Horrifying and heartbreaking. Those were my immediate thoughts after the first news reports about yet another mass shooting in America, this time at a school in Parkland, Florida. A 19 year-old equipped with an assault rifle, smoke bombs, and a gas mask marched into his former school, and when he was done 17 innocent lives had been taken, and a community had been traumatized.
As with previous mass shootings, once the horror and heartbreak had settled in the debate – or perhaps lack thereof – about what could possibly have caused such a tragedy began. As we've come to expect, many American politicians on the right side of the political spectrum suggested that it is too soon to have a political debate about gun control – the victims must be respected, you know – while politicians on the left demanded action. We've seen this very same debate before, and we all know how it ends – with nothing being done, and gun sales will spike once again.
I don't know how they do it. I don't know how Americans wake up each and every morning knowing that gun violence is just around the corner, and could be visited upon them when they least expect it. I don't know how parents send their kids off to school knowing that in just 46 days of this new year there have already been 18 school shootings, an average of three per week. I don't know how Americans accept the fact that some 11,000 of their fellow Americans are killed by firearms each and every year. I don't know how Americans can be comfortable with the fact that less than two months into the year there have already been more than 30 mass shootings in their country.
It is particularly mind-boggling when you consider that American citizens want change. According to information contained in a host of news articles in recent years, more than 90 percent of Americans are in favour of universal background checks, but the politicians won't budge. A majority of Americans would like to see a ban on assault rifles like the ones used in most of the mass shooting events, but the politicians won't budge. Why? Money. The National Rifle Association is a heavy donor to senators and congressmen in both parties, and they've got a revolting amount of pull in Washington. As a result, whether Americans want to see change, whether or not they want universal background checks or other types of gun control legislation, it doesn't really matter.
While we're not immune from similar horrific events here in Canada, by comparison we experience far fewer mass shootings and other gun deaths here than do our friends south of the border, and the only reason I can see is that we have fewer guns. Some American politicians like to suggest that mental illness is the cause of all these horrific events, but there are mentally ill people everywhere, and other countries simply don't see the frequency and magnitude of mass shooting events that they do in America.
In Canada there are 31 guns per 100 people – by world standards that's actually a fair amount of guns. In America however, there are 101 guns per 100 people – more guns than people: gee, I wonder why there's a problem?
A Maclean's article published in October of last year after the Las Vegas mass shooting reported that between between 2009 and 2013, the United States had 56,000 gun homicides, while Canada had 977.
Overall, more than 1,800 people have died from gun-related violence in America so far this year and more than 3,100 others were injured. Of the 30 deadliest shootings in the U.S. dating back to 1949, 19 have occurred in the last ten years. That's pretty scary.
Culturally we're not all that different from America – we share many customs, we listen to the same music, we watch the same movies, and we play the same video games as Americans do, but we have far, far fewer guns, and while it might seem simple enough to connect the dots, the entire issue is much more fuzzy south of the border, where a misguided interpretation of their second amendment has many Americans convinced that it is their right to possess, carry, and use guns, and don't you dare suggest any legislation that would hamper that perceived right.
I'm thankful, and I think many Canadians are thankful that we don't have an immediate fear about sending our kids to school, and we have relative confidence that the outing to the movies or the trip to the mall will be void of flying bullets and innocent lives taken. We can't however become smug and complacent, as gun violence has actually been on the rise in Canada, and there are always pressures to chip away at our gun control laws. We simply can't let that happen. We shouldn't even allow the very beginnings of any change that could be the first step on a slippery slope.
As with any neighbouring countries we can always learn from the experiences of the other, and if there's anything we want to learn from America it's that the more guns you have, the more deaths you will have, plain and simple. All of the data, all of the studies back that up, so let's ensure we stay vigilant in protecting our laws and keeping our communities as safe as we can.