On May 24, eighteen-year-old Salvador Ramos entered Robbs Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, US, at around 11.30 in the morning. He was armed with a semi-automatic weapon and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. From the time he came into the school till he was shot dead by security personnel an hour and twenty minutes later Ramos had killed 19 children between the ages of 9 and 11. He also killed 2 teachers who were in their forties. Before leaving his house, Ramos had shot his grandmother. She is in hospital and her condition continues to be serious. This terrible tragedy is unfortunately not the first of its kind in the US. Mass shootings in public places, including educational institutions, have taken place periodically and their frequency has increased in recent years as shown by an incident in Buffalo, New York ten days before the Uvalde massacre.
An eighteen-year-old white boy, Payton S Gendron, killed 10 black persons in a supermarket in Buffalo. Gendron carried out this heinous act with a semi-automatic weapon. He was apprehended by the police who have characterised the act as racially motivated and a hate crime. Gendron has been charged with murder and has entered a plea of ‘not guilty’. While psychologists may determine that the motivations for and the nature of the Uvalde and Buffalo crimes are not identical there are two facts that cannot be denied. One: both Ramos and Gendron were exhibiting abnormal tendencies which were overlooked by those who were in contact with them. Two: both the killers possessed semi-automatic weapons which made it far easier for them to kill the number of children and adults they did.
After the Uvalde tragedy President Joe Biden spoke in great anguish at the deed. Addressing those who had lost their children in Uvalde he said “to lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away”. Biden recalled other incidents of mass shootings in schools in the US. Saying “I am sick and tired of it” he added “We have got to act”. Biden then asked “When in God’s name we are going to stand up to the gun lobby”? He went on to observe that while there are maladjusted persons all over the world no where else do such mass killings take place with the frequency they do in the US?
The question is if Biden’s remarks will move the conscience of the US people and, more importantly, its Senators and Congressmen and women to take on the gun lobby? While a large section of US opinion shares its President’s desire to have “common sense gun laws” and not permit easy sales of assault weapons and semi-automatic rifles there is an ingrained and deep-rooted belief in many people that it is their God given right to possess arms. This group asserts that the second amendment to the US constitution adopted with others in 1791 gives them this right. The amendment 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”.
A plain reading of the amendment makes it clear that the right to “keep and bear Arms” is linked to the need for militias. In the 18th century many countries expected ordinary men to defend the state in times of war. They raised militias in times of emergencies. Hence, it was logical to allow people to “keep and bear Arms”. However, with the rise of permanent and professional armies the need for militias no longer existed except in countries like Afghanistan. Thus, with changing times the US political system too could have done away with the second amendment. Instead of doing so the country’s leaders went along with the gun lobby which was backed by arms manufacturers. Strangely, even the US judiciary did not temper this gun culture. Instead the US Supreme Court linked the second amendment to the right of private defence; thus, expanding the amendment’s scope.
What is worse is that the Republican Party is showing no real interest in curbing even semi-automatic weapons which are freely available as is seen in Ramos’s case. He was able to purchase two of these weapons along with more than a thousand rounds of heavy calibre ammunition within days of reaching the age of 18. After the Uvalde shooting there has been an upsurge in popular demand to disallow the free sales of semi-automatic weapons and put in legal safeguards to prevent other arms from being as freely available as they are now. However, the past has shown that the Republican Party is always able to sabotage such good intentioned efforts. That is likely to happen now too.
The Uvalde mass shooting momentarily turned the international spotlight on the US’ inability to control its gun lobby. While many leaders expressed sympathy and solidarity with the country at the tragedy the Chinese spokesperson also used the occasion to charge the US with hypocrisy for its failure to control guns while criticising the human rights records of other states. There is an obvious difference between human rights violations undertaken by state functionaries and the actions of private individuals, if they not connected with extremist and violent organisations. That said the US can no longer continue to be in the grip of the lobby which does everything in its power to increase the addiction to guns of the conservative sections of the US population. And this addiction is dangerous to society as are other addictions such as those to tobacco and banned narcotic substances. Perhaps, as in the case of tobacco a beginning can be made by the US to stop all gun advertisements.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.