Guns: T. SHER SINGH
A Clear Line Between Common Sense & Insanity
Sunday, September 30, 2012
The difficulty being experienced in disarming the militias in Libya today -- and the hazards resulting from any delay or failure to do so -- is no different from the challenges facing Americans today for disarming their own militias.
It’s been an age old dilemma: how do you take back the guns from those who have got used to having them, long after the need of the ownership has expired.
There are two versions of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution which is the basis for the untrammelled proliferation of guns in the United States:
As passed by the Congress:
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.
As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:
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.
Of course, the interpretations change, depending on which letters you capitalize and how you punctuate the sentence.
But for anyone -- even the justices of the Supreme Court of the Unites States -- to interpret these lines today, a day and age when militias are clearly NOT necessary in the country, to mean more than the right to keep one’s arms bare, is being destructively inventive and giving in to political pressures.
The distortions are not at all surprising, since judges have increasingly become political hacks at a time when the country has become miserably divided along partisan lines.
The Wisconsin massacre would not have happened if guns weren’t available for the asking, every time a deranged person succumbed to his psychoses. And it’s true with each of the plethora of similar tragedies that litters the land.
Every time an event such as this one happens -- and they’re occurring with alarming frequency now -- our collective psyche forces us to once again talk about revisiting the gun laws, or the absence of them.
But we are never a single step ahead.
We shrug off the horror of the perpetrators of terror by taking the easy way out. We summarily explain it away as a mere product of insanity and fail to look at the real madness: the dementia of a society which cannot gather enough gumption to prohibit the possession of guns.
The dialogue on what should be done to solve the problem always gets derailed by moving the focus on to issues which are either irrelevant or unnecessary to the resolution of the primary problem.
The real issue is whether the ownership of any guns by ordinary citizens should be permitted -- not whether automatic or semi-automatic weapons are to be regulated.
Legislators and community leaders must grapple with the crux of the problem before they permit themselves to be distracted by tangential issues. They must first address the following questions:
- Does a gun have any functional value, other than as a weapon?
- Should every citizen be permitted to carry a gun?
- What are the categories of people who genuinely need guns?
- What are the precise needs of each permissible category?
- What are the categories of guns which meet these specific and respective needs?
An objective and thorough examination of facts -- or one from the public interest perspective -- will go a long way toward shedding light on possible solutions.
To begin with, a gun is a weapon. No more, no less.
It is not like a knife which, even though it too can be a lethal weapon, is primarily used as a kitchen utensil, a dining instrument, a workshop tool, etc.
Also, unlike a knife, a gun can be used lethally without skill or training; with little, if any, personal exposure since it can be utilized from a distance; it does not even require any level of strength, forethought, bravery, or bravado.
Briefly, its potential for destruction is total. Its “qualifications” for any other use are practically nil.
There is no reason why every citizen requires the unqualified right to own a gun.
Of course, there have to be exceptions.
The military and the police are obvious ones.
Hunters (for career and sport) too need guns. But the guns for such usage must be limited in number and power according to demonstrable needs. Ownership must be declared and registered.
Farmers and rural residents, by virtue of the very nature of their lifestyle, need to have a gun or two handy. Once again, the number, power and ownership of such guns can be regulated without causing too much inconvenience ...
Not unlike the governance of motor-vehicle ownership.
Gun club enthusiasts practice a valid sport. But guns can be, and must be, kept at the clubs and not be toted around. There is no reason why gun club members need to take the weapons home. Nor, under the guise of sport, should they be permitted to play with, say, Uzis, AK-7s, machine-guns, and other automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
A sport is a sport is a sport. But there is a clear line between sport and obscenity.
Gun collecting too is a valid activity.
But it should not be used as an excuse to build up an arsenal. A gun collection can appropriately consist of antique and curio guns, as well as objet d’art -- as long as they are no longer functional, and are irreversibly so.
Private gun collections cannot consist of modern weaponry, no matter how exciting it proves to the enthusiast. Modern guns are difficult to be made irreversibly non-functional.
I can think of a few more possible exceptions. Security guards. Body guards. Individuals who, for personal or professional reasons, are exposed to abnormally high risk.
Thus, the valid needs of specific groups and the interests of the so-called pro-gun lobbyists can be addressed without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
But what must be kept in mind is that the public interest must be paramount; it should and must trump everything else. Public safety -- law and order -- has to be the starting point, not the subject of a last-minute compromise.
The bottom line is simple: No one must be permitted to possess a gun unless there is a valid reason to do so.
If this is not the thrust of any legislation on gun control, then it is no more than a charade. In other words, if the new legislation will still allow any person on the street to purchase any gun for the asking, we will have failed in what we set out to do.
It’s a choice between two opposite directions: peace and order … and anarchy.
After all, we are talking about guns -- not toys.
Conversation about this article
1: Baljit Singh Pelia (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), September 30, 2012, 12:42 PM.
T. Sher Singh ji: a while back I read your father's story of facing off the crooks and thugs in Patna, thanks to the pistol he owned. Taking in all the registered guns from people in Punjab in 1984, rendering them defenseless and carrying on extrajudicial killings and false encounters by the state and central government unchecked for over ten years should not be lost on anybody. Deg Teg Fateh - the Right To Prosperity, the Right To Protection: These Rights shall prevail - is a fundamental truth and doctrine of our Sikh faith. Protection of one's life and property is in jeopardy if one has no tools. This lesson is being taught to us time and again, the military attack on the Harmandar Sahib, 1984 Sikh Genocide in Delhi and all over India, the attack on the Gurdwara in Wisconsin ... Your presumption that these lunatics would stop the killings if denied guns is wrong. Can you stop a lunatic from ramming a car into people, could you have stopped Timothy Mcveigh from blowing up the Oklahoma federal building? All a deranged individual has to do is to plan out such dastardly violence is go on the Internet and discover how to construct devices much more lethal than a gun. Criminals will figure out ways to obtain instruments to commit their crime. By denying a law abiding citizen the right to posses a weapon you render him defenseless and vulnerable at the hands of not only criminals and lunatics but also governments gone rogue. I respectfully disagree with your hypothesis since it defies logic and assumes a perfect state of governance. It also defies the Khalsa concept of an individual sovereign fully equipped to enforce it.
2: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), September 30, 2012, 12:42 PM.
One of the best analyses I have read on this subject - and certainly one that does not beat about the bush. Interestingly, some Sikhs have shied away from this discussion on the grounds that taking away guns could mean taking away kirpans. Thoughts?
3: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), September 30, 2012, 1:48 PM.
Baljit ji: You raise some valid points and I will try and address them. First of all, my article today is particularly applicable to North America because here we live in a society where our law-enforcement agencies and governments, despite their failings and shortcomings, are amongst the best in the world and do yeoman service in protecting citizens. There is no need for private militias here, and, for the most part, militias do not exist any more. A few rogue elements that do - such as those that have fostered individuals like Timothy McVeigh - are well within the scrutiny of the authorities. As far as India goes, its government(s) and authorities have demonstrated over and over again that they have neither intention nor commitment nor the wherewithal to protect its citizens, especially its minorities, and especially the Sikhs. We are governed by the principle laid out by Guru Gobind Singh, something which is followed to the letter by every truly civilized nation and society in the world: that once ALL peaceful means have been exhausted in countering oppression, it is okay to stand up and defend yourself. Ranging from the law governing rules of self-defence in our legal systems, all the way to the manner in which we have dealt with the likes of Hitler and Osama bin Laden, our collective actions reflect this fundamental principle. We have witnessed how the perpetrator of the crime against Balbir Singh Sodhi was handled by the US authorities. And we have witnessed how the entire nation, including its governments, arose as one to address the killings in the Wisconsin gurdwara this past summer. Compare that superbly demonstrated civilized behaviour of a truly democratic society with how India, its government(s) and its people have responded and behaved vis-a-vis the thousands of innocent Sikh men, women and children who were brutally murdered in broad daylight in the streets of the country's capital, even outside the gates of its Parliament buildings and the presidential palace, as well as in all major towns and centres across the length and breadth of the country. 28 years have gone by since those wide-spread anti-Sikh pogroms and still virtually not a finger has been raised to deliver justice. In my reading, looking at all that the world has done to demand that justice be done and the total disregard India (in all its components) has shown to date to its obligations, I believe that ALL peaceful means have indeed been duly exhausted by Sikhs in India. I feel that the Sikhs of India can continue to act within the laws of the country and at the same time exercise their right to defend themselves against all threats to their life and liberty. Even if it means arming themselves - provided they do so well within the parameters of the country's laws. This is my opinion, but it is up to the Sikhs of India to decide what is right for them, not for me to tell them what to do. I've merely answered your question to the best of my ability. Finally, with respect to your question as to whether banning easy public access to guns will prevent all crimes here in North America, the answer is easy: no, it won't. But, it will certainly reduce the toll and turn the US away from being a violence-prone and trigger-happy society. Moreover, the distinction between law-abiding citizens and genuine threats to peace and order will become more clear. Currently, the line is blurred: we don't know who we should be watching out for? Just the criminals and the wackos, or also anyone who is in rage or has had a bad day or has had a few drinks too many?
4: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), September 30, 2012, 2:13 PM.
Ravinder ji: you too have raised an important and valid point. I have already, albeit briefly, tried to show in the article how knives are different from guns. And certainly, kirpans are different from guns not only in the same ways, but in many more. For example, it would be futile to ban kirpans - of which only a relatively small number are around - if we do not ban the presence of a far more lethal weapon, a steak knife, which a waiter in a restaurant hands over, without a thought or question, to a person who has had half-a-dozen alcoholic drinks, is drunk stupid, and now wants to eat a steak! If the kirpan is a threat, imagine what we are dealing with vis-a-vis the millions of bigger and sharper knives that are lying around in the open all over the land. Also, let's look at the evidence and the risk factor. All our laws are based on a weighing of the risk-factor, because nothing in life is free of risk. But, if the risk is low, we allow the activity. If the risk is unacceptably high, we either ban the activity or regulate it very carefully. There is a risk to having automobiles whiz by where people live or play or stroll. But we have determined that if everybody follows the rules of the road and sticks to his correct side of the road, if the lights work and are obeyed, if pedestrians use the crossings, etc., then the risk level is minimal and acceptable, although not totally eliminated. Now, let's apply the same method to kirpans. Let's look at the risk factor as determined by statistics. How many people have been injured or killed with a kirpan in the Unites States in the last 10 years, or 20, or 100, and factor it into the population of Sikh-Americans and that of the country? Looking at the figures, is the risk high or low? How do we determine this? Well, let's compare it with the statistics re guns for the same time period and the same population sampling. Guns are legal. Therefore, if the risk factor for kirpans is lower - and I suggest it is close to nil, based on the stats - then it makes no sense to not allow kirpans within the parameters spelled out and practiced by Sikhs to date. That brings me to the crux of my article. Let's look at the gun stats and intelligently determine whether or not it is within an acceptable risk level. But, no matter what we decide on this question, I can't see, and have never seen, a single intelligent and supportable argument in favour of not allowing proper Khalsa Sikhs to wear kirpans.
5: M.K.S. (New York City, USA), October 01, 2012, 2:55 PM.
@Baljit Singh ji, very well said. @Sher Singh ji: one category of people who you neglected to include in the list of people who should be allowed to keep a gun is the home owner. The 'home owner', by my definition, is not solely the one who holds the land deed to the property but anyone legally living in a home. There have been many instances in modern America where civil society has completely broken down and looting, arson, rape has taken hold. In the aftermath of Katrina when there was no police force to enforce law and order, roving bands of looters were kept at bay only by people who had guns and were ready to protect their life and property. The same when south central LA was up in flames after the 4 white cops were acquitted for beating Rodney King, a black motorist. And if you go back more years, racial hatred backed by inaction of a racial police force led to the same outcome (Tulsa riots in the 1920s). There are more instances that don't come to mind at this time. But in each of these instances, homeowners who had guns were able to protect their life and property.
6: Jessie Kaur (Birmingham, United Kingdom), October 01, 2012, 3:09 PM.
MKS ji: I can see your point. But, if we go by your definition of a 'home owner', doesn't that take us back to first base, since it'll end up giving virtually everyone a gun ... except the poor. There's got to be a better solution than that. And maybe we'll find that solution if we study how other civilized societies that are not riddled with guns, handle the type of riot situations you have described.
7: M.K.S. (New York City, USA), October 01, 2012, 6:45 PM.
Jessie Kaur ji: Our people have been bitten far too many time by putting their trust in governments to protect life, liberty and property. As a minority, I've learnt not to trust any form of government and also not take any rights I enjoy for granted and stand guard over my rights because time and time again, our rights have been snatched. Sometimes it's the genuine case of the breakdown of civil administration by events so big that makes governments incapable of enforcing law and order. For example, during the partition of Punjab and the subcontinent in 1947. Katrina. Etc. Then there's the deliberate inaction of governments, e.g., the anti-Sikh pogroms of 1984, 1947, etc. 'Civilized' or 'uncivilized' are just labels, anytime there is mob rule, society immediately ceases to be civilized and then the onus to protect one's life and property falls on the individual. I'm talking about those circumstances. The problem that I see in the US is the inconsistent gun laws from state to state. I live in NY, a state that has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. However, a few hours' drive down the interstate is Florida with liberal gun laws where purchasing a gun and bringing it to NY is child's play. Plus, I don't see a need for the home owner to keep a military grade F-16 assault rifle or an Uzi. A homeowner should be able to keep both a shotgun (long barrel) or a hand gun (something that fits into a holster or a woman's hand bag) to protect his property. As far as letting people carry guns on their person, which is how most massacres happen, is a matter of debate. I still feel people should be able to carry guns on their person as long as it's not concealed. This lets the other person know who is packing heat. I'm deadly against people carrying concealed guns.
8: Harman Singh (California, USA), October 01, 2012, 8:50 PM.
The Anandpur Sahib resolution, passed in 1973 states: "All those persons, including women, who have not been convicted of any criminal offence by a court of law, should have the right to possess any type of small arm like revolvers, guns, pistols, rifles, carbines, etc., without any license, the only obligation being their registration." I am not a gun owner. I don't intend purchasing one either. I have read the above article and its responses. I would argue that in a perfect state of governance, there should not be any need to carry a kirpan either. And if we are doing it for sentimental value (it was a gift by the Tenth Master), then even a miniature kirpan on the necklace should suffice. But if we are carrying the kirpan because we believe Guru Gobind Singh wanted us to be sovereign and able to protect ourselves and the weak, then why not carry a gun, which is more efficient at serving us? After all, none of us are using our kirpans to chop vegetables or to butter our toast, so Sher Singh ji's argument that a knife has alternate uses doesn't make sense here. The kirpan was bestowed upon us for one reason only: to be able to defend ourselves and the oppressed from the oppressor. As much as I would like the world to be free of weapons, the reality is that humans are imperfect beings, and no such utopia exists that is free of violence, oppression and crime. Therefore, I cannot blame the person who wants to own a gun in case the need to defend himself/herself or his family arises. I think that the Second Amendment, as well as the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, are both consistent with Sikh ideals.