody can buy guns over the counter, no questions asked, no ID demanded, and no background checks carried out. In fact, no IDs or background checks are required for around 40 per cent of all guns sold in the US.

This relaxed official attitude towards gun sales has been made possible by some very effective lobbying by the National Rifle Association. In the 2008 presidential elections, for example, it committed $40 million to the McCain campaign. And it doled out some $18 million to various congressional candidates. This kind of money buys you a lot of influence.

The NRA’s slick website ( has all kinds of slanted news: for instance, it tells us that although the state of Virginia saw a 73 per cent increase in the sale of firearms since 2007, it witnessed a 27 per cent decline in violent crimes in the same period. The implication here is that more guns don’t necessarily lead to more crimes. But obviously, there are many more causes for a decline in violence than the ownership of firearms.

However, despite the NRA’s considerable clout, the fact that it was not a significant force in the recent elections might encourage legislators to finally tackle the gun issue.

One factor that’s not much debated in the US is the glorification of guns and violence through computer games, movies and TV shows. Even mainstream cinema is now packed with gory sequences. America’s many wars have elevated the status of the warrior, and criminals are often sympathetically portrayed. All these images create a certain moral ambiguity towards violence among the young and the easily suggestible.

Adam Lanza, the 20-year old Newtown killer, was known as a solitary figure who did not mix with his classmates. But in this, he was hardly different from thousands of other children. We will probably never know what snapped inside him as his mother is dead, as is he through suicide. His father moved to another part of the country years ago, and his brother was working in another town.

Mental illness and instability can cause all kinds of irrational and unpredictable reactions if untreated. But the presence of easily available guns in such circumstances is surely a formula for disaster. The reality is that modern societies create many stresses, and it is impossible to anticipate when a frail mind will crack. It is far better to keep guns out of reach than to permit anybody to buy arms.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (39) Closed

Mohammed Khanzada Dec 17, 2012 06:02pm
Pakistan has gun control laws. Any body can see, what a peaceful country Pakistan is.?
Cyrus Howell Dec 17, 2012 08:17pm
Democracy means Freedom. Nothing more and nothing less than that. Only total freedom is legislated. There are and must be legal limits. There are and must be moral limits.
irfan husain Dec 17, 2012 03:44am
There's a typo in para 8: the figure should be 'three hundred guns', and not a mere 'three million'.
Abbas Dec 17, 2012 06:46pm
American society is built on gun culture. Mexico's drug cartel are thriving on US Guns.Guns give false sense of domination. No wonder America is world's largest arms producer and seller. We've had our own share of Kalshinkov culture during Zia era and promotion of Talibanization by the state for the last two and half decade. It is government's reponsibily (including media) to enforce peace and not turn it into graveyard.
Aslam Khan Dec 17, 2012 03:43am
To build relations, it is important to mix up with people around you. TV and computer games somehow don't let it happen. Glorification of gun culture through computer games is another serious issue which affects most parents. I agree with every word the author has written. Stemming the rise of gun culture in any society has to be a wholesome exercise.
Raza Dec 17, 2012 03:10pm
If you see all such mascres it is all gun loving White folks. Mostly Republican supporters, Why don't They use racial profiling here
Mustafa Kamal Dec 17, 2012 05:45am
Good Analysis. Money buys everything virtually!!
Yazdi Dec 17, 2012 03:29pm
Mr. Hussain, Gun rights of Americans are protected in the Constitution...Constitution, unlike in Pakistan, is not a piece of paper that cannot be changed at the whim of some President. In America,we have a violent culture that is perpetuated Hollywood films and games. We don't have a gun culture problem. You are just repeating the mantra of other liberals and that is one thing only ...Gun Control
irfan husain Dec 17, 2012 03:45am
Oops! I meant three hundred million!
Ali Dec 17, 2012 04:11pm
I live in the US, an NRA member and an avid hunter. My parallel argument would be to ban alcohol to impact drunk driving deaths. I don?t believe that gun control is the solution however am open to the idea of a measure to control the number of rounds a gun can carry, tighter controls on the private market, and mandatory gun safety classes for first time gun owners. There are millions of US gun owners that support a multi-billion dollar industry which employs millions across the nation - and the actions of a few will impact the remaining law abiding gun owners/businesses.
Bakul Dec 19, 2012 02:32am
First we introduced an armed guard in each flight Now we are talking about schools Next will Government offices / Public places / Private businesses Where will it end? The person may be crazy or bad, both type of people are all orver the world. Weapons meant for army should not be (easily) available to common civilions.
Nasir Ali Dec 17, 2012 06:38am
Had this happened and so frequently in Pakistan or India, US would have raised hell.
Tribal Manto Dec 17, 2012 01:46pm
a big "Rate Down" Mr Abdul j Sheikh.
Abdul j Sheikh Dec 17, 2012 07:12am
50,000 American killed every year in road accident. Should America stop building and driving Automobile?
MSAlvi Dec 17, 2012 02:11pm
Are you saying that for your reason, it is OK to allow kill people with guns. You must be joking.
MSAlvi Dec 17, 2012 02:19pm
You mean, so satisfying to read!
Usman Dec 17, 2012 10:25am
what an irrelevant comparison...building and selling automobiles is a completely different argument.... as you rightly said road 'accident' shooting and killing people with guns is no 'accident'
Bakhtawer Bilal Dec 17, 2012 04:27am
Well written article. Though it may be hard for folks outside of USA to understand the reluctance of law makers to go against the wishes of NRA. An analogy; In Pakistan, you make a religious law with a hundred holes in it, it is very hard for the National assembly to visit it and correct it.
Parvez Dec 17, 2012 07:57am
Nicely and sensibly written................this issue is a tough one for America.
G.A. Dec 17, 2012 01:08pm
?Guns don?t kill people; people kill people; and people with guns kill even more people".
peddarowdy Dec 17, 2012 07:06am
Very good article. A pleasure to read..
MSAlvi Dec 17, 2012 02:14pm
Do not worry about what America would do - take care of the problem you have. What do you mean by "Happened so frequently"? It is happening everyday in Pakistan.
zalmay Dec 17, 2012 05:22pm
My political science professor once said, "An innocent human life is above any holy script, constitution and law". The holy script part made me think , is it? it took a while for me to agree. Now when i hear the opponents of strict gun law, They remind me of my professor
shah Khan Dec 17, 2012 02:53pm
pathanoo Dec 17, 2012 06:21pm
Dear Irfan, Besides the misprint of three million guns, you have your facts completely wrong. No where in USA can you buy guns at a licensed dealer shop without I.D. - Driver's License and Social Security Card and with the appropriate background check. Some states provide instantaneous check as they have the data base on the criminals and some states a have a cooling off periosd of three or more days. I have no idea where you came off with these statistics and the statement that 40% of the guns sold are without any background checks. This is very shoddy jounalism unbecoming of a journalist of your caliber. Mind you, I am not debating the merits or demerits of the US availability and easier ownership of guns. That is a very complex and large topic to be discussed here.
pathanoo Dec 17, 2012 06:10pm
Thank You, Irfan.
pathanoo Dec 17, 2012 06:09pm
Thank You, raika45.
Avtar Dec 17, 2012 07:46pm
As usual a good analysis. It is Newtown, rather than Newton, however. A typo!
asfand Dec 17, 2012 09:16pm
This was not a crazy person. He choose his target carefully. He did not attacked a police station. He did not attacked an army base. He choose a school as his target why? Because there were no armed men to confront him and shoot him as soon as he pulls his gun out. Cowards will always attack a soft target. Even if USA legislature takes away all the guns from the hands of law abiding citizens, bad guys will always have access to guns. This will make the whole USA unsafe. A simple solution to the problem is to keep one armed guard on duty during school hours.
Shubs Dec 18, 2012 03:36am
I agree with Irfan. That was a cheap shot. There are other stories where that opinion can be voiced, but at least stick to the story you're reading.
Cyrus Howell Dec 17, 2012 08:39pm
Very good analogy. Dec 17, 2012 07:03pm
There are many problems embeded within the story. But I think guns is the least important one. I am from Connecticut and I can assure you when I walk in Karachi there is hell lot more of guns I see roaming around. If anything it is a social problem.. And mental illness like Asperger is complicated in itself and the guardians of such people bear a huge responsibilty of monitoring. The failure for parents to stick together in difficult situation to look after the kid and having guns around a mentally ill child is lack of responsibilty of the parents. Hopefully everyone takes a lesson from this and also pay attention to special needs kids all around the world and prevention and measures for healthy babies and healthy moms
Sidster Dec 17, 2012 09:06pm
Drinking & Driving, Road Rage and Reckless Driving is a crime in American Penal Law. There are road accident that kill people because Police deem that accident. Mr. Usman is right when he stated that you comparison is irrelevant.
Rick Dec 17, 2012 08:27pm
The second amendment is the cornerstone of the rest and our safe guards for our liberty. Its intent by our Founding Fathers was so we the people could defend our selves from a tyrannical government, and our present day government has been tyrannical for about a 150 years, starting with Lincoln's usurpation of the Constitution. The second amendment can not be infringed what so ever. This issue of more gun control could spark off a second American armed bloody revolution. As far as I'm concerned this should have taken place decades ago. Go ahead, try to take America's fire arms away, you won't like how that turns out. Rick
Cyrus Howell Dec 17, 2012 08:40pm
No argument from me.
Irfan Baloch Dec 17, 2012 04:49pm
nice one Rika, you brought Pakistan into the discussion when the incident, the victims and the killer had nothing to do with Pakistan
PK Dec 17, 2012 12:00pm
In Pakistan there are armed gangs only with a different reason to show . They also kill with impunity .
raika45 Dec 17, 2012 12:01pm
In America it is said that people with mental problems kill innocents. I wonder what excuse can people in Pakistan give for the daily random killing and bombing happening in your country.
MSAlvi Dec 17, 2012 02:16pm
I agree with you one thousand percent.