Of guns and sleeping elephants

Dear Wendy,

I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on the Newtown killings. You haven’t lived in the U.S. in many years, and I’ve never lived there, but as Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said, “Living next to [America] is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast…one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” As the elephant’s neighbour, it’s hard not to have an opinion on this particular round of thrashing.

Our family has watched this grotesque tragedy unfold, and we’ve been grieving along with our neighbours to the south, but as Canadians, it’s very hard for us not to wonder what in hell is wrong with those who cling desperately to their archaic and ultimately deadly refusal to even consider basic gun control laws.

I know many Americans are in love with their guns. And I get that it can be hard to give up something you’ve long considered your birthright. You and I grew up in a household where guns were an everyday reality, and gun ownership was the norm. Dad and Mum both had rifles, some handed down lovingly from Dad’s father; even Nana owned a gun—a police revolver left from Grandpa’s long-ago days as a member of the British Columbia Provincial Police force.

Dad and Mum kept their guns strictly under lock and key, and we knew we weren’t allowed to touch them; I’m pretty sure that’s one parental edict that all three of us obeyed! I remember Dad speaking dreamily of a gun his father had given him…he treasured it, as his father had received it from his own father in the early 1900s. Dad, Mum, and Grandpa used to go on epic hunting trips, and I remember watching them dress a deer they’d shot—that’d be our red meat for the winter.

And then, a couple of things happened. Dad was out hunting in the forests of Vancouver Island, and felt a bullet zip past his head—another hunter, inexperienced and not a great marksman, had mistaken our father for a deer and nearly killed him.

Dad was a stubborn man, but he could read the writing on the wall: the woods were no longer safe, hunting was no longer fun, and it was time to hang up the rifles. He never hunted again, though the rifle collection continued to grace our basement wall. Now and again he’d take each gun down, clean it, rhapsodize about his memories of tramping through the woods with Mum…and then he’d hang it back up again, lock the gun rack until next time.

Several years after Dad’s near-shooting, some young men broke into our house. They stole a few valuables…including one of Dad’s guns. This time, he was utterly beside himself—not with grief at the loss of a prized possession, but with agony at the thought that the kids who’d stolen it might eventually use it to shoot someone.

That’s when Dad decided: it was time to get rid of the guns. All of them. No matter what they meant to him personally, they had to go. If even one person had been injured or killed by one of his treasured weapons, he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself.

The next day, he loaded the gun collection into the car, drove them over to the police station, and turned them over to the officer on duty. He urged Nana to do the same with her revolver, and after some hemming and hawing, she agreed.

My point here is that our father—a man whose stiff-necked, autocratic, iron-jawed stubbornness would have made so-called tough guys like Charlton Heston or Clint Eastwood cringe in fear—realized that the guns he treasured could have become some criminal’s weapons. They could have killed someone. And that was enough for him—they had to go.

He figured out for himself something that the U.S. gun lobby apparently hasn’t been able to grasp. Those guns were his birthright. And they could have had deadly consequences for someone Dad would likely never have met. To our father, a stranger’s death meant far more than his right to gun ownership. Period, no question.

So when I hear meaningless, utterly false claptrap like, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” rather than, “We should be thinking a bit more carefully about this whole right to bear arms thing,” I can only shake my head. What will it take for our neighbours to finally pull the trigger on their own obsession with guns?

Love,

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