Thursday, December 4, 2008

Parallels between Indian and American gun control laws

A few days ago I wrote about how gun control laws hampered Mumbai hotels' ability to properly defend their guests, and not soon after India's business community – led by tech multinational Infosys' chief security office – petitioned the government for the right to bear arms, including automatic weapons. The Indian government's aversion to permitting weapons seems to run so deep that even armed police officers were reluctant to shoot at the Mumbai terrorists.

That got me to thinking about the roots of India's strict gun control laws, which led me to this op-ed by an Indian gun owner, in which he quite eloquently details the colonial roots of modern-day Indian gun control policy. The British were especially vigilant in disarming the natives, and peaceful Gandhi himself said that "history will look upon the [gun control] Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest" of the crimes of the British in India.

The history of gun control in America follows a similar path – after the Civil War, states began enacting laws disarming freed slaves, and as a Reason book review tells it, and the first gun licensing and permitting laws were "passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers... [and] never intended to be applied to the white population," as one Florida judge said at the time.

As with American gun control laws, which are mainly championed today by non-racist mayors of heavily-black urban areas, India has lost the underlying reason for the laws, and yet, the vice is as tight as ever. The malevolent and racist British were replaced with the uncompromising license raj, and the gun controls laws have stuck. Like in the US, where big city mayors advocate gun control despite the laws' obvious failure where they would seem to be needed the most, Indian politicians are trying to prevent a problem that doesn't exist: legal guns being used for illegal purposes. By the late '80s the Indian government was tightening its grip on legal arms markets, banning almost all imports – though as Singh's op-ed points out, black market guns in India are cheaper than legal ones, so there's really no incentive at all for anyone to buy weapons through legal channels. And sure enough, the Mumbai terrorists are reported to have had connections with Mumbai's underworld, and that's supposedly where they got their guns from.

Hopefully this appeal by Mumbai's business community for increased access to arms will break the traditional Indian authoritarian approach to gun control, but judging from the past experience, it doesn't seem likely.

1 comment:

Rob Viglione said...

Regulating anything has predictable consequences. Banning substances, or guns, drives activities to the black market. Regulations cannot ever effectively eliminate demand; they can lower it, but then drive illegal operations to circumvent the law.

Gun control laws will never eradicate firearms. They simply disarm law abiding citizens and provide enhanced asymmetrical opportunities for those who circumvent the law.