Thursday, 13 January 2011

GUN-HAPPY US HERITAGE

The January Tucson massacre is one more statistic among the 98,000 annual gunshot wounds that cause 30,000 deaths. Amid all the rhetoric and tears, there is little heard about the obvious need to outlaw today's easy access to guns. From its founding, guns have been considered a cherished personal right. in the US. Being born in violence, both Mexico and the US remain with problems not known in Canada with its relatively peaceful evolution. The settlement of the Canadian West came after that in the US. To avoid the legacy of gun-slinging cowboys and massacres of the Natives, Canada established law and order first, but this was prompted by US whiskey traders causing enormous harm to Natives who drank their "Fire-Water". In the Cypress Hills, 20 Assiniboine, including entire families were slaughtered by drunken traders in 1873 and other traders had set up posts like fortified Fort Whoop-up (near Lethbridge) trading bad whiskey for furs. Chiefs wanted the return of British troops but the problem was now Canada's, so in 1874 PM John A. MacDonald organized a force of 300 North West Mounted Police to capture the whiskey traders and establish law and order in 300,000 square miles. These "Mounties" made a show with an 800-mile parade westwards from Fort Dufferin, Manitoba, to Fort MacLeod, Alberta, with each troop having horses of a different colour. They were followed by a supply train of 114 carts, 73 freight wagons, and 93 head of cattle. The message was broadcast to the tribes that the red uniform of the Mounties meant a friend as opposed to the enemy that the blue uniforms of the US cavalry implied. Leaving detachments at selected points, the last remaining troop reached Fort Whoop-up to find that the whiskey traders had fled to Montana, so the fort was taken intact without firing a shot.

It is an amazing and successful story of scattered detachments of 2 or 3 Mounties maintaining the law in a vast territory. Sitting Bull and his group, fleeing the US Cavalry, were surprised to be met by only 2 Mounties who welcomed them into Canada provided they adhered to the Queen's law. The NWMP grew into The Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Different gun philosophies were also apparent in WWII. US airmen carried pistols. Commonwealth aircrew did not, arguing it was suicidal for a downed airman to be seen with a gun as he would be more likely to be shot than captured. A lone airman with a pistol was unlikely to shoot his way home through 90 million enemy.

Today in the US 70% of murders are by firearms, in Canada 30% usually by shotguns or rifles as handguns are strictly controlled. In 2004 the homicide rate in Canada per 100,000 people was 1.8. In the US it was 6.3. Canada has 1 policeman per 529 people. The US has 1 per 412.

Today, Canada maintains strict gun laws so suffers much less from gun crimes although drug-related violence is seeping across the border. It is a criminal offense to carry a gun into Canada.

Restricting the availability of arms has not prevented Canada from contributing some of the world's best airmen, sailors, and soldiers to world conflicts.

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