Editorial Comment

Gun Culture


I admire Americans. They are a generous, hard-working and fair-minded people who, as a nation, exhibit creativity, ambition and perseverance. In so many ways they appear very like Canadians; normal, decent folks you’d like to invite to dinner… at least until the subject of guns arises. At that moment, all logic and reason appears to abandon our American cousins. Their love of weaponry forces them to adopt positions that are so utterly devoid of sense that no sound argument can possible penetrate their delusion.
It is chilling for Canadians to watch our friends to the south deal with the emotional fallout from whatever is their most recent gun-nut rampage; it’s getting hard to keep up with each tragedy, seemingly. It makes our jaws drop when so many believe the answer to reducing gun deaths, in that nation, is to have more guns. When you point out to a pro-gun person that this nation of 300 million people routinely kills 10,000 or so of its fellows with guns annually, compared to Canada which averages around 100 a year, with one tenth the population of the US, the response is a shrug. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” they say, as if guns have nothing at all to do with the problem. When you ask what is wrong with their people, then, that they are 10 times more likely to use a gun to solve a problem than a Canadian, there are few answers.  
The National Rifle Association had an answer, of course. They suggested there be volunteer armed guards for all schools. They didn’t say how these guards would be vetted or made to show up or how many billions it would cost to administrate during a time of education cutbacks. They didn’t mention there actually were armed guards at Columbine, the fact of which did not scare away the attacker. The idea was so ridiculously impractical and economically unviable as to be laughable, even for pro-gun adherents. Despite that reality, a majority of the frightened people of the US, who are now afraid to send their kids to school or to a movie-house because of fear of gun-play, in recent polling, still approve of it. It boggles the mind.
The NRA and its proponents are correct, of course, in that guns don’t kill people without a person squeezing the trigger. They ignore the fact that having loaded guns around as part of what is considered “normal”, makes the use of it to solve a dispute in the heat of the moment, far more likely. This is, after all a society geared to instant gratification.
The problem isn’t simply the plentiful nature of guns in the US, but their pervasive gun culture. Owning guns and having a propensity to use them are very different. Norway has a higher gun-ownership average than the US, yet their per capita death by guns is lower than Canada’s. Our country, too, has a fairly high rate of gun ownership. In the Yukon, for example, 87% of the adult population, own a firearm. Still, we use them largely for their intended purpose; hunting and self-protection in the wild. We don’t use our guns so much as self-protection from each other. That’s what we have armed police for.
And that is the major difference between us. It is shocking and saddening, to learn Americans don’t just arm themselves for protection from other Americans, but as protection from their own government. This is not a trusting people.  They value independence more than anything. Unfortunately, it is impossible to have a nation of 300 million islands. It is unworkable to strive for a country of “Freemen”, when the values required for nation-building are teamwork, cooperation and working for the common good. 
Unfortunately, however, the man who works with others to solve problems isn’t very sexy and makes for boring movies and TV. Americans love their “lone wolf”, their “one man against all odds”. They revere the maverick, the outlaw, even the vigilante. Unfortunately, these concepts are outdated in the 21st century where huge populations must live together. The frontier these people are fighting no longer exists.
It is that independent spirit, even in the face of logic and economic realities, which give the US its confounding, misguided approach to health care. They so value independence, they do not wish to contribute to another person’s hospitalizations, doctor visits and the like. Even though the system they have produced is 50% more expensive, per capita, than its closest competitor in the field, Norway, they still can’t manage to cover everybody as they do in every other G20 nation.
So why should we care, up here in central Alberta, far from the gun mania that has gripped our neighbors to the south? The answer is, we must all be aware that, because we are bathed in their media, we often think their problems are ours. We watch the news and feel the pain rooted out by prying media and start to feel fear when there is no threat. 
Maybe that’s how it all starts. The fear is ignited and then people feel they need to arm themselves to protect from the media-generated fear. We’ve already had incidents in area schools of students being caught making threats against their classmates. Will other kids arm themselves out of fear of these “copycats”? What happens when they have a bad day? So a vicious cycle begins. 
It is therefore incumbent on all of us not to let fear seep into our culture. Let’s remember that violence is in the news because it is not the norm. We cannot allow our society to be governed by fear when it is far more peaceful than the all-news channels may lead you to believe.

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