• The Horror of Gun Control in Mumbai

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    As Ronald Reagan
    would say, “Here we go again!”

    How many Rwanda,
    Columbine, Virginia Tech, Warsaw Ghetto, post-office, and other
    shootings do people have to endure before they face reality? How
    long does it take to learn a simple lesson: unarmed people are more
    vulnerable to terrorists, criminals, and crazed people than armed
    ones? Now the terrible toll in Mumbai: some 175 killed and several
    hundred others wounded.

    The headlines
    in India and across the world should have read, “Terrorists
    and Gun Control Claim More Victims.” Instead, the complicity
    of the various Indian governments – national, state, and city
    – was ignored and their inability to protect the victims of
    that tragic event was barely questioned. The truth is that, except
    for a few policemen on the scene, all the victims were unarmed by
    public policy. India has among the strictest gun-control laws on
    Earth, which, according to gun-control advocates, should have made
    Mumbai one of the safest cities on the planet. So it shouldn’t
    surprise anyone with common sense or a historical perspective that
    disarmed citizens and visitors had no way of defending themselves
    and were, once again, the victims not only of terrorists, but of
    the misguided, immoral policy of their governments.

    As Alexander
    the Great found out when he invaded India in 326 B.C., its people
    are keen fighters and weapon innovators. The British, India’s
    colonial ruler from 1757 to 1947, suppressed this martial tradition,
    disarmed the populace, and destroyed the domestic firearms industry
    to ensure their rule, particularly after the Sepoy Rebellion of
    1857. The Indian Arms Act of 1878 forbade Indians to possess weapons,
    with the exception of those considered loyal. The law did not apply
    to Europeans who could, of course, possess and carry arms at their

    The Indian
    subcontinent has been racked with strife since independence and
    the partition in 1947 between India and Pakistan. That may explain
    why the newly independent Indian government saw fit to keep the
    British gun-control laws in place for another 12 years before replacing
    them with similar measures of their own in 1959 and later years.
    Though not as severe as the British gun-control laws, suffice it
    to say India’s laws discourage the private possession of firearms,
    making it nearly impossible for the average Indian to own or use
    guns, all under the pretext of crime control.

    Yet such measures
    have not curtailed violence on the subcontinent. For example, following
    the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 by two
    of her Sikh bodyguards, as many as 3,000 Sikhs died in four days
    of riots throughout the country. In 2002, a Muslim mob murdered
    59 Hindus in a railway car at the Godhra railway station by first
    stoning them and then setting the railway car in which they traveled
    on fire. Gun control made those poor people easy victims. Had they
    been armed, would it have prevented the violence? No one knows,
    but at least they would have stood a better chance to survive.

    As for the
    terrorist attack in Mumbai, can you imagine what would have happened
    to the terrorists, once they started shooting, if the people around
    them had not been prevented by their government from exercising
    their God-given right to keep and bear arms, but had instead been
    armed? Well, imagine being surrounded by hundreds of angry, frightened,
    armed people shooting back and fighting for their lives – a
    well-deserved nightmare for terrorists and criminals. A number of
    innocent people would surely have been killed and wounded anyway.
    After all, the terrorists had the element of surprise. But I doubt
    the number of dead and injured would have been so great. I can almost
    guarantee that far more than the 10 terrorists so far accounted
    for would have bitten the dust. More than 200 years ago, Thomas
    Jefferson quoted Cesare Beccaria, father of modern criminology:

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

    India has no
    excuse. The father of Indian independence, Mohandas Gandhi, observed
    in 1927,

    Among the
    many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look
    upon the act of depriving a whole nation of its arms as the blackest.

    hope the Indian government has learned its lesson and that there
    are no more Mumbais.

    17, 2009

    LaRosa [send him mail]
    is a historian and writer with undergraduate and graduate degrees
    in history from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Duke University,
    respectively. He is the author of Gun
    Control: An Historical Perspective
    and other works.

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