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Monday, October 14, 2019
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We’re not immune to gun violence, but have saner debates


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Steve Kannon
Steve Kannonhttps://www.observerxtra.com
A community newspaper journalist for more than two decades, Steve Kannon is the editor of the Observer.

Not unexpectedly, amid all the anguish that followed the latest in a seemingly endless string of mass shootings in the U.S. – this time 22 dead in El Paso, Texas and nine in Dayton, Ohio – there’s yet another round in the seemingly endless gun-control debate.

There’s a renewed call for tougher controls, as is always the case, but advocates will have difficulty making headway on something as simple as background checks, let alone something along the lines of banning assault rifles.

Gun-control advocates on this side of the border will have an easier time adding restrictions to what are much, much tighter regulations in this country following a long weekend orgy of gun violence in Toronto that saw 17 people shot during 14 different incidents. Shootings in the city are up two-and-half times since 2014.

Canada has tighter controls, part of the reason the number of firearms in the country is 34.7 per 100 residents, which seems high but pales in comparison where the corresponding figure is 120.5 weapons.

There are some 390 million guns owned by civilians in the U.S., and about 40 per cent of Americans own a gun or live in a household with one. Not coincidentally, the U.S. has the highest rate of murder or manslaughter by firearm in the developed world – that translated to 11,000 deaths in 2017 alone.

The latest mass murders come with racial overtones and links to inflammatory racist remarks by President Donald Trump, making the latest round of debates even more political. In that light, those in favour of gun control, including Democratic politicians, are making a big push for changes. Opponents, including apologists for Trump, are playing up the “too soon for debate” and “don’t politicize tragedy” arguments to shoot down calls for changes, stalling tactics that get rolled out each and every time, the better to avoid increasing public safety. That’s true even when the mass killings involved school kids, as in Parkland or Sandy Hook, for instance.

Guns-are-good arguments are commonplace in the U.S., where Second Amendment – the right to keep and bear arms – issues abound. In Canada, the notion seems ridiculous: having more guns at hand increases the risk. It would be far more likely for someone to see red, snap and use a readily available gun than it would be for someone to be faced with a murderer on a shooting spree.

We operate under a different mindset than do those in the States, where politicians must be pro-gun, or at least not come out in favour of gun control. That kind of thinking would not fly here: even the gun registry debate was more about waste and graft than about the guns themselves.

Health care, on the other hand, is tightly woven into our national identity. Politicians of all stripes here vie to be health-care saviours, each pledging to do more than the other.

It’s a different story in the U.S., where the health-care-for-all mentality we treasure here is eyed with suspicion by many. Opponents – typically those with much to gain from the status quo – have succeeded in painting universal health care as a tax-and-spend fantasy of the liberals (a word with a much different meaning than we use here). They have successfully linked any such program to the dreaded socialist boogeyman, threatening increased costs and a lack of choice.

It’s far easier to get a gun than it is for many to get medical care. The irony that criminal use of guns leads to extra demand for treatment is not lost on critics here. And that, more than anything else, illustrates the divide between our countries – no matter how much we support our American cousins, most of us want to keep those differences in place, believing they make us a better place to live.


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