The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings of 20 children and six adults are now perilously close to spinning right off the outer edges of the news centrifuge and into a not-news-anymore endless universe.
So before that happens and if the killing of those children and the adults who tried to protect them are to mean anything, let’s consider some comparative history about guns in schools here in Canada and in the U.S.
In Canada, going back as far as 1975, there have been three fatal high-school shootings resulting in four student deaths. The most recent, in 1999, was at W. R. Myers High School in Taber, Alta. This was the first fatal high-school shooting in Canada in 20 years. The suspect, a 14-year-old boy, had come from Ontario a couple of years before with emotional and mental problems and had been home-schooled.
Since 1996, there have been 40 school shootings in the U.S., with the average age of the shooters, including some 17- to 19-year-olds, being 15 years, three months.
Since 1996, there have been 14 school shootings in the rest of the world.
Teachers have now flocked to a Utah firearms training program to teach them how to deal with an armed assault. Utah is one of two states in America that allows licensed teachers to carry concealed firearms on school premises.
Fine, I guess, until a destabilized teacher goes postal in a classroom full of kids.
In Canada, teachers would never be allowed to carry guns into classrooms where, quite apart from anything else, those guns might become accessible to kids.
Nonetheless, Utah, Wisconsin and Mississippi each have legislation that allows students, faculty and employees with the proper permits to carry concealed weapons on their public universities’ campuses.
In 35 U.S. states, people may carry guns openly without need of a permit.
In Vermont, 16-year-olds may carry a hidden handgun without a permit or parental permission.
“Not in Canada,” you say.
Well, maybe so far. But here in Canada, we see a powerful gun lobby successfully persuading our federal government to follow the U.S in relaxing gun laws, specifically those regarding the registration of long guns and the certificate of origin of guns in general.
Speaking to the issue recently, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he is listening to sports-gun owners, retailers, distributors and importers who say the cost to engrave importation markings on new firearms would come after the manufacturing process and be passed down to buyers.
Just one day before the Sandy Hook shooting, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird spoke of “new market opportunities” and recommended an order amending the automatic firearms control list so that banned automatic assault weapons could be exported to Colombia, one of the most gun-violent countries on the planet.
How long it will be before those now untraceable weapons filter back into the hands of our own least desirable or slightly unstable citizens, remains to be seen.
As superintendent of schools, when faced with community concerns about drugs in schools, I always explained that if drugs were available in the community, there would be drugs in schools, that schools reflected their communities.
If guns become more available from sources in our communities, will we see more guns in schools? You decide.
So while we can still hear the echo of gunfire at Sandy Hook, and before it passes out into the no-longer-news silent universe, there’s a message for us in the words of the old Buffalo Springfield song; “It’s time we stop, say hey, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down.”
Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.
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