Canada must guard against spiralling into US gun culture

For Canadians, the particular gun violence that we have been witnessing in the neighbouring United States is shocking, disturbing and most thoughtful people have been grieving for the increasing levels of hospitality and the impact this has to have on families, neighbours and cities.

Of particular concern is the seeming increase in strife between white and African American citizens as witnessed by police shootings of black civilians in a number of US jurisdictions over the past few years and then, last week, the assassination of five police officers in Dallas, Texas by a sniper whose stated intention had been to kill as many members of the police force as possible. His victims were all white and he was an African American reserve army veteran who has seen active duty in Afghanistan. He was killed by police.

For virtually all Canadians, judging from recent interviews with police staff, civilians and experts in violent behaviour from across Canada in recent weeks and days, these kinds of recurring incidents are baffling and disturbing.

Gun violence in this country including police shootings of civilians, are rare enough to merit much public comment and investigation when they do occur. In Toronto in recent years, there has certainly been an increase in homicides by firearms, virtually all related to gang activity and to the illegal drug trade.

It would be fatuous to suggest or even think that individual police forces across the American nation condones the shooting of black civilians as some radical elements in the US have suggested.

But the ready access to all manner of firearms and the culture of guns that many US citizens embrace is surely a factor when American police officers choose to “shoot first and ask questions later.”

The second amendment of the American constitution enshrines its citizens’ rights to own and to “bear arms” and this simple declaration, written into the document that, above all, has determined how Americans would deal with one another in law and how their social fabric would be woven over time, seems to have become increasingly more important especially in recent time.

American politicians of every stripe and at every level are now routinely put on the spot about their position on this second amendment constitutional right respecting the ownership of guns and no one expecting to be taken seriously as a candidate for whatever elected position they’re seeking does anything but pledge their support to this open-ended promise of a richness of materiel in perpetuity.

Even impassioned pleas for some form of US gun control measures made by the parents of children killed in a number of school shooting rampages have failed to sway politicians away from full support for the right to own guns because they, in turn, fear for their jobs come the next election cycle even if they may in their hearts agree with the need for some type of gun registry and controls.

The more guns, the more violence would seem to be the message and some policemen have doubtless overreacted and “shot first” because of only the possibility that the person they’re dealing with could be armed.

In Canada, in our culture, police can be relatively assured that the person they’re talking to in a seatbelt check is not armed. In the United States, there can be no such assumption and the recent rash of what, in Canada, we see as overreacting police officers that has led in several situations to tragic circumstances drives home this contrast between our nations’ approach to gun ownership.

The Chretien Liberals did instate mandatory registration of rifles and shotguns (hand gun ownership in Canada has been strictly regulated for several decades) and one of the promises that helped propel Steven Harper’s Conservatives to power in Ottawa was the promise to abandon the “ wasteful gun registry.”

There has been enough second amendment creep across the 49th parallel that rural Canada largely resented the notion of gun registration so even though Canadians’ and Americans’ relationship with their firearms is measurably different, Mr. Harper’s promise to discard the fairly new at the time gun registry program won many rural votes for the Conservative party and its candidates.

But last year, Canadians threw out the Conservatives with a vengeance and elected a large Liberal majority government once again; and no one talked about the gun registry at all: we tried it, a sufficient number of people responded negatively to it, it was abandoned and we live our lives as we did before.

In the US, though, the preoccupation with this particular constitutional guarantee has seemingly had the effect of encouraging and embracing the ownership of lethal weapons with an organization like the National Rifle Association (NRA) devoting tremendous time and treasure to both encouraging gun ownership and lobbying against any forms of gun control.

In this environment, it’s not difficult to imagine the overreaction of police and (in his mind) the corresponding eye-for-an-eye view of the African American sniper who murdered the Dallas policemen last week.

America has so much talent and energy and is, indeed, the most technologically advanced nation in the world.

She is our neighbour and good friend and it is tragic to see over and over the spiraling consequences of the embrace of weapons.

It’s all well and good to say that people should arm themselves or their school or their nightclubs in the interest of self defense, but that too just adds to the terrible spiral where everyone, with some justification, can be more or less afraid of everyone else and the police forces are on the pointy end of where this has led, the issues of race notwithstanding.

Our own country should guard against ever going down this same road and all we can hope for our American friends of neighbours is for some common sense compromises to limit who has access to guns.