Guns and change
Here we go again. It is likely that the worry over rising gun violence in Toronto will bring new restrictions down on responsible gun owners who keep firearms for hunting and shooting sports.
Parliament this fall likely will pass Bill C-71 that will expand background checks for firearms purchases, which is not a bad thing in itself. However, Toronto’s Summer of the Gun mayhem is producing calls for that bill to be toughened to make it harder for anyone to own a gun.
Some people are calling for a total ban on all firearms in Toronto. Toronto police have added support for that by saying that many (not a couple or a few or some) Canadians are getting gun licences just to sell their legally-purchased firearms to criminals. No one should fall for that pile of hyperbole without the police producing rock solid evidence that it is really happening.
All this talk is being laid on legislators and my fear is that it will result in unfair restrictions on responsible gun owners. Gun controls are needed in today’s societies, but they need to be developed with balanced and fair thinking based on evidence and not driven by pure emotions. Guns are important criminal trade products smuggled mainly from the U.S.
Aside from gun controls what is needed is a penetrating look at what is making our society so violent. Why do people shoot other people, or mow them down with cars? Why is there so much domestic violence? Why has bullying become so prominent, particularly among children?
That penetrating look should include what is on our screens; our TVs, desk computers, tablets and smartphones. North American screen entertainment is shockingly violent and commonplace. You cannot turn on a TV without characters firing an automatic weapon, blowing something up or shouting at each other.
People I know are turning to British film drama, in which characters use cerebral weapons more often than guns.
We also need to start looking at violence – gun violence in particular – as a public health issue. Looking at gun violence the same way we look at a disease would promote much more and better research into the problem. Good research leads to understanding and understanding helps us to learn how to solve problems.
The rise of “strongman governments” also is helping to turn our societies more violent. These are the leaders who talk tough, lie and manipulate and who would rather throw a punch than negotiate.
We see them throughout the world now: Viktor Orban in Hungary, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Vladimir Putin in Russia and Donald Trump in the United States. These and others are changing the way we think and act, turning our societies more aggressive, and abusive.
The world’s voters, worried by terrorism, urban crime, uncertain economic times and cultural changes are turning more to tough guys who promise to kick butt and protect us from all the forces against us.
So it is “we the voters” who have brought ourselves to this point, and it is “we the voters” who can turn it around. Two suggestions on how we can create change:
One, mentioned in this space before, is elect more women leaders. I have concluded, somewhat late in life, that many women are smarter and more reliable than men. Women leaders generally are more compassionate, inclusive, and negotiate deals that are fair to all parties.
Second, start local, individual revolutions. Many of us view our provincial and federal power centres as dysfunctional, or least not functioning as well as they might. We should concentrate our power to effect change right here at home – at the local level.
David Brooks, a New York writer and TV commentator, recently wrote a paragraph brilliantly describing the power of localism.
He wrote that the federal policymaker asks, “What can we do about homelessness?” The local person asks Fred or Mary what they need to have a home. The difference is a personal, rather than abstract, approach.
Local approaches to power can bring change. But individual efforts are required. Simply put, we all need to become participants in creating change instead of simply being observers.