It has happened again. An irate 43-year-old man randomly opened fire at students attending Oikos University in Oakland, California, killing seven, two of whom were students from Dharamsala and Sikkim, respectively. Local news media report that Goh’s intended victim was a female administrator who had declined to refund his nineteen thousand dollar tuition fee after he suddenly dropped out of the University last fall. It is also reported, that Goh was dealing with the deaths of his brother and mother who both died last year, and was facing a court summons for failing to pay his rent. Whatever Goh’s personal problems might have been, the consequences of his unimaginable rampage were both horrific and tragic as he emptied his 45 caliber handgun on innocent students who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gun violence in America, and many parts of the world, has become an all too familiar modus operandi of people who seem to unleash their individual failings and personal tragedies on innocent people.
On January 9th 2012, in DeKalb County, Georgia, U.S. a thirty-nine year-old Nepali man was also shot and killed. The slain man, Damodar Pathak, known to his friends and customers as ‘Peter’ was from Lalitpur, Kathmandu. For the past four years he had worked as a sales clerk at a BP gas station on Cedar Grove Road in the town of Ellenwood. Police surmise that Pathak, who was robbed at gunpoint by two Black males, ran after the suspects and confronted them in the car park, where he was shot at close range. Pathak was transported to Grady Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. He is survived by his wife, two young children and elderly parents. One of the suspects was arrested a few days later while the other one remains at large.
Exactly a month earlier, on December 9th, on Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, a twenty-six year-old man, enraged after being jilted by his girlfriend, started shooting indiscriminately at passing cars. In the span of a few short minutes, he had shot twenty rounds, fatally wounding a Hollywood music producer, and critically injuring several others. Within minutes, two officers from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) arrived at the scene and asked the man to put his gun down. When he refused, they fired three shots. The gunman was hit by two of the bullets – he hopped from the pavement on one leg, buckled and died. Watching this unfold live on TV was surreal and very disturbing. What a tragedy, what a way to go. Yet, two days after the incident, the two police officers were honoured by the LAPD for “defending the public”. In his brief to the media, the head of LAPD said that the honour was being awarded to the police officers in recognition for the bravery they had displayed in the line of duty for, according to the Police Commissioner, “it is not every day you come to work thinking that I will shoot and kill somebody today”.
Gun violence struck closer to home on June 1st 2001 when it is alleged that Prince Dipendra, high on drugs and alcohol and fuelled with rage over Queen Aishwarya’s rejection of his choice of marriage partner, Devyani Rana, entered the billiard room where members of the extended royal family were beginning to assemble for the weekly Friday dinner, and shot and killed first King Birendra, followed by eight other members, which included Queen Aishwarya, Prince Rajan and Princess Shruti. Following the investigation and the press conference, the then speaker of the House of Representatives, Taranath Ranabhat, showed the waiting press the arsenal of weapons that had been amassed by Dipendra, who apparently had a penchant for guns and was an avid collector. The displayed cache of weapons included the automatic Glock pistol, the Colt M16 rifle and the Heckler & Koch sub machine gun, claimed to have been used by Dipendra at the time of the massacre.
Mulling over the tragic incidents, I have been struck by these acts of gratuitous, random violence. Would the Oikos University students, Pathak, the temple worshippers, members of the Royal Family and the Hollywood producer still be alive if the perpetrators hadn’t been armed?
Likewise, in the fatal shooting incident by the LA police, while there is no question that the young man’s behaviour was dangerous – one has to have completely “lost it” psychologically to engage in such an act – but the police....? Sure, it was imperative to stop the man before there were more fatalities, but could they have shot the man in his arm or leg and halted his insane behaviour? The immediacy of a fatal gun response by the police begs the question - when is gun violence by the public, as well as men and women of law and order, justified? Similarly, in the case of Nepal, could these massacres have been prevented had there been more stringent control of guns?
Most people would agree that guns are dangerous weapons that kill. Guns around the world have not only killed innocent and hardworking individuals like the Oikos University students, Pathak and the Hollywood music producer, but they have brought nations such as Sudan and Somalia, to cite extreme examples, to their knees. The unchecked and unregulated use of guns in these countries have displaced their citizens and made them refugees in their own countries. It has turned wives into widows, children into orphans, and most tragically and destructively, turned young boys and girls into “rebels”, thus robbing them of their childhood and innocence. While it is too simplistic to blame guns for countries like Somalia and Sudan’s complex underlying problems of racial and ethnic tension, religious intolerance between ethnic groups, chronic economic underdevelopment and prolonged civil wars, I would contend that these ongoing problems have been further exacerbated by the abduction and recruitment of children by warlords and the rebel militia whose main objective is to train children to use guns and create an army of young “rebels”. Likewise, the pervasiveness of guns in the hands of disgruntled individuals, gang members, burglars and robbers in both the United States and Nepal have ended lives tragically. Shotguns, pistols, AK47 Kalashnikovs - whether they are in the hands of young child “rebels”, Chechen freedom fighters, al-Qaeda trainees, the Taliban, Maoist insurgents or a lone gunman, the latter two, in the case of our own recent Nepali history, do not resolve complex socio-economic and political problems, nor do they right the grievances of individuals. Instead, these deadly weapons momentarily and falsely turn individuals and children into intolerant, self-righteous, radical killers.
Worldwide, it is estimated that the unauthorized use of guns each year kills over half a million people and, according to Wikipedia, during our own civil war between 1996 and 2006, over fifteen thousand people were killed, six thousand by Maoists insurgents and nine thousand by the government and as a result between one hundred to one hundred and fifty thousand people were displaced within Nepal. More alarmingly, the use of small is on the rise within Nepal. According to IANSA or International Action On Small Arms, Nepal, it is guesstimated that as many as 55,000 small weapons can be found in Nepal, and the ensuing gun related violence seems to be on the rise, if we are to follow the reports of gun murders that occur during foiled burglaries, house invasions and kidnapping and extortions.
While the lack of empirical evidence may make us question the authenticity of such high numbers of casualties, facts and figures aside, any death through the use of weapons, is one too many. If we were to pause and speculate, even for a moment about alternatives to guns, would the students of Oikos University, Pathak and the Hollywood producer still be here with us today and would it be possible, to resolve the world’s socio-economic and political problems without firearms? In the context of Nepal, had the insurgents as well as the army not been so trigger-happy, casualties of our own civil war would have been much smaller, and our own socio-political issues resolved more speedily and peacefully.