It begins with tragedy: the death of children. The grief is wordless but the press tries its best anyway. Photographs of the bereaved, of screaming relations, cover the leader pages. The profile of the lone gunman emerges, as do the usual adjectives suggesting essentially the same thing: ‘socially awkward’, ‘misfit’, ‘loner’. Those exact words were used for the spree killers behind Columbine, Colorado and Virginia Tech, because the perpetrators of such an act can hardly be conceived as more than dead-eyed aliens. Witnesses offer sound bites, fat policemen shake their heads, the president weeps.
Then the morning after arrives, as it always does. The reptiles move in. The grief is still fresh, but the shock is gone. Such an issue should not be ‘politicised’, they argue, when there’s still blood on the pavement — politicisation here meaning whimpering about gun law reform. Blunter cousins might casually mention the right to bear arms, that golden piece of wisdom the founding fathers etched into the Constitution, an intrinsic right that is part of the nation’s soul.
Finally, the doctrinaire ones, referred to as idiots in normal life, will take over and suggest that the school staff should have been itself armed to stop the murder. Mental awareness counsellors will be brought in. Lobbies will throw money at any venue that may work: op-ed space, airtime, Christian preachers, Republican congressmen. America will be convinced once more that there’s only one solution to having too many guns — more guns.
What happened in Connecticut, where 20 schoolchildren and seven adults were killed by a 20-year-old gunman as he attacked an elementary school, was an instance of human evil. But massacres like these are afforded by lax gun laws that the United States not only refuses to change, but at times seems to revel in, even when data overwhelmingly suggests otherwise. US states with the harshest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths and this holds just as true for the reverse. Countries that have instituted tight weapon regimens, like Britain and Australia, or reformed previously slack ones, like Japan and Switzerland, can’t even be mentioned in the same sentence as the US when it comes to the death toll.
And yet, all these words ring hollow because while Pakistanis are rightly moved by the tragedy of Connecticut, it would be a mistake for them to overlook the sheer scale of what is happening right around them. Karachi is all but lost. One only takes the liberty to correlate the two because legal reform is needed even more desperately for the latter. That such a beautiful city, the centrepiece for Pakistani ambition for so long, has descended into a cesspool of ethnic parties, armed wings and sectarian murderers is heartbreaking. But whatever the cynics may say, bringing back a safer, better Karachi is within grasp if we develop the will to do it.
The issue is not the legality of the weapons themselves; in this latest Connecticut shooting, all three firearms used in the Connecticut massacre were legally registered to the gunman’s mother. As for Karachi, anyone familiar with Zulfiqar Mirza, Badin’s one-man answer to the NRA, could tell you that getting a weapons licence is directly proportional to the relevance of your turf war. How sickening that a home minister charged with protecting lives had to teach us that lesson.
The answer lies with seizing those guns in the first place and curbing subsequent access via the law. And the beauty of democracy, at least the Yousaf Raza Gilani/Raja Pervaiz Ashraf version we’ve been fed over the past four years, lies not in the authority of a military operation, but with the supremacy of parliament. Our lawmakers, comprised in no small number by Karachi’s principal stakeholders, must legislate across-the-board deweaponisation today and much harsher gun laws in the long run. With the body count having become meaningless in Karachi, this may sound more than a little idealistic. But the alternative, in all its grubby cynicism, is military operations or surgical Rangers’ strikes. And see how those worked out in the past.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2012.
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