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The right to bear arms

by Amrita Tripathi
Monday , September 17, 2012 at 09 : 38

Another morning, news of another shooting. This in New Jersey, where an employee returned after his shift to shoot out the store he worked at, where his co-workers were getting ready for business, getting ready to open at 6 am. He killed an 18 year old girl and a 24 year old boy before killing himself, is what reports are saying. The gunman's age? Just 23.

The shooting outside the Empire State Building heralded the start of this bloody week. A disgruntled employee shot dead a former co-worker, pumping bulletins into his lifeless body - as eyewitnesses told me. He was well-dressed, hiding his weapon till then...and was shot by police (who, Mayor Bloomberg admitted, were responsible for injuring several civilians in the cross-fire).

In any other country, these would be considered local "news" - violent crimes specific to a neighbourhood, or city or state. But with the international media as well as national media on the look-out for any sort of armed violence, it's a red flag for a so-far-from-red-button issue as to make a mockery of gun control in general. Seriously America, we don't understand why there can't be tighter gun control laws. Or profile checks on who's stockpiling ammunition.

Perfectly rational people strongly believe that the right to bear arms is "enshrined in the second amendment to the Constitution" - as one genial cab-driver told me in Wisconsin - and you'll hear in all the commentary. So many people believe that, in fact, that no one can drum up the political will to call for stricter laws. The Republican platform makes it clear that it's against tampering with that law. President Obama last month said assault weapon ban should be reinstated, but there will be little political traction for that.

The shooting at the Oak Creek gurudwara this month led to some amount of soul-searching, with the Sikh American community actively setting up outreach programs, trying to explain to the country who they are. (The "They're not Muslim" refrain pinging the radar, for what it seemed to suggest, but community leaders were quick to clarify - it's not okay to target any community). Looking for some constructive changes, the Sikh Coalition and 150 groups are pushing the US Senate review committee to hold a hearing on hate crimes - documenting a nearly 60 per cent rise since 2000. A Sikh American said a few words at the Republican Convention in Tampa, that's just ended.

The July shooting at Aurora, Colorado did trigger some - but not enough - debate on gun control. That trial is still going on. The latest reports are that the families of the victims aren't getting access to the funds collected for their welfare. There'll be a push to help them, and dialogue will continue, but the issue of gun control? Don't hold your breath. The "chatter" on the subject has been going on for so long, people seem to have imbibed their positions early on, and there's little scope for change. It'll become a non-issue, at least until the next horror. And that's almost the worst of it. You know there's more coming.

Victims won't be allowed to fade from the public memory - it's a blessing and a curse for the families. They may feel grateful for the community-wide commiseration, the shared grief, but every such shooting will trigger some amount of traumatic response. How could it not? (I spoke years ago to Dr Achal Bhagat at Saarthak in Delhi about how families of victims of the Uphaar tragedy needed counselling for PTSD every year, on the anniversary of the horror, as it dominated newsreels all over again. Year after year.)

Postscript: From the outside, you could mistakenly think this is all that's been going on? But no, headlines here are dominated by Hurricane Isaac as well, the Republican National Convention, Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair (the possibilities for commentary are seemingly endless), and the build-up to the Democrat Convention next week. Here in New York? Seems to be a cross between an influx of university students for the start of semester and everyone making their plans for a long weekend. It is Labor Day on Monday, and people get time off to unwind.



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More about Amrita Tripathi

Amrita Tripathi is a news anchor with CNN-IBN, and also doubles up as Health and Books Editor. An MA in Philosophy from St Stephen's College, Delhi University, she has also taught a few undergraduate classes at her alma mater, informally! When she is not tracking health issues, Amrita is busy chasing the literary dream. Her debut novel Broken News was published in 2010. Before joining CNN-IBN, Amrita worked with The Indian Express.

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