Sunday, December 07, 2008

Why the Right to Bear Arms Won't Help During a Terrorist Attack

In the aftermath on the November 26 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, there has been a growing tendency among some quarters to call for a relaxation of gun laws as a method of dealing with future attacks of this kind. These suggestions, howsoever well intentioned, are utterly misplaced. While it is easy for the layman to view the Taj incident as a simple firefight with two sides shooting at each other with the hope of getting a kill, in reality it is far more complicated.

While such opinion pieces wax eloquent on how guns serve only to “disarm peaceful and law-abiding people”, they always forget one important point. Using a firearm effectively requires marksmanship skills of a high order, and more importantly, firing discipline. When professional soldiers squeeze the trigger, they do so only when they are sure their target is an enemy combatant and not a civilian, and that too when they have a clear shot at their target. Moreover, the whole team works as a well-oiled machine so that their backs and flanks are not exposed to fire from other quarters (these terrorists are trained to occupy several strongpoints with overlapping fields of fire). And commandos train very hard for such situations, day in and day out to the point that they can practically read each others’ minds.

This is where the civilian falls short. I’m pretty sure that a majority of the people who buy firearms can barely hold them properly, leave alone shoot straight and exercise fire discipline. Imagine what would have happened if fifty such people had been in the Taj and Oberoi. The attackers did not go around with neon signs on their heads identifying them as terrorists; in civilian clothing, they looked pretty much like other civilians. And in the pandemonium at the Taj/Oberoi, a dangerous mixture of fear and adrenalin would have led to civilians with firearms shooting at each other as well as at unarmed civilians. Even if they had shot at the terrorists, there is a high likelihood that they would have missed and ended up killing more civilians.

That is not all. When the time to storm the building would have come, how would the NSG positively make the distinction between the attackers and civilians? After all, any person in civilian attire and a gun in his hand could have potentially been a terrorist. This would have caused needless and potentially fatal distractions, and led to the deaths of more civilians (both armed and unarmed) as well as commandos.

Therefore, the argument that gun control laws need to be relaxed so that the citizens can protect themselves is a non starter. A gun can be bought off the shelf, training and discipline cannot. And in the absence of the latter, the former is the proverbial “Bandar ke haath mein talwar” – instead of solving the problem, it only creates more chaos and leads to unnecessary loss of life.

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