Names of the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School are seen on crosses at a memorial in Sandy Hook Village in Newtown, CT, December 18, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
So it is with the deepest regret that I even raise this subject while the little victims of that mass killing are being laid to rest. I wish with all my heart I didn't have to talk politics in the shadow of this tragedy.
But the forces that would regulate personal freedom in the name of public safety are already using the raw emotions generated by this horrific event to call for restrictions on law-abiding citizens' rights in the name of preventing a repeat.
Joe Manchin, the junior U.S. senator from West Virginia (a man who on most days would fit easily into the conservative wing of our own federal Tory party), questioned the "need" of anyone to own a rifle with a high-capacity magazine.
Closer to home, the Calgary Herald, in as sentimental an editorial as I can recall from that paper in recent years, insisted "President Barack Obama must do more than tell parents to remember to hug their children. He must take charge of the gun control issue so as to ensure that every child comes home safely from school each day."
Its editorial board added, "Obama can ignore the misguided, self-righteous wrath of the gun lobby ... and start figuring out how to curb America's sick love affair with guns."
The trouble with such heat-of-the-moment approaches is that while they are comforting reactions at the time, all they will accomplish in the long run is the diminishment of good citizens' freedom while doing nothing to prevent another Newtown.
According to gun-crime expert David Kopel, writing in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, the number of random, multiple shootings has been going up since the 1980s. Citing work done at the University of Alabama, Kopel says the number of U.S. incidents where a gunman chose random victims in crowded, confined areas (where there were at least two casualties) rose from 18 in the 1980s, to 54 in the 1990s and 87 in the 2000s.
Moreover, during the past 30 years, mass shootings (defined as four or more deaths) have shown "no long-term increase or decrease," according to Kopel. And overall levels of firearms homicides are down significantly in the past three decades in the U.S. So something other than gun-love must be behind the trend in multiple shootings.
This has been a bad year for such tragedies - the Wisconsin Sikh temple, the Aurora, Colorado theatre and Clackamas, Oregon mall - but the worst year for mass killings was 1929.
There is no doubt that the age and innocence of the Newtown victims has unsettled us as never before, but recall that the worst mass killing in recent years was in 2011 in Norway, where gun ownership is fairly well-regulated. And mass killings have happened in England, Australia, Japan, Russia and many other countries.
Before Newtown, the worst grade-school shootings had been in Dunblane, Scotland, and Germany.
Also, the guns used by Adam Lanza last Friday in Newtown were all registered, yet that did nothing to stop him.
I am not a gun owner; never have been. Still, I see it as a dangerous precedent to allow government to restrict free people just because we feel something must be done, even if the evidence shows that particular something will be useless.