Thursday, January 17, 2013

BEARING ARMS - A NEED OR A RIGHT?

Source: USA Today
I have been following the debate on gun control in America even before the horrific Sandy Hook incident where 20 first graders and six teachers were gunned down by Adam Lanza, a 20-year old former student of the school. He had shot and killed his mother before he went on a shooting rampage at the elementary school.

Since the incident, the debate on gun control has intensified, with both sides of the divide coming up with arguments to support their respective stand on the issue. Some of these arguments make absolutely no sense, if I may say so. Just go to Piers Morgan at CNN to listen to some of these debates.

Malaysia is a country with strict laws on gun possession. Under the Arms Act of 1960, no person is allowed to own or manufacture a gun without first applying for a license or permit.  The maximum penalty for illicit possession of firearms is up to 7 years prison and/or a fine of up to Rm10,000. There has been no mass shooting of innocent people by civilians. Gun homicide here is less than 0.5% per 100,000 people. Let's hope it remains that way.

Japan and the US are at the opposite ends of the list . Source: Washington Post

Coming from such a background, I find the data on gun ownership in the US alarming. US gun control laws are lax. Only 40% gun owners go through background checks before buying a gun. You can buy a gun easily at the thousands of gun stores or gun fairs in the country. Walmart, the world's largest retailer, sells guns, including assault weapons.

The data below is taken from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
  • The US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world - an average of 88 per 100 people. 
  • There are 270 million guns in America in the hands of civilians.
  • In 2010, there were 11,422 homicides and 19,392 suicides involving guns.
  • In 2011, 59,208 people were wounded by guns.
  • Since the Sandy Hook shooting, there has been a spike in gun sales. 250,000 guns were purchased after the shooting as people feared stricter gun control laws would soon be enforced.
Although the figures have gone done slightly for last year, mass shootings seem to have increased, with 16 last year, including the movie theatre shooting in Aurora and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In total, at least 88 people have died from these shootings in 2012. 


These are all scary numbers. Yet, each time the debate comes up, gun owners turn to the 2nd Amendment, citing their right to bear arms as enshrined in the constitution. They say they need guns to protect themselves and their loved ones, and for the sport of hunting. It is not surprising the National Rifle Association (NRA) boasts a membership of 4.2 million.

Why can't the NRA members see the sense
in supporting a ban on assault weapons?
What gun control advocates are asking for is not to take away the people's right to bear arms, but to ban only assault rifles such as the AR-15 which is the preferred weapon used by the perpetrators. Some of these weapons can fire 400 rounds in a minute. Why the need to own such a weapon of mass destruction? Isn't a hand gun sufficient for self-protection?

Imagine a scenario where some gun owners are so paranoid about the need to defend themselves that they carry concealed guns into cinemas, shopping malls, stadiums. At the slightest alarm or provocation, who is to say a nervous gun owner would not whip out his gun and start shooting at perceived attackers and hurt innocent bystanders? Imagine living in a society where people live in fear of being attacked or shot at, and have to carry a gun to protect themselves? When will this paranoia end?

Source: The Atlantic Wire

President Obama yesterday signed 23 executive orders to curb gun violence. You can view the full list here. New York is the first state to take legislative action to strengthen gun laws. It would be an uphill task to get support from all states, and to get the proposals (see below) passed into law by Congress.

Screen capture from CNN news on Channel 511 last night

Why should this controversy over gun control be of any interest or relevance to non-US citizens? What does it matter to them whether or not Americans have the right to own military-type assault weapons?

It matters because we are living in an inter-connected world. Some of us have children studying in the US, some have offices and businesses there, and some go there regularly for a holiday. According to the US Department of Commerce, in 2010, 60 million international visitors traveled to the U.S., generating more than $134 billion in revenue and a $32 billion trade surplus.


The US is a great country with so much to offer visitors. We want to be able to visit the US and know that we can travel freely without fear of being gunned down, whether accidentally or intentionally.

In 2011 on my first trip to Las Vegas, one of the first things I saw at the arrival hall of McCarran airport was this giant poster of a smiling woman proudly holding a semi-automatic with the invitation to 'Try One'.

Welcome to the US - it's the wild wild west even today.

2 comments:

Pak Idrus said...

Lily, I am totally against gun. Gun are made specifically for killing. It is not a toy. It should only be in the hand of the Army, the Police and the security personal and some farmers. Ordinary folks should not be allow to own gun.

The moment you buy a gun your mind is already set to kill. It could be for hunting animal or to protect yourself but it is still killing to me. We are a civilized society and we have institutions to take care of enforcing the law. I am glad that Malaysia have a good law on gun and it should stay that way.

As for quoting the 2nd Amendment of the US constitution. At the time that Amendment was introduce in the 18th century gun only could fire one bullet a time, so why the need to own an assault weapon, automatic or semi-automatic weapons.

Take care.

el-f said...

I agree. The Bill of Rights came into effect in 1791 at a time when muskets were the guns in use. Weapons have since become more sophisticated and capable of mass killings in minutes.