At a time when President Obama has announced severe gun control proposals, it might come as a surprise to note that Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest champions of non-violence and someone whom the President counts among his personal inspirations, actively campaigned for the right to bear arms during the struggle for Indian freedom.
Today the left claims that much of the original purpose of the Second Amendment—protection against the prospect of government tyranny—has become obsolete and irrelevant. But it is important to note that the British advanced a similar argument for gun control while presenting their rule as the best and most enlightened form of government in the world. Since then we have revised our assessment of the empire.
It was then that Gandhi realized that the right to bear arms was important to resist totalitarianism. During World War I, Gandhi called for the repeal of the unpopular Indian Arms Act of 1878 that granted the government extensive powers to restrict the possession of arms. In his autobiography, Gandhi condemned this act in unequivocal terms: "Among the many misdeeds of British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest”.
The right to bear arms was also listed among Gandhi’s 11 demands presented to Lord Irwin before the famous Salt March of 1930. In his letter addressed to the Viceroy of India dated March 2nd, 1930, just before the commencement of mass civil disobedience, Gandhi argued passionately for the right of citizens to bear arms:
"And why do I regard the British rule as a curse?…It has reduced us politically to serfdom. It has sapped the foundations of our culture, and, by the policy of disarmament, it has degraded us spiritually. Lacking inward strength, we have been reduced, by all but universal disarmament, to a state bordering on cowardly helplessness."
It seems clear that Gandhi saw the right to self-defense and to resist government usurpation as consistent with his unwavering faith in non-violence. Some of his arguments appear to be even more relevant now, when in the wake of the horrendous incidents of sexual violence in India, thousands of women have petitioned the government for more gun licenses. In the capital, New Delhi, which was recently shaken by the brutal rape and murder of a 23-year old, some 1,200 women have asked the Police Department to issue them firearm licenses.
One might grant that the extensive and perhaps unconstitutional gun regulations proposed by President Obama were a product of great public outrage due to a rash of high-profile gun homicides. But these provisions might not help in achieving his goal of reducing mass shootings. More importantly, the President shouldn’t forget that the right to bear arms has been associated with struggles for independence from tyrannical rule around the world.
Kushagra Aniket is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org