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US Gun Control on Campus

Indian students have become caught in the cross-hairs of the US gun culture at least nine Indian students have been killed in university shootings since April 2007.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   16-06-2014
University of California, Santa Barbara; photo courtesy: www.ucsb.edu
After promising a "day of retribution" on YouTube and ranting about women who ignored him, heavily-armed Elliot Rodger, 22, knocked on the front door of the Alpha Phi sorority near the University of California, Santa Barbara. Minutes later, Rodger shot three women in front of the sorority house. He also stabbed three other students from UC Santa Barbara fatally at his residence before shooting himself in the head while sitting behind the wheel of his wrecked BMW – on May 23, 2014.

This type of lunatic gun violence is played out with chilling regularity across campuses in America.

“There are too many shootings one after the other. I worry about my daughter who is studying at a liberal arts college in California,” says Amita Ghosh, whose daughter Piya, is an English Major at the University of San Diego, in California.

Indian students who have worked hard to reach American universities hardly expect to get caught in a shooting rampage. But the spike in campus shootings has put them in the crosshairs. At least nine Indian students have been killed at U.S. universities since the April 2007 campus shooting at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg the deadliest in U.S. history.

Eye witnesses said 23-year-old senior and English major Cho Seung-Hui was stone-faced as he killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Virginia Tech, in the 2007 shooting in a dorm and four classrooms. Mumbai's Minal Hiralal Panchal, 26, who was studying architecture, was killed in the shooting along with Reema Samaha, a freshman who performed with the school's Contemporary Dance Ensemble, and Indian-born civil and environmental engineering professor G.V. Loganathan.

“The Virginia Tech shooting put the spotlight on security. Since then there has been increasing officer visibility while patrolling campus grounds. The university set up “blue lights” or an emergency alert telephone line for students to dial police directly. We will get a warning on our cell phones if guns go off on campus,” says Gautam Bhardwaj, a member of the 400-strong India Students Association at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

“These incidents shouldn’t scare Indian students from coming to the U.S. because they are random,” says Bhardwaj, who lives in an apartment complex teeming with Indian students. “We watch each other’s back. We help new Indian students find suitable housing and go to the airport to pick them up when they first arrive in the country.”

Safety in Numbers

Indian students in the U.S. have banded together after the Virginia Tech massacre and their associations numbers have grown. The Indian Student Association in Louisiana State University campaigned to get authorities to boost campus security and arrest the three killers of two Indian Ph.D. students - Chandrasekhar Reddy Komma, 31 and Kiran Kumar Allam, 33 - who were shot during a home invasion at an apartment on the Louisiana campus.

“I won’t say Indians are targeted. But it is a question of higher vulnerability if you are living in family apartments for international students which are not gated. These apartments aren’t as secure as campus residential halls,” says Ravi Tej Kavalipati, former president of the Indian Student Association of Louisiana State University.

As a result of the Association’s efforts, the university added night lights to the sprawling heavily-wooded campus, installed new security cameras and fenced housing apartment complexes. The association also tells its members to stay in groups if they are out late for “safety in numbers.”

Gun Politics

The California campus town rampage in early June  and another recent shooting at Reynolds High School in Oregon prompted pro-gun control Americans to again demand stricter gun restrictions.

At a White House session with students, U.S. President Barack Obama said “Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. We're the only advanced, developed country on earth that puts up with this. And it happens now once a week. And it's a one-day story. There's no place else like this."

There have been 74 recorded school shootings since the December 2012 tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut, where one young man carrying an assault rifle shot 20 children and six educators at an elementary school.

Talk of reining in America’s gun culture is politically risky. A year ago, a gun control push in the Republican-controlled Senate went down in flames. The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) has for four decades been the strongest force shaping lenient gun laws. The NRA traditionally leans toward the pro-gun Republican side. The U.S. constitution's Second Amendment, which protects the rights of Americans to keep and bear arms, is defended by the NRA and wealthy gun manufacturers.

By working on the Republican base, the U.S. gun lobby has been successful in drives to restrict the sale of high powered weapons. To change the laws, Obama needs to get Congress to act - and so far the Republican opposition has blocked all reforms of the federal gun laws, including a return of the ban on assault rifles passed under former President Bill Clinton but which expired in 2004 under then-President George W. Bush.

Democrats have become wary about pressing for gun control – knowing that gun control is a lightning-rod issue, which could harm them politically.

In recent days,  the media has blasted Obama for remaining relatively impassiveto the violent status quo and accused Democrats of mouthing platitudes, or promising to pass only the most popular of measures, like the assault-weapons ban.

In 2013, Obama issued 23 executive orders related to gun violence in an attempt to take modest steps without requiring a congressional vote. But it looks like gun control is all but a lost cause for his presidency.
 

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.


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