A candlelight vigil is held at Las Vegas city hall following the mass shooting during a country-music concert in September. Photo: AFP / Robyn Beck

Discerning American readers of Asia Times will, it’s hoped, help answer two questions that people like me struggle to understand, yet again: 1. Will horrors like the Las Vegas killings change American attitudes to gun ownership?  2. Why this American love/obsession with guns?

As the list of mass shootings in the United States grows, and after this latest murderous rampage by yet another madman with a gun unleashed senseless death and suffering, I thought, “this is when there will be some change in US gun-ownership laws.”

But the optimist in me has given way to the realist. After reading some of the American response to the Mandalay Bay massacre — at least 59 people dead, 525 wounded — the glum realization is that the list of “deadliest US mass shootings” will keep growing. That is until common sense prevails with (a) understanding the individual right to freedom, and (b) the impulsive-action-prone risks of the human mind.

Amid debates about the 226-year-old Second Amendment establishing the US constitutional right to own guns, there are chilling numbers: More lives have been lost to gun-related deaths in the US (intentional or accidental) than all wars the country has fought. Guns kill about 92 people a day in the US, and this (2013) statistic — if accurate — gives the US unavoidable entry into the list of ten most dangerous countries in the world.

US gun ownership highest in the world

American citizens own more 310 million firearms, nearly double the rate per 100 people than in any other country, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey. The latest survey says the US is both the world’s largest importer and exporter of small arms and light weapons.

Yes, I know the familiar argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But guns enable mad people to easily, instantly kill.

Yet amid the statistics, the arguments, the facts is the issue of personal rights: individual freedom is never absolute. Do American schools have in their syllabus British journalist/author A.G. Gardiner’s must-read essay On the Rule of the Road? in which he argues how in order to preserve the liberties of all, the liberties of everyone have to be curtailed. I have the right to walk anywhere I want, but not the right to hold up traffic walking in the middle of the road, like the lady from Petrograd in Gardiner’s essay.

Missed or forgotten in gun debates is the impulsive nature of the human mind, and how easily a gun can multiply the lethal consequences of sudden rage or momentary madness.Liberty is not a personal affair only, wrote Gardiner, but a social contract.

How much is everyone’s freedom — the right to live in safety — compromised by the indiscriminate individual right to own weapons that can snuff out human lives with the twitch of a finger?

Likewise, how much is everyone’s freedom — the right to live in safety — compromised by the indiscriminate individual right to own weapons that can snuff out human lives with the twitch of a finger?

How often have we heard someone say irritably, “I feel like killing him.” It’s usually a passing thought ending with a wry laugh. But if there is real mind-blanking fury, the risk of impulsive action multiplies. And if the means are readily available that narrows the gap between thoughts of murderous rage and murderous action.

The scary reality is that Stephen Paddock had no prior record of crime or insanity. Something snapped, and his demented mind had the ready means to kill and wound hundreds of people in a few minutes.

This is apart from gun accidents like the two-year-old toddler shooting dead his mother, or children fatally injured handling guns.

A fatal accident, an impulsive act, a momentary lapse of reason are real concerns for the individual gun owner, many of whom claim to be “responsible” gun owners. But how does a constitutional right carry any weight against gun death because of individual madness, a drunken rage, or an accident — to anyone, anytime?

My condolences to the grieving families and friends — wonderful people whose lives were snuffed out.

Raja Murthy

Raja Murthy is an independent journalist who has contributed to Asia Times since 2003, The Statesman since 1990, and formerly the Times of India, Economic Times, Elle, Wisden.com and others. He shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.

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