I try to follow social media to keep up to date on current events around the world, Canada and locally. The most recent tragedy involving guns has resulted in three dead and two wounded RCMP officers in Moncton, New Brunswick. The manhunt for the shooter responsible for this tragedy lasted more than a day, kept residents of Moncton terrified and in their homes with their doors locked, but finally ended tonight. This incident could easily have happened anywhere else in Canada.
Now, I know what some of you may be thinking because of my opening paragraph. You may think I’m going to go on an anti-gun rant. I’m not a gun owner and have no interest in owning a gun or ever firing one for any purpose. The following is a true personal story about one reason why that is.
When I was young, I remember hunting groundhogs with my father one particular summer day. He had been a hunter since he was a teenager and wanted me to learn to enjoy it like he did. He had been asked by a local farmer to shoot some groundhogs who were digging holes in his fields. The farmer said that the holes in the fields damaged his equipment when he drove over them. So my father and I drove out to the farm and set out to eliminate some of these pests. At one point as we were walking, my father stopped, slowly handed me the gun and told me that he saw a groundhog just up ahead of us. He had previously shown me how to carry a gun, how to hold a gun and how to shoot. So I took the gun, carefully took the safety off and slowly raised it up to shoulder height. I saw the animal ahead and my father walked me through the shooting process again. I looked down the barrel through the sight, aimed very carefully and fired. BANG! I missed and the groundhog quickly disappeared. I still remember my elevated heart rate and the adrenaline and excitement of the chance at getting my first kill. We started walking again in the direction of where the groundhog had been. It had been standing beside one of the holes in the field (presumably the front door to it’s house). We checked the hole and decided that the creature wasn’t coming back out anytime soon, as it was probably scared out of it’s wits. After walking about 10 yards past the hole, I heard an odd sound behind us, coming from the direction of the hole. I stopped and told my father about the noise, but he said it probably wasn’t the groundhog. However, he said I could go back and check if I wanted to. So, I silently tip-toed back towards the hole. To my surprise, I discovered the groundhog had poked it’s head out, just above it’s hole. I would have been about 5 yards away from the hole. Again, I slowly took the safety off, slowly raised the gun up and after a deep breath, fired! BANG! I remember putting the safety back on the gun and running up to the hole. My first kill! I was so excited! My father came up to me and congratulated me on my big accomplishment! I felt exhilarated! As I stood there staring at this lifeless animal, something inside me started to change. I started to feel just generally uneasy and then this feeling of guilt slowly started creeping in. I started to realize that I had just taken a life. A life that belonged to another animal. A life that could have involved being a father, protecting his family or maybe the promise of becoming a father. That life had done nothing to me or anyone else, that could have possibly justified what I had just done. Though some farmers may disagree, I realized that all this life wanted to do was live and make a home, with no intention of harming anyone or anything else. I slowly passed the gun back to my father. My father started walking away and after he realized I wasn’t walking with him, he turned back and said we should keep moving. So I paused a little longer and slowly walked away staring at the lifeless corpse I left behind. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a kind of daze and left the rest of the shooting to my father.
I’ve never fired a gun since that day. I see no need to. I’ve seen what it can do and I want no part of using one for its intended purpose. There are many people who enjoy hunting and shooting and many who also like to collect guns. Guns have a historical significance to our country and help protect us from people who would do us harm. Guns are fascinating in a historical sense to me, but I have no interest in owning one. I also have no interest in telling other people that they can’t own one either. Mind you, I don’t think any private citizen needs an automatic weapon or a large magazine for holding many bullets, but that’s a discussion for another time.
My point to this story is that after finding out about this latest tragedy, there are always people on social media calling for the banning of some or all guns and talking about how there are too many tragedies like this happening these days. I agree completely that it is a terrible tragedy when these things occur. However, I don’t believe that banning guns is the solution. Guns are here to stay in our country and they’re not going away any time soon. Gun owners in this country are some of the most conscientious gun owners in the world. I know that some of my friends, family and neighbours are gun owners. They take gun safety seriously and keep them secured at all times. I simply don’t believe that guns are the biggest problem in these tragedies. I believe that the real problem that causes these tragedies is the mental health of those who commit these tragedies. These people with mental illnesses somehow go unnoticed and undetected by the people around them. I believe if we had better mental health care for people in Canada, if we had better awareness of mental health problems in Canada and if we were better at detecting signs of mental health issues, some of these tragedies could be avoided. I’m a firm believer in the value of prevention and recognizing when people need help, whether they’re aware of it or not.
There was also a recent near tragedy where two girls stabbed one of their friends (thankfully non-fatally), because they thought a fictional character would have wanted them to. When I heard this, I immediately thought that obviously one or both of these girls had lost their grip on reality. How did this behaviour/thinking go unnoticed by these girls’ parents and friends? Our young people always seem to be the most vulnerable to mental illness, but the fact is that it affects us all, whether it’s directly or indirectly. Too many people don’t know about mental health issues. Too many people don’t recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness. We know about symptoms of physical illness, but very little about symptoms of mental illness. This must change! There are too many cases of suicides, shootings, stabbings where lives are lost because of a lack of awareness of the symptoms of mental illness. I believe that many of these could be prevented if we as Canadians were more informed about mental illness and had better access to proper mental health care. It’s time to start talking about this now! Every day we wait, it seems like another tragedy occurs.
Former winter and summer olympic medal winner Clara Hughes is currently riding her bike across Canada to raise awareness for mental health. I believe it is one of the most important initiatives to ever happen in Canada. Her journey is called “Clara’s Big Ride”. She herself, suffered from depression and is now doing this so that others won’t have to suffer in silence and so that people start talking about mental health and see how critical it is. I hope that her ride becomes something similar to Terry Fox’s run and his effort to bring attention to cancer. Clara will be ending her ride in Ottawa on July 1st. I would love to be able to meet this inspirational person and tell her how much I appreciate what she is doing for others. Through Clara’s efforts, it is my hope that if we start talking about mental health, and keep talking about it, someday we just might save a life. Who knows, that life might just be yours, or it might be the life of someone you love.
So let’s start talking….