Mourning continues for the 50 victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. A question echoes around the world: how could this have happened?
A single man perpetrated the worst mass shooting in the recent history of the United States, and the deadliest act of violence ever committed against the LGBTQ community since 1973 when an un-identified arsonist burnt down a gay bar in New Orleans. Five other mass shootings occurred in the same weekend, and more than 30 mass shootings have occurred since. Clearly there is an epidemic affecting U.S. citizens, so widespread that the collateral damage has spilled over the northern border.
The Pulse logo hangs outside of The Beaver on Queen West in Toronto, Canada | Photo Credit: Kyle Trattner (c) Tickld, Limited 2016
The U.S. currently has an estimated 310 million privately owned firearms in circulation, overshadowing Canada's 9.95 million guns. Canada's largest city, Toronto, experienced a record number of shootings in 2016 thus far. Over 260 victims of gun violence. A number completely unheard of, yet minuscule in the scope of the U.S.'s 26,796 gun related incidents this year alone. 6,929 people died from gun violence, with 14,258 injured.
The tolls continue to climb as the year moves forward.
Monument to Multiculturalism at Union Station in Toronto, Canada | Photo Credit: Rudro Chakrabarti (c) Tickld, Limited 2016
Toronto is a beautiful city. Generally peaceful and safe; the current media hysteria over anything relating to gun violence reflects the rarity of such events. Canadian security authorities trace an increase in illegal weapons crossing into the country from the U.S., moving forward from 2005.
Toronto Police Headquarters | Photo Credit: Rudro Chakrabarti (c) Tickld, Limited 2016
The Toronto Police Service voice concerns about the increase in shootings, linking them to weapons smuggled from the U.S. But resistance to stricter control in the U.S. remains strong, with one of the loudest voices being the National Rifle Association.
A mural by Jesse Harris intended to provide a positive message to patients of the nearby CAMH mental health facility on Queen West in Toronto, Canada | Photo Credit: Kyle Trattner (c) Tickld, Limited 2016
One of the featured NRA spokespeople is Ex-Navy SEAL Dom Raso, who speaks at length about terrorist threats. "You know what inspires cowards? Easy targets. Sheep. People who worry more about offending the enemy than stopping him. People they know don't have the training to fight back."
"We need leaders who will get rid of useless gun-free zone laws that give killers a clear advantage over the law-abiding. Leaders who understand the best asset we have to defend ourselves is the freedom of the American people.
The longer it takes us to realize it, the more innocent people will die."
These quotes from Raso define the gun practicality argument. What stops a person from robbing a store at gunpoint? Nothing, unless of course the owner himself brandishes a weapon. With an increase in gun violence in Toronto, should civilians not arm themselves?
The Angel of Peace at the Shrine Peace Memorial at Exhibition Park in Toronto, Canada | Photo Credit: Kyle Trattner (c) Tickld, Limited 2016
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
That is the Second Amendment. A country like the United States should not limit the right of its citizenry to carry weapons, especially to protect themselves.
Support for the validity of the Second Amendment can be found in Switzerland, where they have a fairly lax approach to guns. Automatic weapons are banned; handguns can be owned and carried as long as the owner can provide a valid reason to obtain a license. Swiss citizens have approximately 4 million private, and military owned guns in a population of only 8 million people. They have the 3rd largest stockpile of privately owned guns but also a low gun homicide rate, consistently in the lower double digits. Tying into the second amendment, can a case not be made that everyday people should be able to carry arms?
Peace Be On You inscribed on the Shrine Peace Memorial at Exhibition Park in Toronto, Canada | Photo Credit: Kyle Trattner (c) Tickld, Limited 2016
No. The Second Amendment cannot rightfully be applied to a modern U.S. society where mass shootings take place so frequently.
Nationally organized militia groups do not exist. Military service is not mandatory in the U.S. Switzerland however, requires compulsory service in the military and a host of firearms training regulations before a person can carry a weapon. The whole system is designed to vet those unfit to bear arms. Shooting clubs for kids as young as 12 years old instil values of gun safety. Weapons training and strict social norms maintain the Swiss environment.
Similarly in Canada, two streams are available for obtaining a gun license. Canadian Firearms Safety Course for unrestricted arms, and the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course. Once a license is issued for weapons, severe federal limitations restrict transporting guns in public, and storing them privately in your home. Owners cannot even keep ammunition in the same room as their weapon. There are no nationwide regulations in the U.S. Everything varies state by state. States that have "gun free zones" will never truly be safe until there are national standards for control.
Australia had very similar problems with gun violence, but not on the same scale. After a number of nasty mass shootings, Australians decided to instate stricter gun laws and employ cash for guns programs around the country. The initiative retrieved over 650,000 private weapons, and was estimated to cost 500 million dollars. Australia witnessed a drop in homicides by close to 40%, and a drop in suicides by 80% in the decade following these new policies. The U.S. has held gun buyback programs, or gun amnesty programs, but on a state-to-state basis, for thousands rather than millions of dollars.
Mural by Christiano De Araujo near Church and Wellesley in Toronto, Canada | Photo Credit: Rudro Chakrabarti (c) Tickld, Limited 2016
A weapon like the one used in the Pulse nightclub shooting took only 7 minutes to purchase. The perpetrator had no reason to be denied without a prior felony. 7 minutes for a military-grade, semi-automatic rifle capable of accurately dispensing rounds into a frightened crowd in a matter of seconds. 7 minutes to sell a tool of war that ended 50 lives and injured 53. The tool that shattered 103 families and scarred so many in its wake. This lapse in regulation rips apart families and yields tragedy after tragedy.
Military-grade weapons have no place in the hands of civilians unqualified for their usage, and they definitely have no place in the hands of those with hatred in their hearts. Gun enthusiasts and the NRA should not cite the second Amendment when they try to justify selling military-grade assault rifles without proper licensing, background checks, and training. They need to sit down with the government and start a conversation that results in better nationwide gun regulation. Certain types of arms need to be completely prohibited. Gun Amnesty programs need to be instated for the newly prohibited weaponry, to provide incentive to turn them in. Countries like Canada and Australia had these conversations after their first horrifying mass shooting. How many more mass shootings will it take for the United States to do the same? Where will these weapons end up next? Which community will be targeted next?
Why Not Now? | Photo Credit: Kyle Trattner (c) Tickld, Limited 2016