No sacred cows, no silver bullets

It’s probably inappropriate for me to comment about what happened in Newtown, Connecticut last week on Pivot’s blog, but I’m going to. I’m going to because I can’t stop thinking about those 20 little souls so violently robbed of their lives. I can’t stop thinking about the brave teachers and staff who tried to stop a man out of his mind, out of control or both, and paid with their lives. And I can’t stop thinking about the parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and friends who will forever suffer from a collective, festering wound inflicted upon them by the son of a “gun enthusiast.” So it’s going to get personal. I’m going to talk about politics and rights. If you mind, I suggest you click here to learn more about unicorns and rainbows.

I understand all too well that Americans have the right to bear arms. My Canadian parents live in America and go to Home Depots and local diners and community centres where other Americans carry concealed weapons every day. In Ohio, you can carry a concealed weapon in a bar as long as you don’t drink (and we all know people go to bars to NOT drink). Four other states are on the verge of passing laws that will allow citizens to carry concealed weapons to work and Michigan recently passed a law that allows concealed carry in schools. In schools for humanity’s sake.

I’ve scratched my head for years trying to understand this obsession with guns. I recently finished Alan Taylor’s brilliant The Civil War of 1812 which sheds some light on where it comes from. Since their very beginnings, Americans have known they’ve got something good going on. And since their very beginnings, they’ve been concerned that someone (the British, the government, liberals, criminals) wants to take it from them. So they arm themselves to protect what’s theirs. Fine, but where in the American constitution does it say they have the right to carry a Bushmaster .223 assault rifle? Layer onto this powerful states in a weak federation and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. It’s hard enough trying to convince the federal government with its 435 congressmen, 100 senators and 1 president that it’s time to amend the 2nd amendment, with the powerful gun lobby breathing down their necks. Try, in addition, convincing 50 states to loosen their death grip on their precious guns too.

In America, individual rights trump collective rights when it comes to guns. So Nancy Lanza, gun enthusiast, gets to own a bunch of assault rifles and 28 people, including Nancy Lanza, get to die because of her right to own those guns. Apparently, Mrs. Lanza introduced guns and shooting to her shy son to teach him respect and discipline. It appears she taught him how to be a crack shot too. Was Mrs. Lanza kidding herself? Probably. Could she even fathom the possibility that her son might one day turn those legally obtained weapons on her and a bunch of 6 and 7 year old children? Probably not. But the fact that Nancy Lanza had the right to possess such deadly weapons in the first place is where the conversation needs to begin. I’m certain many law abiding Americans who own guns never anticipate using those weapons in a fit of rage or having those weapons turned on them, but these things happen – in the United States, 62 times since 1982.

I know the solution to this problem isn’t as simple as gun control. If that were the case, we’d have no issues in Canada, and we do. I was in my first year of university when 14 women were killed at Ecole Polytechnique, and we had gun control at the time. But praying and hugging our children isn’t the answer either. Like with every other complex problem, the solution can only come when we agree that everything is up for discussion, from gun control to mental health funding, from shunning violence in our media to potentially changing the very core of who we are and what we stand for.

In the last presidential debate, President Obama reminded Mitt Romney that the way Americans wage war has changed since World War I. The revolutionary thinking that has transformed America from a country with bayonets to a country with drones is the same kind of revolutionary thinking required to resolve the mass murder problem in the United States. There can be no sacred cows if America is to put this awful trend behind it for good. It’s time to change. People and organizations do it all the time. It’s hard for them too, but it’s also how they stay relevant and how they stay alive. The Catholic church did it (they might need to do it again…); America can do it too. It must.