Safety First

By Shyama Parui

March 5th was an ordinary day, maybe even normal. Everything had been predictable but as I left the house, I felt a little pang of anxiety. Clutching my purse, I got into to the car, in the hope that the boredom of afternoon would continue because it is the uneventful quality of the day that seemed to bear the promise of safety. The desire for safety isn't unique to me. Decades ago Abraham Maslow presented the well-known model of “The Hierarchy of Needs," which explains that humans begin with physiological needs and once you have fulfilled these needs, you try to establish safety in the next stage. Humans have an inherent need to protect ourselves from forces of nature and want law and order even before we seek love and belongingness.

Our perception of security can be easily thwarted. A call from my children's school in the middle of the day makes my heart leap to my throat. The frequency of disturbing news has surreptitiously stolen our sense of well-being. While March 5th was predictable for me, other people may have been on the edge of having their world turn upside down. It was the date when definitive legislative action was to be taken for DACA- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The inaction led to uncertainty and potentially creating a fear that individuals brought to America illegally as children, would be forced to go back to a place that was no longer their home. Paradoxically, migrants from different countries put themselves in extreme danger to unlawfully step on American soil, so they can escape the perils of their homeland or simply aspire to a better standard of living. Is the paradise they seek truly safe?

The most recent mass shooting in Florida has certainly shattered any illusion of public safety and the value of human life. At one point, Mumbai was considered safe too because you could move in trains and buses late at night, streets were busy with pedestrians and cars until wee hours of the morning. Women didn't worry too much about commuting to work alone and in general there was an impression of a welcoming and open-minded atmosphere.

That myth was crushed with communal riots, bombings by terrorist groups and steady increase in corruption and crime. In spite of its myriad problems, frequent mass shootings, ostensibly by mentally ill individuals, were generally unheard of. Not to say that individuals with potential for such a crime don't exist in India, but they would have to think clearly and have a plan to illegally obtain a powerful weapon. That would be hard… perhaps I am naïve.

When you are raised in a sheltered family, safety is drilled into you. Every possible threat is imagined by your overprotective parents and you are warned and overwhelmed by advice along with a never-ending list of dos and don'ts. My husband and I promised ourselves that we wouldn't be paranoid parents but we are committed to being responsible ones. In my naivete, I thought that the majority of parents agree on what's safe or not. Things to keep away from your children and society include drugs, knives, and toxic chemicals, to name a few. Yet, it is not clear cut when it comes to guns. Apparently, children as young as seven visit gun ranges and are taught to shoot by none other than their own family members. Out of genuine curiosity and without judgment, I am wondering how it can be acceptable to play with weapons that are created for the sole purpose of taking lives.

In our case, even toy guns have spelled trouble. Years ago, my kids had received a last-minute gift from a relative just as we were about to leave for a flight. Without much thought, I put it in my cabin luggage which got flagged by Mumbai airport's X- ray machine. I broke into a sweat when a stern security woman asked me to step aside. She proceeded to examine my passport and tickets and opened my bag at an agonizingly slow pace only to burst out laughing at the sight of a toy gun.

If better eye to hand coordination, is the goal, why not pursue tennis or ping pong instead of shooting? That might reduce the country's obesity rates, which is another killer. Firearms have not only been used for crimes but they have also been the source of several accidental deaths and injuries every single year. Fatalities also occur from defective guns. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek report, a company called Taurus “sold almost a million handguns that can potentially fire without anyone pulling the trigger." The Consumer Product Safety Commission has its hands tied unable to legally order recalls on these. It is time to discard the romanticized view that you could be the hero with a gun, who will one day stop a bad guy/gal. Among a million other scenarios, it's not impossible that your poorly manufactured firearm will hurt you or you will become immobilized at the sight of a violent attacker. Unless we are stuck in the Wild West of Hollywood or the Kutchh of the Bollywood movie, Ram Leela, is there really a need to carry your weapon when you are running errands or dropping off lunch at your child's elementary school?

The immigrant view on this sensitive topic is often regarded with suspicion and any concerns raised pertaining to gun control is mistakenly seen as either a lack of understanding or disrespect for the American constitutional right to bear arms. Maybe the current situation necessitates a different perspective that could lead to a discussion of what is our country's priority today. There is an urgent need to protect the universal right to live. The loss of innocent lives makes a compelling case for us to both investigate and introspect on the real reasons why our countrymen buy and sell dangerous arms and ammunition. As Horace Mann said, “If any man seeks for greatness, let him forget greatness and ask for truth, and he will find both."

Food for thought…and action.


Shyama is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: