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08/23/12

As a Canadian I felt as if the participants in your gun debate had upstaged Hollywood in providing us with the first credible communication from alien beings. All apparently accept the necessity for an armed citizenry. This I find ironic in the extreme as many, if not most, Americans seem to feel strongly that their form of Constitutional Democracy is the most perfect yet devised and should quickly be adopted by other countries. This in spite of the historical evolution of all western democracies towards replacing the need for an armed citizenry by instituting a rule of law to protect the person of all citizens regardless of their differences. In nearly all countries of the OECD this tradeoff has been accepted by both citizens and their government; the United States remains the outstanding example of resistance. Indeed many Americans seem to have cast their own Federal Government in the role of aggressor which is usually assumed by neighbouring states.

One of your panel members suggested that only an armed citizenry could walk safely through their neighbourhood without fear of violence. This implies that in Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal citizens would do well to remain home bound for as long as possible. As your participants may or may not know, in Canada it is possible under exceptional circumstances to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon; however it it rarely if ever issued to an average citizen. In my own experience, playing in a park in Ankara, Turkey with my 4 year old grandson was probably the safest public place I have been in for a long time, largely because other parents were present and not only kept an eye on their own children but on other children as well. In short, a communal response guaranteeing citizens' safety.

Another claim made was that gun violence is no greater in the U.S. than in other western countries. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2000 the U.S. had by far the highest rate of gun violence of the OECD countries at 2.97 per 100,000 citizens; the next closest at around 15% of the U.S. rate were Switzerland at 0.56 per 100,000 and Canada at 0.54 per 100,000; the lowest was England and Wales at 0.12 per 100,000—less than 5% of the U.S. rate.

Handguns are built for one purpose only: to kill human beings. Assault weapons say it in their very name; we do not “assault” animals, we hunt them; we assault other human beings. According to FBI statistics for 2009, 9203 murders were committed by firearms with 6503 of them using handguns and only 776 with rifles or shotguns; 1924 were committed with unspecified firearms probably including more handguns. We do not have statistics on the number of deer stalked and killed with handguns. The claim that criminals will get guns regardless of regulation is largely true. Unfortunately most of the firearm homicides in the U.S. are not committed by criminals; they are committed by family members, friends and neighbours who happen to find a gun handy when overcome by rage. Referring once again to FBI statistics, of 13,756 homicides of all types in 2009, 2051 were committed during a felony; 6803 were other than a felony (romantic, child killing, etc.); and 4846 were for unknown causes, probably a mixture of the other two.

So real questions for your panel and for all Americans should be:

- why are the institutions of the Constitutional Democracy all of you appear so proud of, feared and reviled by so many of your citizens?
- why do so many of your citizens wish to make readily available weapons whose only purpose is to end the life of other human beings?

I realize that practically the problem of dealing with extreme views involved in both those questions is difficult and I can understand it when your panel chooses only to deal with minor adjustments to the prevailing situation. I can't understand why your citizens ignore the wealth of experience gained in other countries around the problem of violence generally and gun violence in particular. Such insularity it matched only by the claim of the best medical system in the world which costs twice as much per capita as any other OECD country and delivers results for the overall population well below that of most of those same countries.

I also assumed that PBS watchers were somewhat more interested in facts, statistics and reasoned answers than Fox news hounds but the majority of the comments posted here have left me a greatly chastised viewer and deepened my concern about the pragmatic character of our American cousins.

Safer on my streets than yours, a saddened Canadian.

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