It’s the Family Day long weekend in Ontario and I am enjoying time with my wife, daughters and our friends thinking about those families which have been ripped asunder in the Sunshine State this week.
As a non-American father of two American girls I was once again left speechless by yet another mass shooting in the United States. Speechless not just by my anger at the event, that sense of a meaningless deep sadness and horror, but also by the event’s increasing commonality, and the banality of the political reaction to it. The predictable platitudes told through the venal lips of the US gun lobby disguised as politicians in Congress.
The fact we have Wayne LaPierre, the director of the NRA sharing his disgust at the “elites”: Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein, who, it is alleged, are trying to take away the “god given” constitutional right to bear arms. This, of course, is coming from a “non-elite” old white guy who makes close to a million dollars a year from the NRA to propagate this bullshit. God given constitutional right? Last time I looked the founding fathers did an awful lot to make sure “god” was nowhere near that particular document or the institutions it supports.
When I was growing up we never went on vacation abroad, my parents preferring the damp and mildewed splendours of Wales, Devon or Cornwall to the straw donkey and plastic fan wielding crowds of the Costa Blanca. The first foreign country I ever visited with them was Switzerland. My sister had fallen in love with a Swiss guy and we spent a week with him and his family including a beautiful engagement party. Amongst the wonders of Switzerland: Mountains! Fondue! Chocolate! Was the unexpected abundance of heavy weaponry that most households had. My (soon to be) brother-in-law patiently explained that every man (and quite a few women) were in the army for a few weeks a year and were expected to keep both semi-automatic rifles and ammunition at home. That the small professional Swiss army was supplemented by this semi-professional militia. The type of militia which was the intention James Madison’s second amendment. The part of the US Bill of Rights that gets LaPierre and his cohorts so lathered up.
There was gun violence in Switzerland, nothing like the US, but still, more than other European countries. Most were (male) suicides. It took a mass shooting in the Zug legislature in 2001 for the ever-democratic Swiss to act. They didn’t ban guns. They didn’t disband the militia. They didn’t even take the guns from the homes.
They stored it in the central arsenal that each town and village had.
One of the more bizarre conversations I have had was over the course of the hour and a half drive from Nashville to Chattanooga in Tennessee in the Fall of 2008. I was the only passenger in the airport shuttle bus, and , given that the US was about to elect its first African American President, the driver, a retired veteran and erudite old white guy, unleashed his concern about the Country’s prospects. He was terrified of two certainties: One, that Liberals would take away all guns and, two, when they weren’t surrendered, they (The Liberals) would set up interment or re-education camps. However much I tried to assuage his fears he wasn’t buying.
That is the black and white nature of this argument. The fear that all guns will be taken, not just the semi-automatic assault rifles. The idea that reserving such heavy weaponry for the professional US army is somehow un-American. That pointing out that an assault rifle is not needed for self-protection is somehow heretical. That suggesting increased regulation is not an attack on the US Constitution.
The second amendment has been reduced to the right to bear (insanely heavy) arms alone, rather than being seen in the context of the need for a fledgling 18th Century nation to be able to defend itself against England, the most aggressive and well-armed nation of the time. A militia that, given the eye-watering amounts that the country spends on the military, the US certainly no longer requires.
That said, I don’t want to repeal the Second Amendment. I am not in favour of making guns illegal.
I am in favour of banning certain types of gun and ammunition. I am in favour of closing loopholes and increasing background checks. I am in favour of education for gun owners.
And I am in favour of comprehensive research into why so many (mostly) young and (mostly) white men are feeling so murderous, and what can be done to prevent their murderous rage in the future.