Friday, December 19, 2008

Mumbai and gun control

From the Wall Street Journal, on the role India's strict gun control laws played in facilitating the Mumbai attackers plans:
For three bloody days, just 10 determined killers held a city of 18 million hostage. The sheer ignominy of this fact has jolted Mumbaikars -- and Indians -- out of their fabled chalta hai (anything goes) attitude, and into a burst of citizen activism. Even Mumbai's business community has shed its habitual political timidity and filed an extraordinary public-interest lawsuit demanding that the government fulfill its constitutional obligation to protect its citizens.

But Indians shouldn't just stop there. They should also demand reform of the country's draconian gun laws -- a holdover from British times -- that prevent them from defending themselves. That would surely deliver far quicker results than waiting for India's slow-moving political classes to plug the vast lacunae in the country's security apparatus.
The true problem was not a shortage of heroism in those three horrible days. The courageous staff at the two hotels was nothing if not heroic, likely saving as many people as the police watched being killed. At the Taj, one employee even took the bullets for a group of guests he was trying to escort to safety.

But if the hotel staff could take bullets, the question is why couldn't they return them? The reason, as P.R.S. Oberoi, chairman of Oberoi Group, noted, is that none of the hotel's security staff was armed, thanks to the country's strict gun laws that make it virtually impossible to obtain permits. This is also perhaps why the gunmen moved around the city as if they owned it without fearing that anyone would shoot back.

India's gun laws have their genesis in colonial policy when -- following the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny -- British authorities drastically restricted gun ownership. So notorious were these laws that even the great apostle of nonviolence Mahatma Gandhi condemned them. "Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest," he said.

Op-ed here here.

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