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Kaur & Singh: Exploring The Nuanced Sikh Position On The American Gun Debate
"No one should be pleased with any random individual walking around carrying a tool capable of inflicting such a magnitude of harm just because, and Sikhi does not condone it either."
Aman Singh and Harinder Kaur
June 7, 2022 | 5 min. read | Opinion
Since the senseless school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, many Sikhs have taken to social media to voice their opinion on the newest chapter of one of America’s most long-standing social debates: the role and place of guns in modern, 21st-century, states.
Views have ranged from backing outright firearm bans to insinuating anyone who does not support guns cannot be a Sikh.
“How can a Sikh’s sense of compassion allow these killing machines to continue circulating unabated”, one side will demand, while the other retorts and asks why they are ignoring repeated, positive references to Shastars throughout Sikh historic and religious texts.
Sentiments are evidently heated, with black-and-white views often the loudest and most shared on our timelines. But with both groups invoking Sikh principles to justify their stances, it is worth taking a closer look at what Sikhi really has to say about the issue.
Are repeated mass shootings resulting from lax firearm sales grounds for supporting a hard ban of guns on an ethical basis, or does Sikhi’s praise of Shastars necessitate an arm’s race where the solution to bad guys having guns is good guys having more guns?
As with most things, the answer lies somewhere in between.
Starting off, there is no denying Shastars are a part of Sikhi; their existence all throughout Sikh canonical literature makes that abundantly clear. Accordingly, we would argue that the Sikh position is in favour of private citizens having access to guns for the purpose of self-defence and maintaining the capacity for violence - which would otherwise be concentrated entirely in central power.
Indeed, Shastars are regarded as the primary bulwark against state/empire excesses, and to that end treated as an indispensable cornerstone of Panthic sovereignty. For this reason, Shastars (including guns) have quite literally been revered throughout our history, and denying this truth would be frankly quite dishonest.
However, there is far more nuance involved than viral social media posts tend to let on.
In fact, it is quite reasonable to suggest that not only can Sikhs be pro-gun ownership while still demanding precautionary measures for anyone looking to buy a gun, but it is fair to say they should support that screening wholeheartedly.
Rigorous mental health testing and criminal record checks, along with ongoing weapons-handling classes, are all sensible preliminary safeguards which find basis within the purview of Sikh teachings. This is because historically, Sikh society did maintain certain ‘regulations’ with weapons as well.
To be precise, a Sikh is not just having a Kirpan or shotgun handed to them – there is a Maryada (Code of Conduct) associated with the possession of arms. That Maryada fosters an attitude towards weaponry altogether different from the one we observe in society today.
Sikhs keep weapons but are also bound to other religious responsibilities which would demonstrate the soundness of character and their worthiness to own something of such gravity.
A Sikh’s emotional stability, personal reliability, and mental maturity are assessed and proven through dedication to the Code of Conduct’s spiritual edicts such as consistent Nitnem, regular learning of Bani, and spending time with wiser Sikhs in Sangat to ensure they stay on the right path.
In other words, Shatars are considered a blessing and the onus is on the individual to become worthy of this gift from the Guru.
It is even telling that the root of ‘Kirpan’ is ‘Kirpa’ - ‘mercy’, which is exactly what Shastars are for Sikhs.
Time and time again throughout Sikh literature, we are reminded of this merciful bounty from the Guru, who blessed the poor, downtrodden classes and allowed them to become the eventual rulers of the land.
“Inn Gareeb Sikhan ko Deho Patshahi, Eh Yaad Karei Hamri Guryaaee”.
Weapons for Sikhs are a vital component of Patshahi, a boon from the Guru which allowed our people to become the masters of their own destiny and carve out raj from the dying embers of a mighty empire they themselves helped bring to its knees.
Likewise, just as Sikh rulership is grounded in Gurmat (the teaching of the Guru), weapons-keeping is embedded in a spiritually-heavy Maryada. This is a Code of Conduct which emphasizes allowing the mind to become imbued with the Word of the Guru (Gurbani), and within the perimeter of a spiritually-holistic lifestyle, grants a Sikh the privilege of becoming Shastardhari.
Western society, on the other hand, sorely lacks that context and grounding. There is obviously no spiritual Maryada mandated along with the purchase of guns in America. Conversely, whereas Sikhi gives much weight to the importance of Sangat, the Western world is arguably more isolated than ever, lacking strong role models to emulate.
Internet culture is also awash with immature imagery of firearm possession. All of this is further paired with non-religious notions of ‘based behaviour’, a surface-level showboating rooted in superficiality which is the furthest thing away from the intellect of a Shastardhari Sikh - one which is guided solely and entirely by the philosophy and *Sikhiya* of the Gurus.
Western society in its current permutation is not at all comparable to the Sikh society we operate within. The Sikh focus on community, tied to religious duty and the directive to use weapons as nothing but a last resort, are alien to the conditions of 21st century America.
In the absence of Sikhi’s built-in checks and balances, and as we continue to exist in a cultural milieu which incentivizes shallowness that finds reflection in society’s spiritual malaise, there is more than enough justification to demand a more comprehensive oversight of firearm sales and greater stipulations on those looking to do the purchasing.
No one should be pleased with any random individual walking around carrying a tool capable of inflicting such a magnitude of harm just because, and Sikhi does not condone it either.
Aman Singh and Harinder Kaur are working professionals in Canada and the UK respectively. They have an avid interest in Sikh history, politics and literature. You can find them on their blog at thesikhmindset.com
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