Despite repeated tragedies, Americans cling to their guns

By Brad Franklin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 1, 2012
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I have been fortunate enough to travel to more than a dozen countries in what might be considered the modern, civilized world. I've been to several countries in Europe, the Caribbean and Asia. I live in Canada and, as is the case with most Canadians, I have made more trips to the United States than I can keep track of. With one exception, no modern country of which I am aware allows its citizens to walk around carrying guns. The exception is, of course, the United States.

Many Americans seem to be obsessed with their guns.

Many Americans seem to be obsessed with their guns. Following the recent wounding and massacre of patrons at a theatre in Colorado by a gun-toting young man, two very interesting things happened. First, in the days immediately following the shooting, while the news media and many citizens were wringing their collective hands about the tragedy of it all and expressing their opinions about what should happen to the shooter, sales of guns in Colorado reportedly went up by about 25 percent. One can only speculate on how many guns were already in the hands of the theatre audience when the gunman walked in and began mowing down theatregoers, but regardless, when he began shooting no one in the audience fired back. I expect they were too busy diving for the floor. In spite of this, the reaction seems to have been that more and more people have decided that the way to be safe is to pack a gun. I don't think I want to go to a theatre the next time I'm in the U.S. If any shooting started, it might be impossible to tell from which directions the bullets were coming.

The second thing that caught my attention was that the mayor of arguably the most recognized city in the country, Michael Bloomberg of New York, wasted no time going on radio and television to urge each of the two current presidential candidates to clearly state his position on the issue of guns in the hands of the public. For almost a week nothing happened. Finally, President Barack Obama said he would like to see more restrictions on guns, although he didn't say exactly what restrictions he would favor. He did say that he thinks an AK-47, the assault rifle used in the Colorado shooting, belongs in the hands of soldiers or police officers rather than in the hands of criminals. He announced no steps to bring this about, however.

His opponent, Mitt Romney, said he understood that the Colorado shooter had obtained his guns illegally and went on to say he doesn't support any changes to gun laws as they currently exist in the U.S. By all reports, Mr. Romney was incorrect. Records indicated that the shooter's guns were all purchased quite legally according to Colorado law. That said, he has not yet corrected himself or said anything else about the gun laws. Both presidential hopefuls are hiding out on this issue because it's a no-win situation.

The right of American citizens to carry guns is actually protected in their constitution under something known as the Second Amendment. The specific laws governing the conditions people must obey in buying and carrying guns vary from state to state. In some jurisdictions there is a one-week waiting period while the seller can check to see if the would-be gun buyer has a criminal record. In others, including Colorado, there is no wait. Some states allow people to carry guns openly and others allow concealed weapons but all Americans, under federal law, have the right to bear arms and many do. If you ask them why the answer is always the same, "I carry a gun to protect myself." This is usually accompanied by the statement to the effect that "if we couldn't have guns legally only the bad guys would have them." It doesn't seem to have occurred to any of them that the bad guys don't often shoot unarmed people and that perhaps they are in far more danger by actually having and brandishing a gun. If the bad guy wants my wallet and he has a gun I'm going to give him the wallet. If I have a gun and try to use it he's likely to shoot me and even if I can shoot him first, what does that make me?

While it is true that the U.S. has significantly higher murder rates than many other countries, I don't feel it is a particularly dangerous place to visit. I have been told by teachers in Japan that many Japanese parents send their boys to America to study business but they send their daughters to Canada because it's safer. Statistically, I know I'm in greater danger of getting shot in the U.S. than I am in Canada but I still don't regard it with enough angst that I don't go there or worry excessively when I do visit. It is also true, however, that if you are driving in the U.S. you should do everything you can to avoid a road-rage situation because the guy in the next car could, and quite possibly does, have a gun under the seat.

Mayor Bloomberg should be commended for trying to raise U.S. gun laws as an issue in the presidential election. Sooner or later the country must come to its collective senses and give up the notion that swaggering around in public with a gun is somehow either smart or enhancing safety. Sadly, Americans have a love-affair with their guns and neither of the presidential candidates is going to take the issue on in any serious way during the election. For reasons I admit I don't understand, to tell the American people they can't have their guns would probably be political suicide.

Brad Franklin is a former political reporter, newscaster and federal government employee in Canada. He is a regular columnist for China's English Salon magazine and lives on Vancouver Island. For more information about Brad and his work, please visit:

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