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December 24, 2012

It is long past the point when one can describe the abundance of mass murders – 31 school shootings since the Columbine massacre in 1999 – in the United States as a sign of the decay of Western civilization. It is that, but the psychological destruction of the person in a technological society and the decline in morality is not limited to the U.S.

What makes the U.S. different from, say Canada in regard to the number of mass murders is not a higher form of morality north of the border. It is one thing – lack of gun control. It is much easier in the U.S. to buy automatic weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition than anywhere else in the Western world.

The American constitutional right to bear arms – established in a much simpler society – helped to establish a gun culture that balks at all restrictions on the purchase and possession of firearms. There is a widespread belief that owning handguns and assault rifles brings personal security and prevents tyranny.

The evidence against the latter contention can be seen in numerous countries where the availability of high-powered and automatic weapons has meant chaos, widespread murder and civil war.

In fact, there is no right to possess firearms. No one has a right to own weapons designed to kill others, especially large numbers of people. There are rights to life and peace and justice and social order, but no right to bear arms. The widespread availability of automatic weapons undermines those genuine human rights.

In Canada, people can own some types of firearms, mainly for use in hunting, on farms and for target practice. Such ownership is not unreasonable, but it is not a right.

The U.S. has waged a war on the development and importation of illegal drugs, but no war on the possession of even the most dangerous forms of weapons that have led to 8,000 to 9,000 gun-related killings a year within its borders. That is more than 80 per cent of the firearms-related murders in the world's 23 richest countries.

One major reason for that is the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobby group for arms manufacturers and gun owners. A politician arguing for gun control can expect to meet the NRA in the next election, campaigning on behalf of his opponent.

Politicians may weep when children are massacred in their classrooms and they may pay a visit to the survivors. All that is meaningless grandstanding if they will not stand up to the arms manufacturers.

In Canada, we need to be vigilant that gun control laws are never eroded. Easy access to automatic weapons leads not to liberty or personal security, but to chaos and the wanton destruction of innocent human lives. We do not want a society that makes gun ownership a higher priority than the protection of genuine human rights.

Letter to the Editor - 01/14/13