The mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub on Sunday once again underlines how the US continues to suffer terribly from its unrestricted gun culture. It raises a question relevant to other societies and their law enforcement agencies — what will peaceful, law-abiding citizens do when the violent or the deviant get their hands on killer weapons? This is the major argument used by the tiol Rifle Association (NRA) in the US, the country’s powerful gun lobby. Ideally, convicted felons, the certified mentally ill and some categories of persons should not be carrying guns in the US; there should be a minimum waiting period to buy guns as dealers make background checks on buyers. But even such basic precautions are mostly ignored, thanks to the adamant NRA which bristles at any move to impose a modicum of control on gun purchase. The result is that the US is estimated to be flush with around 300 million guns. Since 1986, machine guns have been banned in the US; it is the semi-automatic or assault rifles with high capacity magazines that do the maximum damage there. These are veritably weapons of mass destruction, spitting out hundreds of bullets per second. In the hands of a trained shooter, such firearms give absolutely no chance to victims.
The Orlando shooter Omar Mateen went on his rampage with an AR-15 assault rifle, shooting dead over 50 persons and injuring nearly as many. After several such incidents earlier, President Barack Obama had pleaded for restrictions on the sale of assault rifles. But these are still being sold online and openly in gun exhibitions. The NRA touts its self-serving logic that since private guns in almost every US citizen’s hand is a reality, guns should continue to be freely available, so that ‘the good guys can defend themselves from gun-toting bad guys’. It has advocated for more armed guards, better surveillance and self-defense training with firearms; it approves of schools, businesses and other organizations hiring experts to train employees how to shoot back and take out rogue gunmen. Ironically, Omar Mateen was an employee of one such security company which offered firearms training. He thus put his expertise to deadly use, with investigators now suspecting that he got radicalized by the Islamic State. This in turn is reportedly making them wonder whether terrorists are taking to mass shootings in the US. Of the 29 terrorist attacks in the US since 2014, nearly half involved assault rifles. Being available off the shelves and easy to learn, such guns are becoming the weapon of choice for terrorists in the US — rather than bombs that are difficult and dangerous to make, necessitating specialized outside help that can tip off law enforcers.
A University of Alabama study has showed that from 1966 to 2012, there were 90 mass shootings in public places like schools and theatres in the US — nearly a third of the total 292 such incidents reported worldwide. From 2011 onwards, the frequency of such attacks at public places has risen to 64 days on average, making researchers suspect that some of these were copycat attacks motivated by desire for fame. In the US presidential election campaign, gun control is already a divisive issue with Dold Trump and Hillary Clinton taking sharply opposing stands. If gang killings and multiple murders are included, the overall toll from firearms violence in the US comes to around 30,000 per year. So that country is paying a heavy price for its constitution’s Second Amendment which states: ‘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’. Social thinkers can debate whether the confidence of an earlier era on citizen militias driven by a rugged, independent spirit is justified now when large standing armies is the norm. For lawmakers and law enforcers everywhere, the thrust has to be in keeping ‘bad guys’ with weapons under check. Or else, the ‘good guys’ will begin to question the administration’s legitimacy.