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Guns and violence in America & India: A study in contrasts

General Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament.
Published : Jun 12, 2018, 3:40 am IST
Updated : Jun 12, 2018, 3:40 am IST

The respective constitutional positions of the two countries are totally opposite.

In a historic groundswell of youth activism, hundreds of thousands of teenagers and their supporters rallied across the US against gun violence Saturday, vowing to transform fear and grief into a ‘vote-them-out’ movement. (Photo: AP)
 In a historic groundswell of youth activism, hundreds of thousands of teenagers and their supporters rallied across the US against gun violence Saturday, vowing to transform fear and grief into a ‘vote-them-out’ movement. (Photo: AP)

“…. a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep bear arms shall not be infringed”
US Constitution, Second Amendment

The United States is going through an epidemic of gun violence, as high school students in that country term the rising number of casualties from “active shooter” incidents in school classrooms, shopping malls and other public areas. Young people in schools have been the major targets of utterly vicious and senseless shootings which appear all the more horrific because of their total randomness and lack of any discernable motive. Large well-attended public rallies of agitated young people have taken to the streets calling upon their friends and their equally concerned parents to “March For Our Life”, and bring pressure on their elected representatives to stop the free market in guns, sponsored and supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which is vigorously against any form of gun control and remains mulishly adamant about the constitutional right of every American citizen to bear arms as provided for under the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, making guns, by extension, as all-American as mom’s apple pies. This politically powerful “gun lobby” is controlled by weapons manufacturers, and as a result the domestic market in the US is flooded with quasi-military “sporting” weapons like the semi-automatic Colt AR-15, which had been the weapon of choice of Adam Lanza, the crazed shooter who massacred 23 kindergarten students and three teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newtown in the US in 2012.

It is, of course, another matter that the same amendment also bestows that right equally on the darker deviants lurking in the subterranean depths of society. These may well constitute only a small, probably even miniscule, element of the American population, but ultimately it is these unstable sociopaths, some criminally insane, who go on to make news headlines as “active shooters”, in school and church massacres which are now a daily nightmare for every American parent who see their children off to school every morning. To an outsider looking in, the whole gun issue in the United States would appear an incredible inversion of logic or even plain simple common sense.

Is there any lesson for India from the situation in the United States? Gun violence does exist in India, but on a scale and degree of sophistication far less than that of the US, and, on the face of it, it would be preposterous to imagine any parallels between the two. The respective constitutional positions of the two countries are totally opposite.

In India, possession of weapons by private individuals is governed by provisions of the Arms Act of 1959, and permission for legal gun ownership is rarely granted. Nevertheless, it is indeed a fact that a large degree of gun and bomb violence connected with crime and extremist student politics does exist in India, as seen in the murder of an officer of the Kolkata police, shot during student elections at a college in the city in 2015. Availability of arms is fuelled by an illegal black market in locally fabricated firearms and explosive devices, most, if not all of them single shot “pipe guns” manufactured in illegal arms factories which have proliferated almost as a “cottage industry” in many parts of the country.

Modern automatic weapons in criminal possession are far fewer in number, generally those smuggled in across the borders from Pakistan in the west, or from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal in the east. The responsibility for the maintenance of law and order is the constitutional prerogative of individual states, but support from Central agencies is provided whenever and wherever required. These include the resources of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), and National Investigative Agency (NIA), the latter in cases related to terrorism. However, the logical capstone required for coordination between these multiple agencies in the form of an over-arching National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) has still not been established, as it is politically unacceptable to many states where Opposition-led governments are in power, and fear an encroachment of their political rights. This of course is unfortunate, and detrimental to this country’s national security.

Some baseline figures (there are various versions put out by various sources) indicate India at 107th rank in world estimates of “Guns per One Hundred Residents” with 4.2 guns per hundred, with the United States occupying the gold medal slot, with 101 guns per hundred citizens. The situation in Pakistan may be of some interest to many in this country. Unlike India, Pakistan recognises the carriage of weapons as a cultural heritage in some parts of the country such as Pakhtunkhwa, and the legal position in that country appears to somewhat approximate that in the US. Pakistan weighs in at 11.6 guns per hundred population, and there seem to be no restrictions or requirement of licences for private possession of shotguns (the same “pellet guns” used by the CRPF for crowd control in Kashmir). The government can issue licences for private possession of “prohibited bore” (military-calibre) weapons, including automatics, while state governments can issue permits for civilian possession of non-military grade weapons within state jurisdiction, including many only cosmetically modified from fully automatic weapons rifles in military service in many countries, including the United States.

The fabled “Gunmakers of Darra Khel” used to torment the British Army operating in the tribal areas by fabricating perfect homemade replicas of the British .303 Lee Enfield service rifles for their Pashtun opponents. Their descendants in Pakhtunkhwa have graduated to fabricating AK-47 assault rifles, truly a cottage industry on an industrial scale. The illegal gunmakers of Monghyr, should take note, as indeed should Central and state police forces, particularly those operating in the Red Corridor.

Tags: gun violence, national rifle association