Gun control in the US is long overdue

Updated: 2012-12-29 07:54

By Richard Harris(HK Edition)

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It comes as a shock if you get to know how liberal are the gun laws in the United States. Three generations have grown up in Hong Kong barely seeing a gun, except in movies or as a discreet part of a policemen's uniform. Indeed we even ban fireworks!

We have missed nothing. I well remember the famous Gilbert U representing Hong Kong, coming 29th in the world in the 1988 Olympics in the free pistol shooting competition. Not bad for a small territory with severely restrictive gun laws.

There really is no reason for an individual to own a gun outside an official gun club. There are, in fact, some 12 gun clubs in Hong Kong, seven of them being public sector clubs, so we have plenty of opportunity to indulge in high-minded weapon shooting. Innocent pursuits like target shooting and even rural countryside pursuits such as hunting small furry animals could all be controlled by a club check in and check out system. Clubs are usually good at self-policing as it is in their interest to obey the rules. They are likely to know better the mental stage of their members than any system and to provide a circuit breaker to impulsive action.

There is no reason to own anything more aggressive. Apart from insecure individuals wanting to emulate Rambo or James Bond, it appears strange for individuals to want to own an automatic assault rifle that can fire 800 rounds a minute at a muzzle velocity of around 1 km/second.

To use such a weapon you need a big supply of ammunition. E-Bay is a good place to buy a high capacity gun of 50-100 rounds per minute. It appears that the gunman in Connecticut was able to acquire soft nose bullets, which deform on impact creating horrific wounds even if the shot is inaccurate. There is only one reason to own this hardware and that is to kill people, easily.

Opponents of gun control abuse the US Constitution by using the cry of "unconstitutional" as a good one to attack gun control proponents. The famous Second Amendment to the constitution was passed as follows: "a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed".

It all depends where you put the punctuation. The US Supreme Court Justice, Warren Burger, a conservative Republican, interpreted the Second Amendment with the focus on the preservation of a well-regulated militia (now the police or the National Guard) rather than each individual. In 2008, the US Supreme Court narrowly interpreted the word "people" as "individuals", but this was passed by 5-4, which is not a judgment that cannot be overturned by another court.

The amendment was written by a developing society in a hostile territory when marauding aboriginals were attacking individuals in isolated homesteads. It referred to low technology muzzle loaded weapons with dubious accuracy, even at close range. In the last hundred years, our technology has become much better at killing people. What seemed like a virtue in the old days is now a burden. The US constitution is living and evolving with society, passed by the Congress and the Congress can repeal. If it is in the will of the American people that owning an assault rifle or a handgun makes no contribution to society, it can go.

The last refuge of the gun lobby is that having a gun in your possession makes you less likely to be attacked. But if you shoot first it is murder and if you pull a gun on a gunman that could lead to your own demise. Only on TV do two protagonists hold each other at drawn weapons. In real life the first guy to get a clear shot pulls the trigger. The self-defence argument is self-defeating and bloody.

No regulation is going to be enough to prevent a determined madman - the massacre last year of the young adult campers in Norway proved that. The incredible knife attacks on schoolchildren in the Chinese mainland last week proved that. But that is a poor excuse for a reason not to strictly regulate gun ownership. Regulation of lethal weaponry restricting use to those in public security is long overdue in the US. Regulation makes it much harder for a rouge gunman and acts as a circuit breaker on impulsive action.

It is well known that Barak Obama is in favor of gun control - this may be his legacy. For many of America's children, it is no longer a political debate - it is their future.

The author is chief executive of Port Shelter Investment Management.

(HK Edition 12/29/2012 page3)