Gun control underlines neighbourly differences

  • January 23, 2013

About a decade ago, I was in Scotland and one person after another whom I met kept referring to me as an American, presumably because of my accent.

After a couple days of this, I’d had enough and said to one gentleman, “I’m not American. I am Canadian.”

He nodded and said, “Aye, but it be the same thing, laddie.”

“Oh, is that what you think? I guess you’re the same as the English then,” I said.

He tossed out a curse word or two, then smiled and said: “Point taken. I won’t be calling Canadians ‘American’ no more.”

This Scottish memory came back to me while reading about the “gun debate” in the United States in the aftermath of the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Is there any bigger issue that distinguishes a Canadian from an American than gun control? And we’re talking about simple, common-sense gun control of automatic weapons that fire 100 deadly bullets per minute, not hunting rifles.

For the record, I am no American basher and never have been. My dad was born there. I have many wonderful relatives in the United States. I know Canada is a better country because the United States is our best friend.

But, for the life of me, I cannot understand this American obsession with guns — all types of guns — and their right to bear arms based on a 225-year-old constitutional amendment in an era of muskets and threats of invasion from the world’s then most powerful army, Britain. Polls released since Sandy Hook show that at least half the homes in America have guns.

South of our border, there are more gun stores (51,438) than grocery stores (36,569). It gets worse: beyond retail gun stores, there are also 78,379 pawn shops and collectors licensed to sell guns, according to the U. S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

It is legal to carry a concealed weapon all over America, including into bars in some states. When one state, Illinois, tried to ban carrying concealed weapons the courts said it can’t do that. In December, Florida boasted being the first state to issue more than one million concealed weapons licenses.

Incredibly, there is now a conspiracy theory out there that the Sandy Hook massacre was an elaborate hoax by government to push through gun control laws. Sadly, on Jan. 7, a video was posted on YouTube entitled The Sandy Hook Shooting — Fully Exposed that has attracted more than 11 millions views by the time this column was written. Equally sad, other videos touting the “hoax” have received hundreds of thousands of views, too.

The hoax video claims that some of the grieving parents are actors and that one of the “supposed” dead children can be seen on the knee of U.S. President Barack Obama when he visited Newtown after the attack. The girl with the president is, in fact, the sister of one of the dead. Beyond being incredibly tasteless and insensitive, this conspiracy theory underlines the polarity of the gun control debate in the United States. Too many Americans see red when the topic arises.

In Canada, gun control is a hot topic, too. The Harper government scrapping the controversial gun registry last year is a case in point. But the debate here is more civil, less white hot, than south of the border where politicians are so entrenched in their beliefs on either side that it mires all attempts at gun control reform.

For example, in Canada, opposition parties talked about “moving on” after the registry was killed. Indeed, after Harper scrapped the registry, Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau didn’t launch into personal attacks like Obama opponents often attack him on the issue.

“I will work on measures that will ensure the protection of Canadians such as much more severe penalties for anybody who commits a crime with a gun, particularly a long gun, prohibiting people who have a history of spousal violence or people who have joined gangs,” Garneau said, sensibly enough.

When it comes to debating the issue of gun control, we really are different than Americans. It’s a cultural thing; kind of like how our culture produced Terry Fox and theirs Lance Armstrong. But that’s a topic for another day.


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