Who in their right minds can disagree with ban on military-style weapons?
I watched live on January 16 as U.S. President Barack Obama addressed Americans and outlined – in a powerful, even-keeled and well-reasoned speech - what’s considered to be the most sweeping and audacious effort to curb gun violence in decades. Judging by his tone, one could easily tell that he’s preparing himself for one hell of a battle against special-interest lobbyists and NRA members that consider any legislation aimed at curbing or regulating gun access as an infringement on their constitutional rights.
As a Canadian looking in, I am completely mystified by this pervasive and all-encompassing gun culture the U.S. seems steeped in that seems to – at times -override common sense.
Because, make no mistake, Obama’s proposals are what we Quebecers call 'du gros bon sens.' Things that, for the most part, should not even be up for debate, yet somehow continue to be. His 23 Executive Actions on gun violence would require (in a nutshell) background checks for all gun sales (a poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS News said that nine out of 10 gun owners support this), ban military-style weapons and other high-capacity ammunition clips, ensure dangerous information is available to the background check system, make schools safer and increase access to mental health services.
Obama referred to these proposals as “common-sense measures supported by the majority of Americans” and I have to ask: how could a law-abiding citizen possibly take offence to any of these? This isn’t a full-out assault on people’s civil liberties, as many pundits will have you believe! These are basic prudent measures. Yet the debate continues to rage on in a country that has somehow fooled itself into believing that the right to bear arms is indisputable and should never be questioned.
The most common argument I’ve heard from my American friends each time the subject is broached is 'None of these proposals will do much to keep unregistered or stolen firearms out of the hands of people who want to do something terrible'” I don’t get that logic. Aren’t law-abiding Americans sick and tired of hearing about all the reasons why additional legislation won't work, instead of all the ways it possibly could? Isn’t it time they tried to do something?”
John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007, wrote a powerful opinion piece for The New York Times, in which he explains how his 1996 gun control reforms managed to considerably decrease the gun-related homicide rate, as well as the suicide rate.
Aren’t law-abiding Americans sick and tired of hearing about all the reasons why additional legislation won't work, instead of all the ways it possibly could?
“The fundamental problem was the ready availability of high-powered weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into mass killing,” he wrote. “Certainly, shortcomings in treating mental illness and the harmful influence of violent video games and movies may have played a role. But nothing trumps easy access to a gun. It is easier to kill 10 people with a gun than with a knife.”
The NRA can argue all it wants about the possible outcome of the proposed measures, but facts – unlike fears and prejudices – cannot be so easily manipulated. There has not been a single massacre in Australia since 1996.
Gun-toting Americans need to stop seeing this as an infringement on their basic rights. This isn’t about gun control. This is about limiting criminals’ access to guns, and limiting mentally ill people with criminal intents’ access to guns.
I don’t pretend to understand what it feels like to want to own a gun, to want to carry a gun, to want to use a gun. It’s a completely foreign concept to me, and I suspect for most Canadians reading this, as well. But I’m not sitting here, looking to criticize from a position of supposed moral superiority. Perhaps if I had been raised in a country that was born from bearing arms, I’d feel differently. I don’t know.
All I know is that Americans need to take a good hard look at themselves right now, and truly question whether their current gun policies are serving them. If they take an unblinking and honest look at the statistics, at the daily shootings, at the recent (and repeated) massacres that have shaken them to their collective core and sent way too many innocents to their deaths, I think they’d have to agree that a change is needed. That, at the very least, an attempt at change is needed.