The End of the World – Part 2

by JDH on December 15, 2012

Last week, somewhat tongue in cheek, I wrote that it was Two Weeks Before the End of the World.

After reading about the horrific events in Newton, Connecticut , I realize that, for 28 people, it was the end of the world, and for countless other family members, friends, and regular people, it was the end of their world as they have known it.

There will be a multitude of words written over the coming weeks and months, trying to make sense of the tragedy, and trying to propose solutions.  My response is simple:

We cannot make sense of this tragedy.  28 people are dead, including 20 children.  All were innocent, having done nothing to provoke this attack.  For the children it was a normal day, in the safest place on earth: a school classroom.  It is a parent’s worst nightmare, sending your children to school in the morning, never to see them alive again.

Sadly, while this appears to be the worst massacre of its kind, it was not the first.  The USA has suffered through Columbine, the Batman Movie killings, and others.

I would like to offer a solution to this problem so that it will never happen again, but I cannot.

Not surprisingly we are hearing cries for greater gun control.  New York Mayor Bloomberg is calling for stricter gun control laws.  Gun control advocates point out, quite correctly, that without a semi-automatic weapon it would be impossible for one man to kill so many in so short a period of time.  They will point to the crazed lunatic in China who, on the same day, entered an elementary school in China and attacked 22 children.  However, he was armed only with a knife, and so while he caused serious injuries, it does not appear that there were any fatalities.  The anti-gun lobby can use this incident to demonstrate that even a crazy man, without a gun, cannot commit gun violence.

On the other side of the argument are advocates of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1791, that allows citizens the right to “keep and bear arms”.  More specifically, it says that:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The right to bear arms is in the constitution to allow Americans to protect themselves, not from each other, but from their government.  If the government has all the guns, they have all the power.  They can enter homes at will, conduct whatever searches they want, and detain whomever they want.  They have all of the power.  Presumably that’s why Congress, 221 years ago, decided that government power needed to be balanced by citizen power.  If the government knows that the citizens are well armed, they will be less likely to take advantage of their citizens.

There is some rational to this line of thinking.  Americans have become, in some respects, a somewhat docile lot.  They are willing to take their shoes off at airports, all because one guy, once, had some explosives in his shoes.  He wasn’t able to do anything with them, but since then millions of travels have to take their shoes off.

The TSA routinely tests your hands for explosives, just in case you were making a bomb before you got on the plane.  Last time we traveled they tested my 75 year old mother-in-laws hands, because I guess grandma, with no criminal record, is likely, after 75 years of perfect behavior, is likely to want to blow up a plane.  The TSA also likes to detain 12 year old girls in wheelchairs, because, you know, they fit the profile of the typical male that blows up planes.

So yes, I see the rationale for wanting to protect yourself from government.

I see it, but I don’t fully understand it, because I’m not an American.  I’m a Canadian, and we don’t have guns.

That’s something of an exaggeration, because every farmer has a rifle, used for shooting vermin and bigger pests.  Hunters have guns, since it’s difficult to bring down a deer with a butter knife. But in the city, I don’t know of anyone who owns a gun.  I don’t.  Never have, because I’ve never had the need for one.

Of course the criminals have guns.  So far in Toronto this year (Canada’s largest city), there have been 52 homicides, of which 32 were shootings; the rest were stabbings (8) and other forms of homicide.  Criminals have guns, but for a city of over 2.5 million, there are not very many gun related crimes, because most of us don’t have guns.

In contrast, in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, a city of 8.2 million people, there were 209 homicides last year, down significantly from the almost 600 in 2003.  That’s more homicides per capita than Toronto, but not significantly more, so while guns are easier to get in the USA, it does not appear, based on this very limited sample size, that gun deaths are significantly higher in New York than in Toronto.

The solution, I suppose, is to have a society where there is no need for guns, so there is no need for gun control.  How do you accomplish that?  I have no idea, but perhaps a strong economy, where everyone is working and productive, is a satisfied society, with less need to go around killing each other.

All I know is this: gun violence has been a problem since guns were invented, and it’s not likely to disappear tomorrow, but hopefully we will keep trying.

The end of this iteration of the Mayan calendar arrives before my next scheduled commentary next Saturday, so if the world doesn’t end, I’ll see you next week, and we’ll hopefully have something more cheery to discuss.

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