What was going through Barack Obama's mind as a member of staff told him about the Sandy Hook shootings? In a dramatic photograph released by the White House last week, the President leans against the back of a sofa, arms folded and head bowed. It's a sombre moment: six adults and 20 children had just died in the massacre in Connecticut. No one could avoid shock on hearing the news, but the President must surely have been wondering how on earth to persuade millions of Americans to give up their delusional attachment to guns.
They think owning guns will make them safer. Some women in India seem to have come to the same conclusion following the gang rape and murder of a student on a bus, with reports that hundreds of women in Delhi have applied for gun licences. The numbers are low – 274 requests for licences and 1,200 inquiries since 18 December, two days after the attack – but it's a worrying trend. Far from protecting women, there's plenty of evidence that guns make them more vulnerable. In the US, one of the most highly armed nations on earth, many women die each year as a direct consequence of laws which allow individuals to own firearms.
I'm not just thinking about mass shootings like Sandy Hook, Columbine or Virginia Tech. These dreadful events make headlines around the world, but other forms of lethal violence are less widely reported. Take murder-suicides, for example, in which a perpetrator kills one or more people and then commits suicide; there are on average 12 of these incidents in the US each week, accounting for more than 1,300 deaths annually. Most adult victims are women killed by a current or former partner, and guns feature in around 90 per cent of incidents. "Domestic violence and guns make a deadly combination," observes a report from the Violence Policy Centre in Washington.
Here's another statistic that might make women in India think twice about applying for a firearms licence: American women who have guns in the home are almost three times more likely to be murdered than those who don't, according to a 2003 study. After Sandy Hook, an idiot from the National Rifle Association claimed that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But what if the bad guy disarms a good woman? What if he isn't a stranger but someone she trusts who turns her own weapon against her?
President Obama knows this. But America's gun addiction isn't rational: it's actually responsible for much of the crime that people say they buy firearms to prevent. The Second Amendment enshrining the right to "keep and bear arms" is centuries out of date, encouraging individuals to take the law into their own hands. It's unnecessary in a modern state, which has a police force to protect citizens and arrest perpetrators. That's what's gone wrong in India, but the answer isn't more women acquiring guns.