Why India needs to take a leaf out of Obama’s new gun control actions

(Published in The Times of India: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/shaira-mohan-blog/why-india-needs-to-take-a-leaf )

He was all of 9 years old. The bullet caught him in his chest.

On Sunday, February 7th, 9- year old Harsh was on a rickshaw with his mother in the Shamli district of Uttar Pradesh. Little did they know that a local election victory celebration nearby would shatter their lives forever.

Samajwadi Party workers were celebrating a local election win by firing gun shots in the air as the police stood by and watched the show. And just like that a bullet ripped through little Harsh’s chest, ending a life that had only just begun.

Are we really okay with this? The fact that such reckless use of weapons is given a clean chit even by the police should surely be something of grave concern.

I watched Obama’s recent emotional press conference where he introduced the new executive actions for gun control, attempting to boldly bypass the defiant Congress opposition. Whether his tears were real or not, whether he manages to legalise the action in the face of inevitable antagonism, the measures he plans to incorporate to this end are undeniably the need of the hour in our neck of the woods too.

The story of Harsh is just one example. In spite of strict gun control laws restricting the ownership of firearms to persons over 21 years of age with a legal license to bear arms, thorough background checks including criminal history and mental soundness, illegal smuggling and possession of firearms by nefarious individuals and groups is rampant. The case of the real estate baron Ponty Chadha’s shooting by his brother in 2012 is another example of the danger that lurks in the shadows when corrupt, crinimal-minded civilians are given guns in their hands.

A news column in The Guardian from January 2014 illuminated the idea of ‘guns for women’ called ‘Nirbheek’ named after the Delhi bus gang rape victim Nirbhaya. With a picture of a sleek, light weight, pink gun called The Pink Lady – one of the many lady revolvers produced by the US Charter Arms, the column talks about the 500 gram, .32 caliber gun that the Indian Ordinance Factory began to market, perhaps inspired by the US range, as a solution to the rape problem in the country.

The debates, of course, ignited almost immediately with many rightly pointing out the fact that arming even housewives trying to protect their children will result in cases of self defence being justification for the inevitable rise in homicide cases. The Indian subcontinent has the second-highest number of privately owned guns which certainly means we should pay close attention to Obama’s action plan too.

Here are the measures that Obama has suggested that should give us a lot to think about too:

Keep Guns out of the wrong hands through background checks

Apart from making it stricter and mandatory for anyone buying or selling firearms to undergo background checks, it has also been decreed that acquiring the criminal history records, domestic violence history and cases of mental illness should be made mandatory. Something that needs to be stringently actioned and regulated in India too to reduce the number of guns falling into the wrong hands.

Make Communities Safer from Gun Control

Another leaf to be taken out of the new measures – new Internet Online investigation teams have been set up and more ATF agents employed to keep a check on illegal online firearms trafficking by setting aside substantial funds from the budget for this purpose. Focus is also being channelled on renewing domestic violence outreach efforts.

Mental Health Treatment Reporting to the background check system

Even though cases of mass shootings and homicides in general may be much more in the US than in India, the figures in India over the last few years have also been staggering. It may be an effective measure to closely monitor background checks by also highlighting medical history and mental illness cases as red flags before giving out gun licenses.

Shape the Future of gun safety technology

As Obama rightly points out, if a phone today can require a fingerprint of the owner before it is unlocked, why cant such technology be used for gun control too? Research can be initiated into this matter to see if technological innovations today can be utilized effectively to further the cause of safe ownership of firearms

Many of these may already be in motion, but a look at how these measures can be enforced stringently in India too may be beneficial.
Harsh’s family mourns an insurmountable loss. Tomorrow, it could be one of ours.

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