"We're not doing enough," said President Barack Obama at an interfaith vigil last night in Newtown. "And we will have to change."
The Connecticut school shooting has sparked national soul searching about how to stop mass shootings. Here, our Globe and Mail expats – who contributed to our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series – reflect on the Newtown massacre, U.S. gun culture and the debate over gun control.
Meredith Nelson is a former management consultant living in Raleigh, N.C., originally from Ottawa:
A definite pall has been cast over Raleigh. Parents everywhere seem to be keeping their children close. I noticed this in particular at the grocery store today [Sunday].
Sad-looking parents toting around more than the normal number of children, and for the record, I had two of mine with me. I don't think the magnitude of what happened really set in until Saturday. School pick-up Friday seemed normal.
It was waking up Saturday and thinking of what could have been… [and] that there is a new normal began to set in. School is supposed to be a safe place. How can we possibly explain [the Newtown shootings] to our children? We have kept our television off and our newspaper hidden. A large number of churches are holding prayer services tonight; we are off to our annual Christmas pageant, which will certainly have a different feel than in years past.
I hope this proves a catalyst for some kind of change. The United States is not going to embrace massive gun control. Instead, I think we might see more of a focus on regulation and trying to make it more difficult for certain people to access guns, but this will largely be done at the state level.
I also think that more attention will be given to the emerging type [of person] orchestrating these tragedies. Something is wrong in society and better gun control alone will not fix it. I have read a lot about the side effects of some of the anti-psychotic drugs these young men are on, which raises this question: why are so many being medicated and is it really worth it?
Gary Crawford, an engineer from Kingston, Ont., who moved to the U.S. and lived in Texas for many years:
I have recently moved from Houston to Shanghai but am back in Texas for the holidays. My teenage son's former high school in a Houston suburb had a lockdown the day before due to a student threat connected to 12/12/12. Unfortunately, this results in a sense of habituation where students treat this as being a "joke" or a "nuisance."
This is a state where Congressman Louie Gohmert wants to arm teachers to prevent this from happening again. His solution is more guns will stop future killing sprees.
I have never felt comfortable with the Texas attitude toward guns. It is ironic that I now feel safer living in one of the largest urban centers where the government has banned ownership of guns. Of course, a Texan would retort that I have traded my freedom for safety.
Brian Monkman, technology project manager in Mechanicsburg, Pa., originally from Oakville, Ont.:
This massacre is really hitting folks hard. And of course, raising the inevitable gun control knee jerk reactions. I'm not in any way a supporter of gun culture but I don't really think this is primarily a gun control issue. I think it is first a mental health issue, second a societal issue and then, third, a gun control issue.
Mental illnesses are still stigmatized and getting help is difficult, even if you have good health insurance. Let's face it, no well person would do what the shooter did. People, and their relatives/friends, who have mental health issues should be able to get help easily and quickly.
U.S. society glorifies violence – movies, TV shows, video games. It isn't a great leap to want to own the objects of that and play out in one's mind the actions depicted. The rules that control who gets exposed to these images and [at what age] are very lax. I could have taken my daughter to a movie rated R because of violence when she wasn't yet a teenager. And very few violent movies get an R rating; they are usually rated PG-13.
Gun control laws are indeed not as rigorous as I feel they should be. Gun ownership will never be banned or even significantly restricted. In the minds of many Americans, individual rights are so entwined with gun ownership. I don't see that changing at all. I would like to see legislation stringently enforcing responsible gun ownership to the point where a background check of all household members be done if you want to own a gun.
Leah Taylor, adjunct professor in Augusta, Ga., originally from Woodville, Ont.:
In Augusta, Georgia, the most common response on how to stop these events from happening again is that we need to give the school principals and teachers guns to protect themselves and our children. I have attached a few memes that are going around down here to exemplify the point – here is one and here is another.
Any commentary about reforming gun laws is met with "guns don't kill people, people kill people." There isn't really much discussion here about mental health care as a way of preventing these catastrophes. The general consensus just seems to be that some people are crazy and we need to be armed so that we can protect our children from them. This hugely contrasts with what my Canadian friends are talking about, who don't seem to understand the deep attachment to the Second Amendment [of the U.S. Constitution] here and are more concerned with addressing mental health care access as a means to preventing these atrocities. There are of course some Georgians I know who take this standpoint as well, but they are in very small numbers comparatively.
Given this fact, I do not see gun law reform being embraced or promoted here in the South. South Carolina (Augusta is right on the border between Georgia and South Carolina) just passed a law making it legal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. This climate does not bode well for any reform efforts.
Michelle Curry, stay-at-home mother in Baltimore, Md., originally from Winnipeg:
I have two young children, one of whom will be in preschool next year. When the tragedy in Connecticut happened Friday morning, I was actually touring a Baltimore school at which we were thinking of enrolling my son. As I walked home on a lovely day, I thought about how much I loved the school and all my hopes and dreams for him there. I pictured my sweet little boy with his reddish blond hair and big eyes asking questions and doing art, learning to read, and making friends. It was a wonderful walk home until I looked at my phone and started reading reports of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut.
As I toured the school, I remember I felt a chill when the safety procedures were explained and I was told they have emergency procedures in place for a "variety" of situations, and I quickly moved on and said to myself, "Oh, like fire drills." Now I realize what she was really talking about: that my kids and I have to be prepared for the fact that someone who has a problem with something, or someone, could come into their school and shoot everyone because they have an automatic weapon, or even a semi-automatic weapon. And when I say prepared, it's because these events are no longer some one-time tragic incident.
Instead of becoming less frequent, they are becoming more frequent, and no one knows why. The perpetrators are usually dead before the police even arrive so we are left to piece together fragments of what can only be tortured minds.
Timothy C. Winegard, a professor in Grand Junction, Colo., originally from Sarnia, Ont.:
This Fourth of July, I took my three-year-old son to the local parade in Grand Junction, Colorado, where I now live. My wife tittered at the expression on my face as I watched the third parade progression (one of the largest) drive and march down Main Street. Representatives of the 2 nd Amendment Club of Western Colorado brandished sophisticated weapons, including AR-15s (the "civilian" equivalent of the military M-16 or C-7 in Canada), AK-47s and other assault rifles.
As someone who supports gun control, I was speechless and wanted to cover my child's eyes.
In 2010, there were 12,000 murders in the U.S., with roughly 9,000 inflicted by a firearm. This does not include 20,000 suicides and accidental shootings, or some 200,000 non-fatal gun related injuries. Of the 36 wealthiest nations, the United States came first with an annual 14.2 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people.
While these tragedies are horrible and reprehensible, perhaps the only positive is that it may wake Americans up to the reality of senseless gun violence and force the government to initiate firmer gun control laws. The current laws and circumstances are utterly absurd.