I awoke Monday thinking of Mahatma Gandhi — it was his 148th birthday.
Gandhi, one of the greatest proponents of tolerance and peace, led India to independence from the British without ever picking up a gun. In my homeland, Gandhi’s day of birth is a national holiday, and across the world it is a day of commemoration — a time reserved to celebrate the principles Gandhi espoused, especially his steadfast commitment to nonviolence.
But the headlines Monday only brought horror.
I awoke also to the news of the massacre in Las Vegas, where a gunman’s rampage killed 58 innocent people and injured hundreds more.
The bloodshed cast a pall on ceremonies at the United Nations, where the global body’s leadership reaffirmed their belief in the power of Gandhi’s teachings, that the greatest weapon of all is nonviolent action.
General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak lamented that in the world we inhabit today, violence has become a “tool of choice.”
“Nothing enduring can be built on violence,” he said, quoting Gandhi just hours after Stephen Paddock fired round after round into a concert crowd on the Las Vegas Strip.
I carried Gandhi’s words with me as I learned the details of the Las Vegas tragedy, just as I had carried them with me last April when I decided to attend the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in downtown Atlanta.
I carried Gandhi; many of the NRA attendees carried guns.
I told them I was genuinely eager to find out why they owned firearms. It was hard for me, and millions of others around the world, to understand America’s fascination with rifles, pistols and shotguns. Why were so many of them opposed to stricter gun control?
Now, in the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in modern America, that question is again the topic of hot debate.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is already making a push. Her bill, introduced Wednesday, would outlaw devices such as the one Paddock used that make it possible to convert a semiautomatic gun to fire rounds rapidly like an automatic weapon.
Republicans are open to supporting such a ban and are introducing their own bill in the House. And the National Rifle Association called for a review of whether bump fire stocks comply with federal law.
I grew up in a country that has some of the tightest gun control laws in the world, and in recent years the Indian government has made it even harder for ordinary citizens to gain access to firearms.
To most people in India, the bills being introduced in Congress are no-brainers. And although there seems to be consensus on accessories such as bump fire stocks, I am not sure how far the discussion on gun control will go. The United States is among the countries with the most lenient laws.
A number of Indian-Americans now hold office, and one, Democratic US Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, made her sentiments known on the House floor.
“Gun violence is a public health crisis that has claimed thousands of innocent lives and we must do everything we can to address it,” she said on Gandhi’s birthday.
“The American people are tired of being outraged, of sending thoughts and prayers, of seeing men, women and children die because the gun lobby does put profit over people. That is not what our founders intended by the ‘right to bear arms.'”
The people I met at the NRA convention may think otherwise.