I am one of those people who have been fortunate to come to the U.S. and study. I came here in 2011 and graduated from Cornell in 2013. And let me admit, when I came here, like many others, I fell in love with this magical place.
It was an amazing experience to see a highly diverse society living in overall harmony. I have developed a high respect for the way the American state treats its citizens; its constitution is committed to protect life, liberty and property of its citizens. And, on the whole, the U.S. has done its job well.
And of course, I have also developed high respect for its democracy. It is an eye-opening experience to see how democracy actually works in a highly diversified and complex environment. Of course, the U.S. has the advantage of around 250 years of evolution behind it and this factor has to be incorporated in any analysis which is seeking comparative analysis.
And yet, despite its amazing achievements with respect to the safeguard of fundamental human rights, of which life is undoubtedly the most important, the U.S. society, executive branch and Congress, have registered and continue to register a dismal failure with respect to gun control.
And you have to understand where I am coming from: I belong to Pakistan which is, after all, known to be one of "the most dangerous places in the world." Every week, one hears news of suicide blasts, ethnic violence and sectarian killings. The writ of the state is extremely weak and in some places, it is virtually non-existent. In short, the state is often not equipped to protect its citizens.
Perhaps, if there is a legitimate case for easy access to guns for ordinary citizens, it is in Pakistan because citizens are in dire need to protect themselves. And yet, in Pakistan, you cannot possess guns with ease. To obtain legal ownership is extremely difficult and, furthermore, gun permits are strictly limited in numbers.
Of course, you can illegally get guns but even there, not everyone has the means or the contacts to obtain these. In Pakistan, unless you are very well-connected or living in a completely wild area, possession of guns is not an easy task.
And moreover, there is no pressure from the general population to ease the restrictions on the gun ownership. Despite the dangers, citizens by and large understand that more guns are not going to protect them. If anything, they understand that possession of guns increase the chance of violence manifold. Gun culture is popular in only those areas which are bordering Afghanistan.
In contrast, the USA, one of the most advanced nations in the world, provides such an easy access to guns that I am literally dumbfounded. And this access is coming at a terrible cost. School shootings have been on the rise as mentally unfit people find ways to equip themselves with semi-automatic weapons. But what is even more tragic is, generally, the reaction. Instead of coming together with a consensus, the population has become even more polarized.
The pro-gun lobby is actually able to convince a considerable section of the U.S. population that the school shootings occur not because of guns or because of easy access to guns, but because there are not enough guns! One of the most nonsensical spins I have ever heard is that school shootings could be stopped if there were armed people in the schools for countering the attacker.
Resistance to unrestricted gun ownership is projected as "infringement" on the right to bear arms under American constitution. Common sense takes a back seat here as the right to bear arms is often interpreted as right to bear small arms of combat nature by literally anyone.
An advanced democracy with an overall very high level of education and political consciousness seems virtually divided and polarized on an issue where consensus should have been easy given the horrific toil the unrestricted access to guns has brought about.
But while at the popular level, the issue is divisive -- with those vying for greater control in slight majority -- at the political level, the defeat is complete and depressing.
I was in USA when the Newtown, Conn. shooting happened. The entire episode was so depressing and yet the immediate reaction was also uplifting because there appeared to be wide spread condemnation of the act and calls for greater gun control.
And yet, many of the proposals were defeated in April 2013. I was literally astonished because most of the opinion polls had been showing support for better background checks and greater gun control. And yet, in a manner which defied logic, many proposals were defeated. And the ironic part is that those proposals did not -- let me repeat, did not -- infringe upon Second Amendment rights. Controlling the magazine capacity and demanding better background checks would not infringe upon the right to bear arms. These merely balance the right of bearing arms with the constitutional obligation of the state to protect an even more precious right: the right to live.
But ethical considerations aside, why did the proposals get defeated despite apparent public support?
I think that sometimes powerful lobbies are able to take advantage of the representative nature of the American democracy. They were able to do so mainly because in a representative democracy like U.S., a single issue seldom becomes the sole issue. In the interim period between elections, senators can vote against a popular bill and yet get reelected in the elections as voters eventually elect due to party affiliations and an overall assessment. Moreover, in the U.S. Senate, states are equally represented despite enormous population differences and, consequently, some less-populated states are able to affect the policy discourse at the national level in a disproportionate way.
One way to counter is to keep this issue alive and, in fact, at the forefront at the time of next midterm elections. Do not let it eclipse by other issues.
But perhaps President Obama articulated the issue perfectly when he said, "My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage."
As reported by the Associated Press:
No developed nation on earth would put up with mass shootings that happen now once a week and disappear from the news within a day, Obama said -- no nation except America.
Let me add something here to make an even stronger point: Not even a developing nation would allow that.
Wake up, America.