Gun-Violence Survivor on ‘Empty the Clip’

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THE Local Government Election season is over.

While news councillors, aldermen, chairmen and mayors have been sworn-in, the nation’s crime situation remains the same. Some describe it as out of control.

A leading topic in the election season was the UNC proposed “Stand Your Ground” laws and the People’s National Movement (PNM) adamant that as long as they are in government, that will not happen. 

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The phrase “empty the clip” is now a catchphrase made famous by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who made it part of her “Stand Your Ground” campaign during the LGE 2023.

Gun-violence survivor Caron Asgarali shares her thoughts on both the proposed law and the words “empty the clip”.  Here is what she had to say:

The sudden impact of gun violence hit home for me in 2013 when I was attacked and shot in my face during an attempted robbery. Had I been armed, would I have stood my ground and fired back at my attackers under that threat? And if I did, had I injured or killed one of my attackers, would I have been sentenced and in prison today? What would have been my state of mind or level of remorse in the intervening years?

One question I will answer is, do I believe citizens, under attack, should “Stand Your Ground”? And another is, do I agree with the use of the lyrics, “empty the clip”? I think they are separate issues. One focuses on how best to provide security for our people at a time when we feel like caged animals, susceptible to attack by predators and the other, on using inciting language.

Crime is at a high in Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, for more than a decade, we have been dealing with outrageous murder rates and low detection levels. Our population has been more like a sitting duck with every passing day. And our leaders, past and present, have not seen it fit to take up the responsibility – their responsibility – for our safety.

Instead, what has happened, almost as naturally as maturing from child to teen to adult, is an increase in security measures on the part of our citizenry. We moved from locking with deadbolts and wrought iron fixtures to cameras and other security systems and more people have resorted to having firearms, legal or otherwise. Unfortunately, we also moved from being a paradise island to being an angry and aggressive people.

Having been a victim and as a Christian, I am against violence in any form, particularly gun violence which many times ends in lethality.

Leaders have a responsibility to protect their subjects and their people. Our leaders are not exempt from that responsibility, they have neglected that responsibility and our population continues to be an easy target – criminals rule. So now, we are in a position of having a right and a duty to take up arms to protect ourselves.

In as much as I stand against violence, I believe people should be able to defend themselves, family and property if they are in a position of compromised safety, particularly in their homes. In Trinidad, we have already established clear boundaries between the inner sanctity of our homes and public access by our fences, burglar-proofing, locks, cameras and so on. 

Thus, unlike in the US where someone, unknown to you can walk straight up to your door to ring the bell, here they should not be able to cross the boundary of your land. If someone, who is unknown to you is in your home, then they are not there for a cup of hot cocoa. It is easier to discern a friend from an attacker here and thus less likely you will attack an innocent person. Less likely yes, but not one hundred percent foolproof.

Can I fire a gun at someone? I don’t think I would want to but in a moment of fear and restriction, when there is no possibility of safe retreat, when my family is threatened it may seem like the only recourse. Do I propose this as a solution to the crime epidemic? No. I see it as a band-aid to a bleeding situation.

Movie scenes paint a picture of courage, relief and justice when a victim – not professionally trained to use a gun – cornered and armed, pumps the entire clip into his or her attacker. 

But then, movie scenes paint all sorts of pictures, many of them undesirable and far from reality. The reality is, what if by taking that one life, taking others become easier and not just easier but a sought-after activity?

Self-defence can be with a gun, a knife, a blunt object, a chemical or some other weapon of choice or availability. The problem is our criminals usually carry firearms, weapons with lethal force from a distance. If a homeowner is not similarly armed, his chances of successful defence are very small. The law can provide the protection needed for this type of self-defence, but it cannot provide the weapon and so many people will still be left at the mercy (or lack of mercy) of home invaders. 

UNC candidate Rishi Balramsingh on election night with supporters wearing “Empty D Clip” t-shirts. AZP News/Sue-Ann Wayow

The second aspect of this Stand Your Ground situation was the use of the words, “empty the clip”.

“Empty the clip” to my mind is inciting people to violence. And while I am in favour of providing carefully crafted legislation to allow self-defence against home invasions without fear of imprisonment, I disagree with the choice of those words to promote such a call. 

There is a whole field of study on language and communication. Academics consider language as a cultural, social and psychological phenomenon that helps us to understand the core of our humanity. Among other things our language can help us to understand stereotypes, other languages and people’s behaviour for example. Studies have been conducted to examine how speech patterns contribute to cycles of violence, particularly among young people. Psychologists use positive language for psychotherapy. Negative language or negative framing of thoughts can be used to bring out negative reactions or outcomes.

I remember one friend who went on to become a lawyer still held on to the memory for many years of one teacher calling him “stupid”. Some might say the teacher motivated him to prove her wrong. But the fact is for many years his entire being reverberated with hurt when those words echoed in the pathways of his brain.

“No looting.” Famous words that marked the start of frantic looting through the streets of our capital city in 1990. “Empty the clip” uttered from the mouth of a leader can trigger the exact violence we do not want. 

Martin Luther King Jr said violence cannot be solved with violence. I agree. I also agree that when it comes down to no other choice, then people must do what it takes to protect their loved ones and belongings. He also said hatred cannot stop hatred. A call to empty the clip is not a good call, from anyone, no matter the intention. 

Words matter. I love you. Peace be with you. 


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