BY IAN PATTISON
There is a poem making the online rounds these days that is both clever and telling about America’s love-hate relationship with guns. Written by Brian Bilston, a Brit known as the “poet laureate of Twitter,” it goes like this:
England is a cup of tea.
France, a wheel of ripened brie.
Greece, a short, squat olive tree.
America is a gun.”
And so on, through our shared global geography where most people understand that aside from police, hunters and collectors there is no earthly reason for citizens to own firearms, certainly not rapid-fire death machines and easily concealable handguns.
And yet the great United States, where so much has been accomplished for the good of all of us, still clings strangely and fiercely to its Constitution’s second amendment that most believe, wrongly, ensures “the right to bear arms” by anyone.
With three more mass shootings in recent days, the guns debate has once again heated up. Local leaders sputter in frustration while the ruling Republican party sails along in blissful denial at the reality right under its nose. The GOP chooses to ignore the rising danger among those who take their cue from the top, who gather courage on ugly websites and spray their misplaced anger out on unsuspecting crowds of innocents at concerts, stores, schools.
Even the Democratic party has been unwilling to take a united and firm stand against effective gun control let alone universal any-gun ownership. They, too, seem to view the second amendment as inviolate.
It states: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The white supremacists and far-right conspiracy nuts growing in number throughout the States and indeed the world are hardly “well-regulated.” And while a militia is defined as a military force raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency, the shadowy figures hoarding AK-47s and packing pistols on their belts at the local Walmart might just as likely fire on the army or police trying to protect, say, rights demonstrators from a bloodbath at the hands rival, right-wing opponents.
And don’t forget the U.S. Constitution was written in 1789 when “arms” meant flintlocks and muskets that took minutes to load a single round. Today’s automatic firearms can kill scores of people with a single pull of a trigger.
The purveyor in chief of U.S. violence now resides in the White House. President Donald Trump makes every effort to belittle and demonize his opponents and little if any effort to hide his support for those who would “cleanse” the country of immigrants. And so those deranged souls looking for licence to kill find it in the rambling Tweets and raucous rallies of the “leader of the free world.”
Trump has no intention of effectively controlling firearms or empowering police to get tougher with extremists. One former senior FBI officer said this week that agents and supervisors have become reluctant to take down radicals since they comprise a large part of Trump’s base.
And so there will probably be another mass killing, sooner than later, to build on the notoriety of those in El Paso, Dayton and Chicago.
Any hope that saner heads would prevail seemed dashed when nothing happened after the 2012 Sandy Hook school slaughter when 20 children, aged 6 and 7, along with six teachers were mowed down by a man whose name I won’t repeat, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a Glock handgun “packing 15 rounds of incredible 10 mm AUTO power!” wrote a breathless reviewer on personaldefenceworld.com.
Still, the gun lobby is waning and support among Americans for stronger gun laws is on the rise. So maybe there is hope. Then again, just after the El Paso shootings, the State of Texas passed 15 measures making it easier to acquire firearms.
AND what of Canada? It seems that our chance for a ban on assault-style weapons came and went with the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings in March. There, a proactive prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, took just six days to ban semi-automatic weapons of the type used to kill 51 people, setting the example for her Commonwealth partners. Canada demured.
Ardern’s swift and firm response “highlights the appalling lack of political courage exhibited so far by the Liberal government” of Pierre Trudeau in response to the 2017 Quebec Mosque killing committed with the same type of weapon, wrote the Toronto Star in an editorial.
Ardern acted “with leadership and courage,” the Star wrote, “Yet here in Canada, 29 years after Polytechnique, 12 years after Dawson, four years after the murder of three Moncton RCMP officers and two years after our own massacre at a mosque in Quebec City — all of which were committed with illegal handguns or assault rifles — the Liberal government is still dithering on what to do about these weapons.”
Last weekend’s wounding of 15 people in 12 separate shootings in Toronto renewed the anguished plea for strict handgun controls but again they fell on deaf ears in Ottawa where the government remains seemingly unmoved and apparently unnerved by fear of the reaction from — whom?— at the ballot box.
A March Ekos poll found 61 per cent of respondents supported making it illegal for civilians to own a handgun with 75 per cent in favour of a similar ban on all assault weapons.
Asked if Ottawa will finally, actually do something, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said this week the government is still weighing the results of last year’s public consultations on tougher gun control measures (emphases all mine) and will put forward its proposals — wait for it — as part of the upcoming election campaign.
So rather than take decisive action when it was warranted by successive multiple deaths, it will almost surely propose a measured plan designed to curry favour with voters clamouring for it while seeking not to offend the shrinking minority who insist that guns don’t kill people. Even guns designed expressly for that purpose.
Someone once said an election is no place for serious policy proposals. Oh, yes it is, and this is that election.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle- Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.