In response to my article, Connecticut’s Slain Children Had Rights Too, in which I had called for severe curtailment of gun rights, Siddhartha Chatterjee wrote a civil response, The Politics of Tears, in which he made the following arguments (paraphrased for brevity):
1. If gun rights are so bad, why did America’s founding fathers enshrine it in the US constitution?
Answer: America’s founding fathers also enshrined in the US constitution that a black person is just three-fifths of a human being. In Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves, Henry Wiencek presents overwhelming evidence that Jefferson, one of the founding fathers, was a ruthless slave owner who whipped, tortured, and sent to slave labor black children as young as ten years of age. Would it not be absurd to argue that blacks are sub-human because the US constitution once said so or that it is alright to separate black children from their family and sell them into slavery because one of America’s founding father did so? Is it not more reasonable to conclude that just as the founding fathers were wrong in their assessment of blacks so they were wrong about gun rights too? I do not consider them to be enlightened – nobody who tortures children or separates them from parents so that he could profit from slave trade can be called enlightened.
2. Are policemen or soldiers beyond the pale of civilized society because they bear arms?
Answer: They are not. In the same article, I clearly articulate that it is the responsibility of the police to protect civilians. Hinduism values karma vairāgya. In The Bhagavad Gῑta, Krṣṇa, after exhausting all peaceful means, urges Arjuna to take up arms and fight. He says why: It is not for one’s glory but for protecting dharma. So, one can always bear arms to protect society, which is what the police is supposed to do. However, any glamorization of gun rights is an expression of inherent memetic violence.
3. The Second Amendment is not for raising a militia to overthrow a government gone rogue but only to provide for a well-regulated militia.
Answer: If you are ever in doubt as to what the Second Amendment is all about, Richard Schrade, a Libertarian attorney from Georgia, makes it very clear: “The Second Amendment was to protect the ability of the people to violently overthrow the government.” So, either you let everyone to mount RPG launchers on their automobile roof-racks, build nuclear reactors in their basements, and fly PAK-FA to neutralize the USAF F-22 if the government went rogue so that you are consistent with the Second Amendment or you simply concede that the Second Amendment is absurd. You cannot have it both ways.
4. It is a gross over-generalization to state that violence is ingrained in the American meme.
Answer: Chief Seattle did not think so. If those Native Americans who were exterminated could speak up, they would not think so either. Neither the 4.5 million Vietnamese nor the 1.3 million Iraqi victims of genocide at the hands of America’s Christians would call my observation a gross-generalization if they could speak up. The 45 million turkeys slaughtered on Thanksgiving Day or the 35 million cows slaughtered every year would not think my portrayal of the American psyche as violent as inappropriate. Jainas practicing ahimsa do not clamor for guns. America’s Christians, who have committed genocide after genocide, do. Is this correlation too difficult to fathom?
5. My five point advocacy to limit gun rights promotes collective rights over individual rights.
Answer: Do the slain Connecticut children count as individuals? What about their rights? My article addresses this crucial question. Chatterjee’s response evades it. Anytime someone with an unstable mindset has access to the gun in my neighborhood, the safety of my children is at risk. So, I have every right to demand that such an access be curtailed. This is what my five point advocacy is all about. It is unreasonable to demand that I wait until my children too are slain and then hang the perpetrator. That won’t bring back my children. I would rather act reasonably and curtail the access an unstable person could have to the gun so my children could live. It is sometimes necessary and dhārmic to curtail individual rights. There is no freedom (or liberty) without awareness, as Abhinavagupta and Śaṅkara beautifully expound in their delineation of svātantrya and pratyabhijňā.
6. Should we ban kitchen knives because they too can be used to kill?
Answer: It is banned on an aircraft. You cannot take it to a school either. Reasonable restrictions should be placed on any potential weapon depending on the circumstances. A gun is more serious than a kitchen knife because while a person brandishing a knife could be over-powered before he kills many, one that brandishes the gun cannot. Don’t believe me? Ask the 20 Connecticut children that were butchered.
7. Why are we not calling for a ban on ideologies such as Islam that call for killing the followers of other religions?
Answer: I actually advocate banning or suppressing Christianity and Islam. In my article, Libertarian Myopia & Religious Freedom, as well as in many other published works, I have argued that Christianity and Islam should be banned or suppressed because they harm individuals.
As a closing remark, I will observe that I am not an advocate of “Turn the other cheek.” I consider the Sermon on the Mount a highly unethical teaching. Those who are familiar with my writings and lectures would know this. I am a strong advocate of “Thou shall not forgive” – read my paper From the Holy Cross to the Holocaust published by the Vivekananda Kendra as part of the anthology Expressions of Christianity to understand my stance on this. I am not a bleeding-heart liberal. I value self-preservation and the defense of dharma. Protecting defenseless children from unstable people toting guns is dhārmic. The five point restrictions I have advocated are a reasonable way of protecting children. Yes, my advocacy will not altogether pre-empt those who acquire guns in the black market with the cold intent to slaughter innocent people. I recommend an effective policing, pre-emptive strikes on hardened criminals, and a crackdown on the weapons black market. If USDA could largely prevent foreign seeds and crops from entering the USA through vigilance, a policing agency could wipe out black market weapons too.
It is neither politics nor unreasonable if one were to shed tears for the slain children.
PS: Quite a few readers have asked whether disarming civilians has not resulted in the genocides or ethnic cleansing of the Hindus in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kashmir. It has. I only consider dharma to be universal. Laws are not universal and must be adopted according to time, place, and circumstances to protect dharma. The governments of Pakistan or Bangladesh, guided by the Islamic doctrine of hate, are committing adharma and their laws favor adharma. In such scenarios, it is essential for the Hindus to violate the law of the land, organize and arm themselves, and proactively defend themselves. However, this does not apply to the USA where nearly 10,000 people are killed every year because of gun violence. The fire arm-related death rate in the USA is the highest in the developed world and is ten times higher than the rate in India. This clearly tells us that there is a disproportionately higher violence in American society. I have already pointed out that Americans have a very limited notion of dharma. When we allow such people to indiscriminately possess guns, they endanger the lives of innocents.
Kalavai Venkat is a Silicon Valley-based writer, an atheist, and a practicing orthodox Hindu.