Siddhartha Chatterjee
The politics of tears
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

It is bad enough that I have to discuss an essential American issue in a blog-site that seeks to start a conversation about center right viewpoint relevant to Indian situation. The context here is the unfortunate shooting in a Newtown (Connecticut) school and death of twenty children and six adults. In this context, one of my fellow bloggers in CRI went to expand his rather stiff and hard concept of “civilized society” thus:

one man possessed what nobody in a civilized society should possess: A gun

This huffington post article expressed similar viewpoint. I find several issues with the viewpoint expressed and believe that, in the spirit of open discussion, one should look at all side of the arguments.

Before I begin, I would like to disclose following to state my bias (if any):
1. I know how to fire small guns

2. I dont own any gun. I never did.

3. I have nothing to do with National Rifle Association

4. There are some ex-cops and ex-servicemen who had close relationship with guns and whom I count among my relatives and close friends. I enjoy their “pro-Gun” company.

5. As an Indian citizen I do not like to dwell on American issues. What I am about to say is relevant to a certain Indian thought process that I would like to call out later in the article.

American citizen’s gun rights flows from second amendment of their constitution. America’s founding fathers were very enlightened people and influenced subsequent generations including the architect of our very own constitution. So, if gun right was so bad, why did they decide to protect it by adding it to the constitution immediately after the famous first amendment that protects freedom of expression? I will come back to this question some time later. My fellow blogger’s objections seem to be three-fold :
1. No “civilized society” should have guns
2. There are no need of gun-holding militias seeking to overthrow “oppressive” governments since the “oppressive” governments now-a-days have nuclear missiles (as we all know, governments, specially US government, regularly use nuclear missile against the people who oppose them)
3. Following quotes give a glimpse of another powerful reasoning:
i.”The real reason that some Americans unabashedly advocate gun ownership is that they are violent.”
ii. “As a result, violence is still ingrained in the American meme.”
iii. “However, considering that a numerically significant section of Americans is still beyond the realm of reason”
iv. “The US constitution was man-made. There is no need to worship it.”
v. “The right of children to live is more sacred than the rights of the NRA and the gun-rights cartel to extinguish it.”

Let us discuss them one by one.
1. I am not sure what the blogger means by “civilized” society. Does the police or military men live outside the civilized society? The farmers and ranchers who kill wild beasts harming their domestic animals or crop do not seem to belong to the civilization envisioned by my respected fellow blogger either. Last I checked, America the country must cater to the needs of all the people including police, military, hunters, farmers and ranchers.

2. Second amendment does not state about the purpose of the militia, it merely talks about “well-regulated” militia. Militias are not meant to be for the rebellion. Long before American constitution existed, British Parliament had their own Bill of Rights act of 1689. In that bill, following were stated:

That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law

Why would anyone want to do that? Because a catholic King disarmed protestants and unleashed terrible violence against them. So protestants created armed militias for their own protection and same were deemed unlawful by the same king. The law was intended to protect the militias that protected that community. It also showed the under-appreciated role of militias in British as well as European history. Most of us even don’t care to know the mighty England did not have a standing army till seventeenth century and a police force till nineteenth century. In far away places where king’s letters or aristocrats hand could not reach, local militias often protected the population and often drew members from them. It is undeniable that Americans had that European legacy. Only the enlightened men of new world decided to drop the idea of protecting Protestants. There was no need, they were all protestants. However, they accepted and admired the idea of militia. Militias helped a lot during the American revolution and American leaders often used them in subsequent wars. Even today, there exists a number of these militias. Some of them like KKK were full of racist bigots. Others are more open, more respectable and contribute more to the US military. These militias exist because of the gun culture and it is a very glorious part of their history. Just because we are ashamed of our history does not mean they should be. I will return to the question I asked in the beginning. Why was gun right deemed so necessary? Thomas Jefferson made an interesting point when he said:

Laws that forbid the carrying of arms disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.

and James Monroe went on to state:

The right of self-defense never ceases. It is among the most sacred, and alike necessary to nations and to individuals.

3. I really do not have much to tell about this one. I will, however, urge the writer to understand the consequences of lack of mutual respect and evil of gross generalization. Without a proper understanding of the subject matter, any do-goodism brings out more suffering than it is intended to eliminate.

I also noticed the five point agendas expressed the article and chuckled. Almost all the points are too naive. Take point 3 for example. If a “No Objection” certificate is to be obtained, it would definitely promote collective rights at the expense of individual’s rights. Something US constitution is designed to avoid. But I suppose such contradictions do not rank high in the minds of those who are atheist and practicing orthodox Hindu at the same time.

Having said that, here is a piece of puzzle. It is not like some US states do not have gun control laws. For example, New York had sullivan’s law in place for nearly 100 years when August shooting occurred. What did it prevent exactly? In India, we have severe gun control laws. Yet, cases like Noida serial murders were not prevented. Should we ban kitchen knives because they can be used by people to murder someone? The problem is not the gun or knife, it is the hand that uses them. What can we do to stop them?

If you ask me, public hanging is the right way but I suppose our liberal friends would be infuriated to hear the sound of it. Strong punishment for ghastly crime is a time tested way of handling crime but apparently, our common sense have been perverted enough that we will blame the instrument than the one using it. Those who are inclined to commit homicide will get hold of a gun by any means while gun laws make it impossible to obtain guns for self-defense. One look at the underbellies of various metros in India and hapless common businessmen who pay “hapta” to gangsters show how bleak the situation is. But I suppose these bleak facts are no fun when “naturally violent” foreigners are ripe market for self-righteous sermon. These sermons are particularly in demand when misery and tear are all around. This politics of tear is the essence of much vaunted bleeding heart liberalism.

I sometimes hear about the words “sanctimonious Indian”. It has something to do with the contribution made by our first PM. The incompetent naive could not solve the problems of his own country but went to save the world. It was his and Mohandas Gandhi’s brilliant idea that the newly-independent country does not need an army, a police force can patrol the borders. It is our good fortune that there were some realists then.

But the bigger problem lies in our society. We have an incredible love for useless sanctimony. Unless someone is psychopath,he or she would not like violence or war. Yet, the mere preaching of non-violence does nothing to prepare us in facing violent men under the guidance of psychopaths. No one screams about banning anything when two year old Swastika Shrama lost her life due to a God whose followers can not tolerate another God. Surely, we did not hear of banning God or bombs! Nothing would have changed if such a demand was made either. The reality is that self-defense is important and preaching of non-violence has nothing to do with self-defense. In every century we have to face one or other psychopath who would see thousands die so that his ego can grow. That is the precise reason we can not ignore our right of self-preservation and learning the use of arms. There is nothing shameful about it. Orthodox Hindu or not, doctrine of Shaktism exist for this same reason. I will close this case by observing a comment made by George Orwell:

If you turn the other cheek, you will get a harder blow on it than you got on the first one. This does not always happen, but it is to be expected, and you ought not to complain if it does happen.