By Pauline Kerr
It seems that when the mercury rises, so does violence.
The world reeled in horror at yet another round of mass murders in the United States. One, at an El Paso, Texas Walmart, resulted in 22 people killed and over two dozen wounded. The other, only hours later at a bar in Dayton, Ohio, resulted in nine people killed and many more injured.
The motive of the second shooter may never be known, since he was killed by police.
There is little doubt about the motive of the shooter in Texas. He left a pretty clear internet statement about his rabidly racist beliefs. More might still be learned – this killer was taken alive.
Canadians should resist the temptation to point fingers. At the time the two killers were launching armed assaults against innocent people including little kids, a massive manhunt was still underway for two teens accused of murdering three people in northern British Columbia. The bodies of the two have since been found.
There was also a disturbing number of shootings in the Toronto area – 17 people shot in 14 separate incidents. While no one died (as of press time), there were life-threatening injuries.
There were some marked differences, though, the key one being the death toll. This could have something to do with the type of firearm used – high-volume military assault rifles with extra ammunition clips were the weapon of choice in the American murders; here, the shooters mostly used handguns, which aren’t that accurate except at close range.
It could have even more to do with the motivation of the shooter, whether he (and in the vast majority of cases, it is a “he”) is after a specific person or people, or wants to take out as many victims as possible for ideological reasons.
The crimes we find the most disturbing are in the latter category, since the victims are ordinary people targeted for their skin colour, clothing or gender, or just because they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Contrary to what the American president said following the massacre, making it harder for people with mental illnesses to get their hands on firearms won’t do a thing to stop it from happening again. The reason is the killer wasn’t crazy. Few of them are. He was sufficiently clear-headed to formulate his plan, select his target, post his intentions online and travel hundreds of miles to get to El Paso, a border city with a large Hispanic population. He wasn’t delusional, directed to kill by some mysterious being only he could hear. He knew exactly what he was doing.
The only voices he was hearing were the ones telling him racist nonsense about non-whites having no right to be in the United States – ship illegals back to where they came from, build a wall to keep the Mexicans out, make America great again.
The American president may or may not be a racist, but through his Twitter account, he’s given racists free rein to spout their venom loud and proud.
Tragically, some of them choose to express their views with bullets.
Could it happen here? We’re an afternoon’s car ride from Toronto, where a young man drove his van onto a crowded sidewalk to kill women. The two teens accused of the killings in northern British Columbia could have headed to Ontario looking for adventure instead of north. And some young malcontent in this community could easily find inspiration in one of the internet manifestos that seem to be so popular among mass murderers.
There is no easy answer on how to stop this sort of violence, but most of us can identify a few good places to start. One is to stop blaming acts of unspeakable violence on people with mental illnesses. The vast majority of mentally ill people are no danger to anyone. Perfectly sane people filled with anger and hate are another matter.
Another place to start is gun control. That doesn’t mean taking away people’s hunting rifles. But handguns have only one purpose, to kill people, and they need to be strictly controlled. Ditto for military assault rifles, which belong on the battlefield, in the hands of trained military, not in a Walmart.
We also need to shut down the websites and chat rooms where misogyny, racism, bigotry and hatred thrive. Exercising one’s freedom of speech is one thing, but inciting someone to commit mass murder is something very different.