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.
All day today I have felt empty, powerless, intensely sad, and acutely afraid. There is no ‘why’ that will ever make it make sense.
— Doug Griffiths (@GriffMLA) December 15, 2012
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.
“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:
All I’m saying: Is everyone on Twitter this certain about everything? I’m not. I’ll probably change my mind tomorrow. Goin’ to hug the kids.
— David Akin (@davidakin) December 15, 2012