First, a prayer. Then some discussion about guns.

- December 15th, 2012

Still struggling to respond to the events Friday in Newtown, CT.

A politician — Alberta’s minister for municipal affairs Doug Griffiths — found the words that I could not yesterday to express what I was feeling and kudos to him that he managed to do it in a 140-character tweet.

So now what? Well, first, for me, a prayer for those grieving families.

And then, inevitably, we will start to talk about America and its relationship to guns. If you’ve been on any social media platform in the last 24 hours, you’ve noticed that that discussion is well underway, with much digital hollering, shouting and sloganeering. Fine. Whatever it takes to get over the initial hump. I’m not sure the shouting will actually lead to good policy but maybe that’s just me.

Canadians will be watching this American discussion about guns because, first of all, America is important to Canada and, second, because it might move the discussion we’ve been having for a year or so now in our country about guns.  Largely as a result of the ending of the long gun-registry in most provinces; the battle in Quebec to keep the registry; and a federal Liberal leadership race where that registry was unexpectedly a top issue for a few days has kept this issue front and centre here. The Canadian discussion may not be as “hot” or overwrought as what’s happening right now in the U.S. but it is a useful reminder that the last time we had a major policy development about guns — the establishment of the long gun-registry — it was in direct response to the “hot” debate Canadians were having in reaction to another school shooting, the one in which a madman targeted and killed only women at École Polytechnique in Montreal on Dec. 6, 1989.

Now, I’m not a gun owner and for that reason, if I was honest about it, my default position is to be sympathetic towards those advocating that more “muscular gun control” in which the state interferes with or even prohibits some (those with criminal records; those who spend their nights howling at the moon, etc.) from acquiring guns and prohibits some kinds of guns (i.e. machine guns) from being acquired by anyone under any circumstances is a good thing. Most who hold that position would likely also believe that reducing gun violence or overall crime by increasing the number of citizens who carry a gun around seems completely counterintuitive and even dangerous.

But I read a piece, last evening, that challenges that last assumption. It’s a piece written by top-flight journalist Jeffrey Goldberg and published by The Atlantic magazine before Friday’s shooting in Newtown. But Goldberg was prompted to write it because of many other shootings in America like Newtown. It’s called:  “The Case for More Guns (And More Gun Control)”  in which Goldberg challenges small-l liberals to examine the evidence that more guns may actually be an appropriate evidence-based policy response (attention small-l liberals: If you want evidence-based policy on climate change and same-sex marriage, shouldn’t you also consider the evidence and science which may be in be in conflict with your faith or ideology, i.e. more guns can prevent gun violence?) so long as there is more “muscular” gun control (attention small-c conservatives: there is a great deal you, too, can do to make America safer by making sure the right kind of guns only get in the hands of the right kind of people). After the shootings, and considering what was in the current month’s issue under his name, Goldberg put up a blog post Friday titled:  “What Can We Do To Stop the Massacres” that highlights some of the points in the longer piece in light of Friday’s shooting.

Those already deep on either side of the gun control debate may find a lot of the data Goldberg presents to be familiar but lots was brand new to me.  For instance: I did not know that the crime rate among those licensed to carry a concealed weapon is lower than the crime rate among police officers. Lower crime rate than police officers. I did not know that so-called “loopholes” allow 40 per cent of the 4 millions guns that enter the market in America each year are acquired by a buyer who was able to avoid some or all of the background checks or other restrictions legislated by state or federal governments. That’s 1.6 million guns a year moving to new owners without any kinds of checks on that suitability of that owner to be a gun user.

Goldberg’s conclusion:

“The ideology of gun-ownership absolutism doesn’t appeal to me. Unlike hard-line gun-rights advocates, I do not believe that unregulated gun ownership is a defense against the rise of totalitarianism in America, because I do not think that America is ripe for totalitarianism. (Fear of a tyrannical, gun-seizing president is the reason many gun owners oppose firearms registration.)

But I am sympathetic to the idea of armed self-defense, because it does often work, because encouraging learned helplessness is morally corrupt, and because, however much I might wish it, the United States is not going to become Canada. Guns are with us, whether we like it or not. Maybe this is tragic, but it is also reality. So Americans who are qualified to possess firearms shouldn’t be denied the right to participate in their own defense. And it is empirically true that the great majority of America’s tens of millions of law-abiding gun owners have not created chaos in society.”

Goldberg’s evidence and conclusions may only be right for America and its unique culture (something Goldberg himself seems to suggest at several points).But  I would be very much like to know if any of the studies, anecdotes, or conclusions Goldberg presents work or don’t work in a Canadian context.

Americans, Goldberg argues, must confront that, so far as they are concerned, one key question that we ask ourselves a lot in Canada, no longer makes any sense:

… some moderate gun-control activists, such as Dan Gross, have trouble accepting that guns in private hands can work effectively to counteract violence. When I ask him the question …—would you, at a moment when a stranger is shooting at you, prefer to have a gun, or not?—he answered by saying, “This is the conversation the gun lobby wants you to be having.” He pointed out some of the obvious flaws in concealed-carry laws, such as too-lax training standards and too much discretionary power on the part of local law-enforcement officials. He did say that if concealed-carry laws required background checks and training similar to what police recruits undergo, he would be slower to raise objections. But then he added: “In a fundamental way, isn’t this a question about the kind of society we want to live in?” Do we want to live in one “in which the answer to violence is more violence, where the answer to guns is more guns?”

What Gross won’t acknowledge is that in a nation of nearly 300 million guns, his question is irrelevant.

I bring all of this to your attention not to argue that you should necessarily change your mind or that Goldberg is right or I am right but to argue that, whatever your views, I believe it to be a valuable and helpful exercise that you should take careful stock of the considered opinions of those who do not share your views. As for me:

Categories: Politics, US Politics

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8 comments

  1. Mark 5 says:

    There are millions of guns in the US and Canada owned by millions of people. If guns were the problem, then we would be seeing many more shootings. Obviously guns are not the issue. But there is the mindset based upon idealism and fear, that guns are a problem. This is re-enforced by politicians who use this fear to their advantage.
    We are bombarded by violence all the time in movies and TV shows and video games and music. We live in a culture of violence. That is the problem.
    And those who favour more gun control use the same logic as racists, holding innocent people who have done nothing wrong, accountable for the actions of another from their”group”, this time gun owning citizens.

  2. mike says:

    YOU SHOULD HAVE THAT GUN ARRESTED IT DROVE TO THE SCHOOL AND KILLED ALL THOSE PEOPLE. WHAT A BUNCH OF GARBAGE THE KID WAS INSANE.

  3. Marvin Krawec says:

    I cannot believe Mr. goldberg and his perversde logic! What is wrong with tighter gun registry? Laws , often encourage a change in attitude towards certain actions.
    So, everyone is praying for those who lost their lives. We beseech God to do our bidding, while we sat on our asses and do nothing. We’re cowards when it come to speaking out against gun lobbyists and manufactureres. We avoid the issue of guns by deflecting the discussion towards someone or somthing else. I’m truly disgusted with this all.

  4. Marvin Krawec says:

    I should like to add two further comments to my previous post.
    I submit to you that the gun manufacturers and gun lobbyists are responsible for these tragedies.
    Secondly, in the matter of Mr. Goldberg’s comments, ” Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”.

  5. Gabby in QC says:

    Media personalities don’t often admit to having doubts about issues. I appreciate your expressing yours.

    This morning the topic inevitably came up on a Rad-Can radio program. The discussion referenced an on-going study by Mother Jones. This comment piqued my interest, despite its sardonic tone.
    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map
    From the comments …
    “This is counting from 1980, before which (and after which) the Wikipedia list is probably very inaccurate.
    It looks like you should stay out of Finland – or go there heavily armed. 5 million people and 3 listed incidents. The US, with 300 million people only had 18. That’s 1 per 16..17 million people. And people think Americans are crazy.
    The UK beats the US at 1 per 12 million people. Gad! The place is overrun by gun nuts.
    Norway slaughters the US. They got 1 from their paltry 5 million people. So, maybe it’s the latitude that causes these mass murders. Ban Northern latitudes!
    But wait! Germany? Pffft. Only 2 out of 80 million. What’s with that country? No crazies?
    Switzerland has 1 for their 8 million people. But everyone there packs heat, so you’d expect them to score high on mass murderers, right?
    Finally, Australia and New Zealand both have the US beat. Oz posted 2 for 23 million, oddly similar to the home country. And the Kiwis? 1 from 4 or 5 million. But, can you blame them? Beautiful scenery only goes so far.
    Gosh I’m glad I live in the States where this sort of thing is rare.”

    The commenter didn’t provide a link but I assume he may have consulted this list or a similar one:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rampage_killers:_Europe
    Notice #38, the crime committed in 1540! with 7 killed, number of injured unknown, weapons used also unknown.
    Unfortunately, perpetrators of evil deeds have been and continue to be with us.
    Can legislation prevent those crimes? Unlikely.
    Can stricter gun control? Just as unlikely. Although more killing sprees were perpetrated with firearms, other weapons were also used.

    From the same Wiki article I linked to above:
    “… A basic description of the weapons used in the murders
    F – Firearms and other ranged weapons, especially rifles and handguns, but also bows and crossbows, grenade launchers, flame throwers, or slingshots
    M – Melee weapons, like knives, swords, spears, machetes, axes, clubs, rods, rocks, or bare hands
    O – Any other weapons, such as bombs, hand grenades, Molotov cocktails, poison and poisonous gas, as well as vehicle and arson attacks
    A – indicates that an arson attack was the only other weapon used
    V – indicates that a vehicle was the only other weapon used
    E – indicates that explosives of any sort were the only other weapon used
    P – indicates that an anaesthetising or deadly substance of any kind was the only other weapon used (includes poisonous gas)”

    Anyone bent on killing will find a way.
    More to follow …

  6. Gabby in QC says:

    I’ve theorized, like others in my own environment, that the frequency of such crimes is probably due to the acceptance, verging on adulation, of criminals depicted in popular culture: movies, TV, video games, even cartoons.

    The same Mother Jones mentioned in my previous post (which may have been caught in the filter) lists these as the three best movies of 2012:
    1. KILLER JOE
    “It’s nihilistic, morally deviant, unstoppably depraved, and ultimately pointless. But it’s also brimming with smart dialogue, thrilling performances, beautifully crafted tension, and gut-busting black comedy. …”
    2. KILLING THEM SOFTLY
    “… The film avoids heavy-handedness by means of style, poetic visuals, and dark wit. Brad Pitt (in a lead role he landed via text message) plays the cynical mafia assassin with a refreshing ice-cold charisma. …”
    3. LAWLESS (DIR. JOHN HILLCOAT)
    “… Beyond that, Lawless is a savagely attractive crime flick, with unexpected tenderness and shoot-’em-up verve. …”

    But a cursory look at this list http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rampage_killers:_School_massacres would suggest that the depiction & even glorification of wanton violence in such films is not necessarily a factor. Look at #34 on the Wiki list. That killing spree took place in 1913, with 4 dead and 17-24 injured. Not in “gun-loving” America but in the German Reich. Another one, #39 took place in 1925 in Poland, where the body count numbered between 3-6, with 4-11 injured. Again, not in America and not influenced by the violence depicted in today’s popular culture. Mind you, 17 of those incidents did take place in the US although China tops that number with 21 incidents (22 if Hong Kong is included).

    So, what’s the answer? Will reducing the number of firearms in circulation guarantee fewer such abominations? I’m as uncertain as you are.

    However, I do wish there would be much less airtime devoted to such events because unhinged copycats could conceivably be encouraged to act, wanting their claim to fame.

  7. Ryan says:

    I have been reviewing the details of the Newton tragedy. I fail to see which particular Canadian gun law would have prevented this tragedy had the Lanza’s lived here in ontario. With the exception of some cartridge size rules the guns in question are legal to own for licensed gun owners in Canada. There are millions of guns in private hands in Canada. They were acquired through a process that Nancy Lanza would have easily qualified if she were Canadian. The truth is there really isn’t any reason a tragedy like this could not happen in Canada tomorrow. For those arguing US needs stricter gun laws like Canada, please tell me the specific law that would have prevented this tragedy.

  8. Marvin Krawec says:

    Apparently the gun that was used in the massacre was an assault rifle. Canada does not permit anyone to own an assault rifle.
    Stricter gun laws immediately affect societal attitudes and behaviour. There much opposition to seat belt use in cars initially. Now the majority of the people accept it and behave accordingly.
    Why does anyone need a luger or an assualt rifle? What the hell is the purpose for owning them? Go out in the rural area and see how many stop signs have been riveted with bullets, see how many insulators on hydro lines or telephone lines are destroyed annually.
    There ought to be a three pronged attack here. Stricter gun control, forbid the incredible violence in movies and video games and a promoting of positive change in behaviour. We hide our head in the sand instead. we keep pushing our head into the sand until we can see our own behind and think it’s some beatific vision allowing us to carry assualt weapons.

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