After the horrific Nova Scotia rampage that killed twenty- two people, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on 1,500 kinds of assault weapons. His decision hasn’t been overwhelmingly popular. Some say the ban infringes on the freedom of Canadians and will be ineffective at preventing incidents like the Nova Scotia one. Others say the ban doesn’t go far enough. Some Canadians want laws like those in Japan which prohibit the ownership of almost all guns.
75% of households in Canada don’t have guns, but we’ve all had personal experiences with guns. They colour our views.
Some of my family stories about guns come from my grandfather. Grandpa told us about being forced to serve as a wagon driver for bandits occupying his Mennonite village in Ukraine during the Russian Revolution. Once Grandpa was driving the bandits to a neighbouring village when they stopped a priest walking by, shot him and trampled his body to pieces. Another time, Grandpa was sent to pick up the body of a fellow driver, a friend, after the bandits shot him through the head.
When three different armies marched through his village, Grandpa’s family had little control over their lives. “We were always at the mercy of their guns,” Grandpa said in an interview about his teenage years in Ukraine. Grandpa was forced into the Communist army. He was thrown into a military prison for refusing to take part in weapons training because of his Mennonite pacifist beliefs.
My father only went hunting once. We had just moved to Steinbach and a colleague invited him to go deer hunting. When Dad pulled onto our driveway after returning from his hunting expedition, we heard a loud bang. Dad’s gun had gone off accidentally. The bullet went right through the car door. My brother remembers touching the bullet hole and it was still hot.
I was very involved in a movement called Parenting For Peace and Justice during the years I was raising my own sons. The organization advocated not allowing children to play with guns at all. They believed it was wrong to associate something so deadly with fun, that letting kids play with guns desensitized them to the violence guns create and allowed them to think that killing people was something normal. My sons took my instructions about this seriously. They remember returning guns they were given as gifts because they knew I wouldn’t let them keep them.
I lived and worked in Hong Kong where it is illegal for private citizens to own guns. There were sizeable fines and prison sentences for possession. My American colleagues in Hong Kong said they felt much safer living there than in their own country.
I did a blog post about gun ownership in Israel. During my visit to the country, it seemed to me that there were people carrying guns everywhere. I saw teachers carrying guns on field trips with their students. I asked a gentleman at an outdoor restaurant to move his gun so I could sit in the chair next to him which was the only one available. I felt uncomfortable and scared because so many people had guns. My blog post about guns in Israel got the most views of any I’ve ever published. People’s opinions were strong. Some made comments that were frightening, threatening and crass. I deleted most of the comments and removed the blog post for a time.
If I was being honest and idealistic, I would say that I’d like to live in a world without guns of any kind. I know however this is an emotional issue for the three million Canadians who are gun owners. Hopefully sharing our diverse opinions and our personal experiences can foster a civil discussion that helps us move forward as we all strive to make our country safer.