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RICK MACLEAN: Guns help define us, and our cousins

President Donald Trump, joined by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Carson Abt, right, and Julia Cordover, the student body president at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, left, pauses during a listening session with high school students teachers, and others in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. 

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Donald Trump, joined by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Carson Abt, right, and Julia Cordover, the student body president at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, left, pauses during a listening session with high school students teachers, and others in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Seventeen students were murdered during a gun attack at the school (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) - The Guardian

Americans convince themselves they’re only safe – and free – if they’re packing

My childhood love affair with guns ended the day I took aim at the squirrel inching its way along the branch of the tree.

I was pretty good with my single-shot pellet gun, so I snapped it shut and aimed.

And that’s when it ended for me. The shot caught the unoffending animal dead centre. It froze, began to urinate, and died. The pellet gun sat in a closet for years, along with a shotgun, until I gave them away.

Hunting is still fine with me, although I’ve often thought it would be more sporting if only a sharpened stick separated the hunter from the prey.

Still, the time in the woods, the hunt, the success. Eating what you kill. Not a problem for me.

But the American love affair with the gun isn’t really about that, so I struggle to figure out the bizarre trap they’ve landed in when it comes to firearms. Oodles of evidence to the contrary, a sizeable number of them continue to convince themselves they’re only safe – and free – if they’re packing.

It leaves them living in a strange world.

Consider Mark Stevenson of P.E.I. He teaches at a school a couple of hours away from Parkland, the site of the latest school shooting, where 17 students and teachers died.

If American president Donald Trump had his way, Stevenson would holster up each day, packing his pistol next to his pencils as he prepares for work at Edgewood Academy in Fort Myers, Florida.

The president’s logic – two words that don’t belong in the same sentence – is armed teachers would make schools safer.

Stevenson isn’t buying it, vowing the only thing he’d be packing if that idea ever became a reality is his clothes, so he could leave town.

As it is, lockdowns designed to help students and staff scramble to safety in case a shooter roams the halls have become routine, about every six weeks or so, he said. Everyone in the building has become really good at them.

Nearby gunfire gave them a chance to practise recently. Three shots sent a classroom aide into auto mode. The group piled into Stevenson’s classroom and covered the windows. The aide grabbed a fire extinguisher and positioned herself at the door. The kids jammed themselves up against a wall.

False alarm, police announced eventually.

Anyone who travels knows how frequently people living elsewhere confuse Canadians with our American cousins.

A friendly bar keep in Ireland - that doesn’t narrow it down much, they’re all friendly - stopped by at our table on a visit there a couple of years ago. He played the accent game.

“From America, are you?”

“Canada,” I smiled.

“I can never tell you apart,” he smiled back.

“It’s about the same mistake as confusing someone from Ireland with someone from England,” I said.

His eyes widened.

“I’ll keep that in mind next time,” he said.

Honestly, sometimes I think even Americans assume we’re basically the same people. You can almost hear them saying it: Sure, you have socialist medicine, but other than that, there’s not much difference.

I don’t know what socialist medicine means. If it means you don’t need to go broke if you get seriously sick, I’ll all for that. And gun control. Don’t forget that.

- Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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