Sunday, December 16, 2012

Not an anti-gun rant, not quite

It's more. Much more. Hold onto your hats.

I'm still processing it. I can't even say the latest shooting because there have been a whole bunch more since. These are on the retail level, so they don't make the news. But the world is still being rocked by the latest school shooting. News is still coming out about it.

The second saddest thing is that we will never know what those children would have become. What the adults might have accomplished in their work with children.

The saddest thing is that it could be much more difficult to make things like this happen. If it was once or twice, it would be a tragedy. But it happens every few months with a monotonous regularity. Another set of people get their lives ripped apart. Only the details vary.

We have said, and continue to say that a culture that promoted human slavery was wrong and evil.
We have said, and continue to say that a culture that actively tries to kill an entire people is evil.
We have said, and continue to say that a culture that judges people on the colour of their skin is wrong and needs to change.
We have begun to say that a culture culture that represses human rights, and treats women as property is wrong, and needs to change.

It doesn't matter what else those cultures offer, in that one regard at least they are poisonous. They need to change, or be changed. Cultures that practice barbarities like genital mutilation, medieval religious indoctrination, and the like are not really part of the civilized world and shouldn't be treated as such.

Firearms are a tool to kill people. It's a happy accident that they are good at killing animals too. But humans had been killing animals quite adequately for millennia. Killing more humans faster was what drove the technology.

Every other product sold has safety features. Even firearms have rudimentary ones in the sense of a basic on off switch. We recently installed a gas stove and oven. Here's an appliance that is designed to mix natural gas with air, not just in a combustible range, but in a way that promotes the most efficient burn possible. Working in the natural gas industry I do not need to imagine the hazards involved, I've seen the photos.

And yet, just about the very first thing the manual warns about is the tipping hazard. Yes, there is a special bracket that is supposed to be installed to prevent the stove from being tipped over. Here's a photo of that manual page, it's the first real page after the table of contents.

Here is a photo of the stove itself. With the lived in house in the background.

I've had to haul it out of there. It's pretty heavy. I could turn it over, but I'd have to work on it. I'm not sure how much force would have to be applied to an open door. Just think of all the risks involved with burning gas in an open flame, and they first warn us of tipping it over.

Think about power tools. They are festooned with safety devices, and rightly so. It's trivially easy to maim yourself with many of them even with the features. Most cars now come with airbags, even though they are hazardous to some drivers. There are a great many rules, regulations, and laws associated with cars. How we buy them, where and how to register and insure them, how to drive them safely on the road surrounded by other cars (and a great many people need a refresher on this, if they ever learned in the first place), how to maintain them and to what standard, how they can be disposed of, and probably a lot more that I can't think of at the moment.

Computer manufacturers warn of of the hazards of a poor ergonomic set up. Laundromats warn clients of the hazards to children from the plastic bags. Toys often come with a list of potential hazards, and suggested age ranges. Public transit automated voices remind us to "beware of the gap" and to remember our belongings. Train crossings have loud warning bells, safety arms, and flashing lights yet every year many people walk or drive into the train. I often wonder what would happen if we took the signals away?

The box of plastic wrap has a warning that the cutting edge is sharp. The stereo has a prominent label "no user serviceable parts inside". The iron and kettle will shut themselves off if left unattended for too long. Paint and various adhesives warn users of potential toxic or flammable fumes. Manufacturers of a great many products are required by law to produce and make easily available a WHMIS data sheet outlining the protective equipment required, the toxicological issues, and first aid requirements.

I could go on. We build safety devices into almost everything we build. We train people how to use equipment safely. There are standards to follow. Red means stop. Keep right. Do not attempt to defeat the interlock mechanism. Use in a well ventilated area. Hard hats and safety boots must be worn on this site.

Our lives are full of such warnings. Few people argue that safety requirements are a violation of their rights. Oh, sure, there are a few nutters that think that being required to wear a seatbelt or a helmet is a violation of their personal rights. They also think that speed limits are for everyone else because they don't know how to drive. Fortunately, in the grand scheme of things, there are not too many of them.

But now we come to the USA, and the national penchant for murdering each other with cars and guns. One guy fails to light his shoes on fire, and millions of people have to take their shoes off in the airports, and let TSA goons sexually assault them. One attack on the World Trade Centre where 2800 people died horribly was enough to start two futile wars where many thousands have been killed and maimed.

Every few months, American shooting deaths add up to a World Trade Centre. Nothing gets done. Innocent people in schools, malls, workplaces and movie theaters are regularly shot as some raging loner takes it out on them with a gun or several guns, and potentially hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Children. Teens. Adults of every age and from every walk of life.

If it was Islamic terrorists setting off bombs, or conducting these shootings, there would be a major response. I'm pretty sure the USA would start another war, as long as it wasn't a country supplying oil, or lending America money.

But these are home grown nut cases, supported by people that fervently believe that even discussing gun control is a loss of their freedom. They can prevent people from bringing toy squirt guns to a political rally, but restricting a real gun is an infringement on their rights. It is trivially easy to get guns in the USA, much easier and cheaper than getting medical attention for a health issue.

People have been fed a steady diet of gun usage being the "solution" to a "problem". News. Movies. Books. Video games. Shoot the right person, problem solved. Cut to a commercial. Somehow, a round or two is all that is needed for most of the characters, but the main characters can take round after round and come back for the final act.

The time has come to say that the current American culture is poisonous when it comes to guns and violence. The solution is going to be more than gun control. When there is a gun for every adult American, the solution is not to control the supply of guns. Taxing ammunition isn't a solution either, since many people have the equipment to make their own, and you can bet that industry would go underground quickly. Trying to take guns away by itself is a futile activity.

The only real solution is to tackle the culture that thinks guns are normal. They are a tool of death. They should only be carried by soldiers on active duty, some cops and other enforcement agents, hunters trying to feed themselves, people actually at a shooting range, and criminals. Those first ones are easy to identify, train, and regulate. The remainder are criminals, not heroes. The only reason to carry a gun in a populated area is to commit a crime.

The gun nut fantasist's think that more guns will prevent these shooting rampages. All they'll do is kill more bystanders. But they don't see it that way. They see their right to walk down the streets thinking they are a potential hero as more important than the children getting killed.

If you walk down the street of any town or city in Canada with a handgun poking out of your pants, I doubt you'd get two blocks before you were taken down by cops. Even carrying a perfectly legal long rifle would get the same response. We have strict laws about firearms.

Somehow the USA needs to get there. They need to get away from thinking that guns are a solution, that they're normal to carry around. Ownership of firearms is fine. Use of them in some places is fine. But carrying them around populated areas? Not. My solution is to make laws around the safe transportation of firearms between the home and the place it is to be used.

Firearms not transported properly are to be confiscated and destroyed. Preferably on the spot. Meanwhile the person carrying it is treated like someone who is potentially on their way to conducting a shooting rampage. If they get shot in the excitement because they didn't put the weapon on the ground fast enough, oh well. The average IQ goes up slightly.

The rules should involve a pair of locked cases, one for the weapon, one for the ammunition. I think that firearm owners should be prepared to prove that they actually own their weapons, should they need to. Don't we have to prove we own and insure our motor vehicle if we are stopped by the police? What's the difference? I'm not so sure about the national registry idea, since Canada tried that, badly, at enormous expense. Being able to produce a receipt or some kind of documentation should do it. And yes, there should be regulation around who is allowed to commercially sell firearms, and who they sell to.

One commentator wrote a very perceptive article about dealing with mental illness better, before people get to the shooting state, and that surely is part of the solution. It's one that's tied into the culture that medical care is a for-profit-by-insurance-companies, which also needs to change. It should be much easier to get the help that is needed. Yes it costs money. I'd like to think that most taxpayers would be ok with the idea of paying a bit more in tax, in exchange for a much smaller chance that someone will come and shoot up the school their kid goes to. Then again, the taxes must be lower and everything must be cheaper is part of the problem too.

There is a word that goes with America, and no other country in the world. Exceptionalism. Many Americans think they are an exceptional people, both individually and collectively. They're right, and everyone else is wrong. Dealing with a problem can't affect me. I'd never go shoot up a school, so my gun rights can't be restricted in any way, shape, or form. If my government says so, I'll go kill (insert racially charged epitaph here), because they deserve it. I'll be a hero and serve my country, and maybe I'll get a medal. I'm sure the Taliban guy that shot Malala Yousafzai was thinking exactly that.

The American solution is often to shoot first and talk later, except that corpses aren't terribly talkative. Which in some ways makes it easier to make up the story about it. That's why you hear some people saying that sanctions don't work, go drop some bombs, that'll teach them. America has been all about dropping bombs for more than 100 years, and the result is America has fewer friends in the world than ever before.

Canada and America used to be best friends. In many ways they are almost siblings, closer than just about any other pair of countries. Yet our political leaders pay a price for being seen as too close to the American government. The various Free Trade deals were hard fought things. Odd that both sides thought they were losing. Many Canadians applauded at how Chretien managed to avoid being sucked into the war in Iraq. To accuse a Canadian of being like an American is almost fighting words. One of the most emotionally laden discussions here is about our medical system. One of the harshest, most damning, and most accurate barbs is the accusation that a group wants to bring in "American style" medical care. That is the kiss of death. One Canadian ditty I like goes "We won't say that we're better,  it's just that we're less worse."

America used to be the place everybody wanted to go, and that's still a happening thing, but not as much as it used to be. Too many hassles getting a green card. The Constitution-free zones that airports have turned into. Kidnapping people and sending them off to torture. Killing people by executive order, some of them actual American citizens. The paranoia about foreigners, and that means people from the next state; people from out of country are regarded with actual suspicion, and that's if you have white skin. It's a bad time to be brown in America. But then, it's almost always been a bad time to be brown in America.

In spite of being one of the older democracies, in some ways America as a country needs to grow up. They need to get their head around the idea that government needs to happen, and the discussions need to happen, with give and take on both sides. Your ideas are tainting our government, via Harper, and I wish it would stop. The gun nut culture I've been talking about. The insurance profit driven health care model. That they can go bomb anyone they like to help American corporations line their pockets. They need to realize their economic model of unfettered petroleum based growth is killing the planet. (This is a Canadian problem too.) They've been regressing on the understanding that a society that is more equatable is better than a Gilded Age. They seem to have forgotten that education and science got them to the top of the world heap in the 19th century. Too many political and religious leaders want to get back in the game of controlling women through their ovaries. Too many people think that the world that has been good to them all these years has to go on being good to them, at a bare minimum.

So many things to change. Where to start? Some of my colleagues have had root cause training. I've seen enough to get the general idea, but I'm not formally trained in it. My thoughts above are just the beginnings. The problem is much bigger that a steady supply of nut cases getting their hands on deadly weapons. I don't know what the real root cause is. Perhaps this latest tragedy will kick off the discussion.


  1. Great post Keith. Very informative. I try to stay out of America's business, but you're right - it's becoming ours! I hate Harper and think his Americanized views are going to destroy us (end of side tangent) I think you're right. People always argue that guns don't kill people, people kill people but to be honest - I don't agree. Sure the human is pulling the trigger but when buying/owning a gun is just as easy as buying a pack of cigarettes - WHO else do you blame but the gun?

    I hate the NRA and I think America needs a wake up call! PS: I also dislike how so many people focus on the negatives of situations like what happened in Connecticut. All events like this do is harbour hate when we could be focusing so much more of our positive energy towards these poor families and in other proactive areas - like you here: writing a very educational post!

    PS: you won my giveaway ;)

  2. Glad you liked it. Upon rereading I see things I could have said better, and tightened it up a bit, but it's getting lots of attention.

    PS: Yahoo! I sent you an email.


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