'Ahimsa': An Expert Explains the Indian American's Lack of Fervour for Guns
The shooting in a Texas elementary school has reignited conversations around guns and gun control.
(This article was first published on 14 April 2022. It has been republished from The Quint's archives after an 18-year-old gunman killed at least 19 students and three adults in an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday, 24 May.)
"The Second Amendment to me is anachronistic. It was written for a very different time. We're not in the Wild Wild West anymore."
A horrific shooting occurred on 12 April in Brooklyn, New York, in which as many as 23 people were injured after a man opened two canisters that dispensed smoke and opened fire on the platform of a Brooklyn subway station in New York City.
The suspect, Frank James, was taken into custody in Manhattan's East Village neighborhood, after a 30-hour expansive search that culminated in his capture on Wednesday, 13 April.
The Quint spoke to Akshobh Giridharadas, a former journalist based in Washington DC, about the gun culture in the US, the role of the Second Amendment, and why the Indian diaspora is not thrilled by the dominance of guns in American society.
On the Second Amendment & Background Checks
When asked about the role of the Second Amendment in the abetment of shootings, like the one that occurred in Brooklyn, Giridharadas compared the First Amendment to the Second Amendment and pointed out contradictions in what they propose.
"Think about the First Amendment – freedom of speech and expression, freedom of the press, assembly, etc – and then you have the Second Amendment that gives you the right to bear firearms. The irony is that the Second Amendment, more often than not, takes away the First Amendment. The latter is basically your right to life, while the former can just lead to situations where you lose your life."
"Until you regulate gun laws, these types of shootings will continue to happen. Look, one can't live in a world without guns. That is a naive argument. But because of this Second Amendment, which was written at a very different time, the rules back then are being applied right now, which makes little sense," Giridharadas said.
While commenting on the issue of background checks, Giridharadas asserted, "When it comes to immigration, background checks are done pretty seriously. Why can't the same be done when it comes to giving people access to guns? A lot of it is up to states to regulate, but conducting thorough background checks should not be so hard."
'Ahimsa': Guns and the Indian Diaspora
This gun culture, Giridharadas asserts, does not excite the Indian diaspora in the United States. There may be two possible reasons for this.
Firstly, he says, that while the US and India attained freedom from British rule, their methods were radically different.
As he writes here, "The Gandhian way of non-violence and civil disobedience is incongruous with the story of the Revolutionary War fought by George Washington that featured gunpowder and muskets."
The second reason is the nature of Indian society in itself.
"There has always been a sense of 'ahimsa' that has been prevalent and pervasive in Indian society. Even the gun violence depicted in Bollywood movies is through large mustachio villains with firearms, and not senseless madness of mass shootings involving innocent civilians."
Additionally, Giridharadas argues that while India has no shortage of societal issues, gun violence is not one of them.
"India, as a nation, has had every problem known to the modern-day nation-state: from poverty, crime, and malnutrition, to corruption, terrorism, and natural disasters. But increasing death toll due to gun violence in the hands of everyday citizens, it has not."
Mental Health and Gun Culture
With respect to the US, Giridharadas briefly mentioned the issue of mental health as well.
"Issues like mental health were not spoken about at all when the Bill of Rights was drafted. Now that we have experts who can understand and treat the problem, the state should be extra careful with respect to who buys a gun. Did you know that there was an increase in firearm purchases in the US during the coronavirus pandemic?"
He also spoke about the gun culture that is prevalent across the country.
"Hunting has always been a fun sport in this country. And one of the primary tools of hunting is guns. That culture itself ensures that there are guns everywhere you go. There are gun shops everywhere."
"I went to my niece's birthday party recently, she's four years old. And right across the road is a gun shop. Just imagine the juxtaposition – there's a four-year-old's birthday party full of kids, and right next door is a shop full of guns. It kind of tells you what you need to know," he added.
Giridharadas concludes by saying that it is "astounding" that shootings like the one in Brooklyn continue to happen in a country like the US, which is considered to be the "epitome of democracy".
He also went on to point out the hypocrisy of the Republican Party in its political stances.
"On one hand you claim to be pro-life, and on the other hand you go on to support the NRA (National Rifle Association) and laws that don't restrict access to guns."
"Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But the constant tragedies that are caused by gun violence in this country have attached an eventuality and an inevitability to mass shootings. I wish I could confidently say that something like this (Brooklyn) would never happen again," he says.
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