HAF Policy Brief — Gun Control: Balancing Ahimsa and Self-Defense

Deaths from gun violence, whether they are related to robberies, domestic disputes, hate crimes, or mass shootings affect all Americans, including Hindu Americans. It is the natural and just role of both the state governments and the Federal government to establish and enforce fair, effective, and common sense regulation of firearms to prevent such violence in society and protect its citizens.

The Hindu American Foundation endorses the following policy recommendations for curbing gun violence in order to maintain a just and peaceful society:

  • Establish a national computerized registry of all gun sales
  • Universal background checks for all gun owners, including stronger mental health background checks and criminal background checks for every gun sold
  • Mandatory waiting periods for all firearm sales
  • Tighten rules on how many guns can be purchased in a month, as well as limits on the amount of ammunition that can be purchased at one time
  • Reinstitute a ban on assault rifles and military-grade weapons, as well as high capacity magazines
  • Establish safe storage rules for all firearms
  • Increase federal funding for research on gun violence; repeal the Dickey Amendment

These recommendations are not original by any means, nor is this a comprehensive list. Rather these are the kinds of regulations that have been proposed by a variety of advocates, elected leaders, and members of civil society as being the most effective in preventing the continued spiral of gun violence this country is witnessing.

Notably, these recommendations are not meant to infringe on Second Amendment rights, and instead will only place reasonable limits on those rights, similar to the limits legally placed on all constitutional rights.

Moreover, enacting these does not constitute a blanket ban on all firearms, a critical restriction on weapons designed for civilian self-defense, nor weapons intended for hunting. It is merely very basic regulation of the most destructive firearms, ones developed and intended for war zones and military combat, as well as implementation of rudimentary documentation of their sales and the good character of those people owning firearms.

Enacting these regulations is an issue of both public policy and ethics. In doing so we are guided by Hindu scripture, as well as history.

Ahimsa, the avoidance of unnecessary intentional harm, is a core principle of the Hindu tradition. Like most principles in Hindu thought, however, the way in which ahimsa is applied is very much dependent on individual circumstances and context. Indeed, protecting other living beings under threat, be it our families, strangers, animals in distress, sometimes requires us to use force for self-defense, so as to prevent a greater harm. Not to mention that it is the duty of police, soldiers, security guards to use force when required. None of this violates the underlying Hindu imperative to avoid harm.

Hindu scriptures and history are replete with examples of individuals sacrificing for the greater good and living up to the ideals of ahimsa. But they also describe the variety of life situations, faced moment to moment in human existence, in which the difficult choice must be made between a path that incurs harm, but supports an end of truth, righteousness, and justice, or a path that is not harmful, but allows falsehood, injustice, and greater harm to continue unabated.

As such, affirming the divinity of all beings, Hindus recognize that for the welfare of society a balance is required between one’s individual rights, such as the desire to own a gun and reasonably engage in self-defense, and one’s responsibility to society, which may suffer as a result of gun violence.

The fact that the political independence of the United States was gained through armed struggle is not lost on us. That a combination of civil disobedience and armed resistance led to independence from colonial rule in India, the cradle of Hindu civilization, is equally not lost on us. Indeed there are members of both the Hindu American community and Americans as a whole who look to these historical events as justification for loose regulations of firearms, or to support no regulations at all.

Such an attitude, while rooted in historical events to which both communities can look upon with pride, fails to take into account the historical context in which both fights for independence occurred, plus the marked discrepancy in the types of firearms available in each time period. We are not debating the right to or reasonableness of a people overthrowing a tyrannical, un-representative government—nor the right of individuals to forceful self-defense, nor that of people choosing to hunt. Rather, we are advocating for the necessity of common sense regulation of firearms easily capable of mass killings of our nation’s own members in a time of peace.

Read more:
Congressional Letter for Gun Safety Recommendations
Hindu Americans Share Perspectives with Vice President Biden as Nation Grapples With Reducing Gun Violence
HAF Letter to President Obama on Gun Safety Recommendations