From Connecticut to Wisconsin to Aurora to Virginia: The American gun culture is a natural by-product of mindless capitalism



Connecticut was just a name to me, till a lecture tour of American business schools earlier this year took me to Harvard Business School. My school time best friend, Shiladitya Ray, was living in Connecticut and insisted I must take a day off and come to visit him. So I took a flight to New York and drove down to the beautiful and postcard like scenic, wooded town in Connecticut - Sandy Hook, Newtown to be precise. We were meeting after two decades so the meeting was great and that's when I also heard of Sandy Hook Elementary School, his son was studying there. When I got up today morning in India and read about the tragic US shooting, the names just killed me. An instant message to Shiladitya and some normalcy returned upon hearing his son was safe. The tragedy however became no less, he had lost some friends and the world lost a lot of faith in humanity.

I had written this after the Virginia Tech shootout and the Wisconsin shootout, and I write again – capitalism is a great slave, but a pathetic master. This truth unfortunately gets lost in our chase for that elusive dream... especially in America, the land that has been marketed as the land of dreams – the Great American Dream. It’s the dream of being independent masters of our lives, the dream of making big bucks and the dream of being happy – even if that happiness is being bought by money, which all of them chase out there. No doubt, the US, on its part, has been fairly successful in creating material comfort aplenty. It has upped the living standard of its average citizen to an extent that it stands amongst the highest – even if that is a result of more than 200 years of unbridled growth and exploitation. Thus, the shop window of Americanism looks lucidly attractive; you’ve got all of them standing there – from Bill Gates to Michael Dell – in Tommy Hilfigers and Ralph Laurens! And that is what has made the rest of the world mindlessly chase Americanism, not necessarily happiness or an ideal form of society. All because the shop window looks very impressive and it has been marketed very well.

What goes unseen and almost unheard is that America also happens to be the land that is right amongst the top in terms of the number of divorces per thousand, the number of single-parent families per thousand, the number of old people in old-age homes, the number of rape cases per million, the number of suicides, homicides, and of course, the number of college/school shootouts... And why not! After all, in a society where ‘what you are’ is equal to ‘what you have’ plus ‘what you consume’, the only way to achieve more is to have and consume more (That’s why we call the US a consumerist society, and its culture, consumerism), and therefore, be constantly driven towards higher profits and materialism. Expectably, this materialism comes at a cost that the world is paying today. The interesting thing about material things is that they only give an illusion of happiness; and even such happiness always is momentary in nature. Ergo, at this juncture, after buying your new car or flat-screen TV, you feel you are the happiest person in the world; and just a few days later, these are the very possessions that cease to make you happy, because you are already thinking of a bigger car or a bigger TV. While you chase the bigger car to become larger than life in order to be happier, you sacrifice those that have the maximum power to make you happy –family, emotions and love. Prolonged abstinence in employing emotions finally destroys them; and you don’t even realise when you’ve become a dry-eyed moron (Yes! America also happens to be the land that has the maximum number of dry-eyed people). And then, while chasing never ending desires, one day you are left alone... probably divorced, without children, and in an old-age home (Even if not exactly that, the situation is often closer to what I have described, than not). And suddenly, you realise that there is emptiness all around... and you land up in a Deepak Chopra workshop to find out the ‘real meaning’ of life – or whatever he is capable of explaining. But by then, it’s really too late.

By then, you have made profits out of arms, and engineered wars to keep that industry alive. You’ve sold guns across counters at Wal-Mart and made more profits. You’ve lobbied that guns should be made accessible to the common man, and all for the sake of profits. You’ve created an end result of a society increasingly becoming devoid of emotions; not a society where man was born with all the natural traits of love, bonding and emotions, but a society which has succeeded in making one fall prey to the idea of greater happiness through endless materialism, by making one appreciate the bombing of countries and killing of millions, because the profits from the war would help accumulate more materialistic assets... This is the society that finally creates emotionless monsters, who get satisfaction in killing innocent students in a campus, movie watchers in a cinema hall and shockingly even families, children at a Sikh gurdwara and most painfully even in an elementary school. A country with so many single-parent families and divorces can neither bring up its children any better, nor influence the Adam Lanza the Connecticut murderer or the Wisconsin gurdwara massacre madcap Wade Michael Page with a 9/11 tattoo on his hand, or James Eagan Holmes – the retard behind the Dark Knight Rises massacre – any worse.

Yes, bad laws stemming out of the material system are also responsible. Thankfully and finally more and more Americans are blaming such incidents on weak anti-gun laws of the state. After all Adam Lanza got access to all the three guns from his mother, Nancy Lanza (also killed by her son) who had legally bought all the guns, despite being just an elementary school teacher. The US ban on assault weapons expired in 2004! Among 50 states of US, around 44 states currently have provisions allowing civilians to own guns in accordance with the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. The Second Amendment, adopted on December 15, 1791, is the right of US citizens to possess firearms. Sweden is another nation, where a string of 19 unresolved shooting incidents has stirred concerns, especially among immigrants. Sweden, like most Nordic countries, too has relatively relaxed gun control laws. Laws can certainly reduce the effects of mindless capitalism that creates such gun wielding monsters. United Kingdom, with strict laws in the course of the 20th century, sowed the seed of a lower gun culture. Their Firearms Act, through various amendments, has totally banned automatic and self-loading guns from public possession. On the other hand, the series of recent shooting incidents in the US has driven pro-gun lobbyists to argue that concealed weapons must be allowed inside college campuses, with a lousy logic that people possessing guns are safer and are capable of self-defense. For records, more than 300,000 Americans have been killed in gun battles over the last decade. In most countries like Australia, Israel, Japan, Mexico, China, firearms for personal protection are not allowed; in Brazil, one can’t carry guns outside one’s home.

Even in India, it is estimated that around 45,000,000 (45 million) guns exist, making the country the second nation (after US) in terms of private gun ownership. Firearms are becoming more of status symbols and symbols of power than being tools of self-defense. As of now, there is no law governing ‘place of possession’ of guns. With materialism creeping into the lives of Indians too, the Indian government should immediately introduce stricter laws in order to address the gun culture. To start with, like the Indian government banned smoking in public places, the government should immediately ban possession of arms in public places. Such a public possession of arms should be treated as an unbailable criminal offense. Moreover, as the government has declared driving while being intoxicated a criminal offence, similarly, possession of arms by intoxicated individuals should also be treated as a criminal offence.

Not only India, but UN along with other international forums should immediately declare possession of arms in their list of prohibited items. If the world unanimously could declare drugs and related items illegal on a global scale, banning guns should be a cake-walk. What is lacking here is a holistic political will and the mettle to challenge the pro-gun lobbyists, who, of course, are members of big arms-manufacturing groups. Today, the gun culture has spread its tentacles all across the world, with more than 700 million guns officially circulating around the world, resulting in millions of deaths over the years – a number that is at par with deaths due to terrorist attacks or the global drugs trade. After all, a gun was not just the reason why precious lives were lost at Sandy Hook, Newtown, but was also the reason why the world lost. The need to make more profits even at the cost of selling guns to common man and WMD's to nations and the existence of monstrously uninitiated gun lobbying ministers is a key reassure of the bottom line driven Capitalist system which tries its best not to question for as long as it can, where the profits originate from.

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