On two previous occasions, I have used the Americas Quarterly blog as a space to talk about gun violence. The incidents in Aurora (July 2012) provoked one, and another surfaced when remembering the events of Montreal’s Polytechnique Engineering School in 1989 where 14 women were gunned down. We can also recall Virginia Tech, Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Dawson College as further evidence that gun violence is still very prevalent. All this violence has occurred on school campuses involving assailants with serious mental problems.
Now we have the sad and scary events in Santa Barbara. As the parent of one of the victims said last Saturday: when will it stop?
This past weekend we were exposed to the YouTube video of the alleged killer in Santa Barbara where six people died and 13 were injured. The footage was chilling to watch and was replayed continuously over various newscasts. The killing rummage was quick and sudden and it surfaced that the assailant purchased his weapon and armaments legally.
It would be easy to say this is an American problem and that we in Canada can only shake our heads in disbelief, especially given that these killing sprees are more frequent in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. However, violence does not stop at the border as we have seen all too often.
On a university campus in Montréal on December 6, 1989, a lone gunman deliberately targeted innocent victims, killing 14 young women and injuring another 14 before turning the weapon on himself. The horror of this tragedy led the Canadian government to institute a gun registry law in 1993, which became a source of controversy for many gun owners regarding the mandated registration of unrestricted guns and the larger bureaucracy to regulate it. The law was eventually modified by Canada’s ruling Conservatives in April 2012—abolishing the firearms registry that was established after the Montréal tragedy. The two Canadian opposition parties in Parliament—the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals—opposed the Conservative initiative.
Since 1989, other tragedies have occurred in both Canada and the United States. Every time such an incident occurs, the initial instinct is to raise the issue of access to firearms and the proliferation of gun-related violence. Gun violence has no boundaries; while Canada has greater restrictions in terms of access, the fact remains that gun violence is still high in North America and the conversation must take place beyond the initial shock of the crime.
The U.S. Constitution provides an explicit right to bear arms. In itself, this has resulted in the reluctance by the political leadership to deal with the issue of gun violence and bring the conversation to a national level. To his credit, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has attempted to start a national conversation on the matter. Following the recent murder-suicide of an American football player, sportscaster Bob Costas tried to follow Bloomberg’s efforts—a comment that resulted in swift condemnation from the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) and its like-minded allies in the media—which put an end to the national conversation.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.