Some will likely claim that I am outside of my area of expertise in this blog today, but that has never stopped me before. Albert Einstein made a bold but largely ignored prediction. “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Einstein understood modern man’s obsession with increasingly violent weapons would eventually destroy… well, modern man. The shocking events last month in Newtown CT where 27, mostly little children, were brutally murdered by a disturbed youth has put the gun debate back on the front burner. CNN’s Piers Morgan has made the fight personal after he called Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, “an unbelievably stupid man”. Livid, gun advocates have been circulating a petition to have Morgan deported for his un-American views. Over 100,000 Americans have signed the petition, more than enough for Congress to have to hear the matter. Morgan has responded by saying he will save them the trouble… “If you don’t change your gun laws to at least try to stop this relentless tidal wave of murderous carnage, then you don’t have to worry about deporting me… (I will) seriously consider deporting myself. Hmmm… it sounds like we win either way.
I do think Morgan is doing us a favour in provoking the debate. The pro-gun lobby likes to hide behind the mantra “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. I could not agree more. That is why America needs to rethink its gun laws and quit putting guns in the hands of people who kill people. It is impossible to create laws that restrict the existence of stupid people. Therefore the only alternative is to create laws that restrict stupid people from getting guns. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not one of these radical anti-gun folks. I own three guns; a bolt action .22 and a couple of shotguns. They were registered until recently when the Tories scrapped the long gun registry. For the record, I do not use them to kill people, but rather other lesser pests. The biggest problem with the Canadian gun registry, other the billion dollar price tag, was the fact that the criminals forgot to register their weapons. I guess that’s why they call them criminals.
I do think the debate on gun restrictions is a discussion we need to be having. To just say this is a mental health issue and unrelated to the proliferation of guns is disingenuous. A pastor friend of mine in Indiana shared with me of a terrible tragedy in his church. He says that on any given Sunday there might be a dozen or more people ‘packing heat’ in his pews. (Maybe not the safest environment for a preacher like me who likes to stir it up a bit) One weekend one of his members was putting on his three year old daughter’s shoes when his ‘legally obtained and constitutionally protected’ handgun fell out of his pocket and discharged when it hit the floor. The bullet struck his daughter point blank and killed her instantly. It was one of the toughest funerals he ever had to perform. And I would add… the most unnecessary one. What happens when you arm a society to the teeth? I think we know.
Columbine, Virginia Tech, École Polytechnique, Newtown… the violence needs to stop. Can we really just shrug our shoulders and plead innocence? Here are my thoughts on the matter.
Firstly, the USA is saddled with the unhelpful Second Constitutional Amendment which guarantees citizens the right to bear arms. It may have made sense when it was enacted in 1791 but today the gun lobby believes that it somehow gives them the right to own a ground to air heat seeking missile if they so desire.
Secondly, North America has become drunk on a culture that celebrates gratuitous violence on TV, in movies, video games and almost everywhere you look. Research has shown that people are actually instinctively resistant to killing another human. The evidence shows that the vast majority of combatants throughout history, at the moment of truth when they could and should kill the enemy, have been unwilling to do so, and would often shoot over the enemies head. Sometimes they would actually opt for being killed rather than killing. Today however, we have witnessed so many 1,000’s of virtual killings that we scarcely flinch when we view real wars live via satellite on television. We have all seen images to which only soldiers in combat were once exposed. If virtual violence does not desensitize us, then why would the Military use it as a training tool to desensitize solders to killing?
The third factor is the lack of restrictions on some very deadly weapons. Canada is a lot less violent than the US, at least part by the fact that very few or any of us are ever ‘packing heat’. There are a couple of very important differences between Canada and the US when it comes to gun laws. Any American with a permit can carry a handgun. In Canada a handgun can only be legally transported to and from the firing range. The rest of time it is required to be unloaded, the trigger disabled and locked away in a proper gun case. Another significant difference is the availability of assault rifles. (A partial ban was in place in the US for many of these weapons from 1994-2004, but has since expired) The National Rifle Association (NRA) will point out how many of these so called ‘assault weapons’ are exactly the same as hunting rifles, they just look more menacing. In some cases that is true but in many it is not. Although Adam Lanza had two handguns in his possession, he used an AR 15 to kill most of his victims in Newtown. This weapon is the scary looking semi-automatic version of the M 16 that the US military uses. They are identical in appearance except that with the AR 15 one must pull the trigger for every shot. The M 16 can do machine gun bursts by merely holding down the trigger. It is estimated that 3.5 million AR 15’s are in American hands. A half million were sold in 2009 alone.
In Canada the AR 15 would be a restricted weapon and subject to strict rules of ownership similar to that of a handgun. Consequently few of them exist in Canada. Long guns still serve a purpose. I am not going to tell a hunter or rancher that he is not entitled to own a weapon. These are law abiding folks using them in a responsible manner. Nor am I confident that the Second Amendment will ever be (or should ever be) revoked, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. One place where the US could take a page out of our books is to restrict the magazine size of guns, not the guns themselves. Most high powered rifles in Canada only have 5 shot magazines. The AR 15 holds 30. There is only one hunted species that would ever require a 30 shot magazine… human beings. If Adam Lanza was only able to get get off 5 shots, he would have been wrestled to the ground as he attempted to reload. I realize that innocent children would still have been lost, but far, far fewer.
Here is the most tragic part of the story. After the Newtown shooting… sales of the A 15 skyrocketed as Americans flocked to the gun stores looking for something with which to protect themselves. Maybe Piers Morgan was right, we really are unbelievably stupid! Lord help us.