I'm not going to ask if what happened in Newtown, Connecticut can happen here because now's a time for reflection, not panic and cheap one-liners.
Our gun laws are a good deal stricter than those in the United States. The days when you could purchase a rifle at the counter of the Canadian Tire with little more than a driver's license are over, thanks to Marc Lepine's 1989 outrage.
But when it comes to gun control, we've been headed in the wrong direction for the better part of the last decade, loosening laws and measures that have made us one of the safest countries in the world.
The gun lobby in Canada has never been more active, or more vocal. It's also never felt more connected to the lobby in the United States, including the notorious National Rifle Association, whose tactics Canadian counterparts have employed here to turn back the clock on gun control. The tentacles of that effort lead right up to the Prime Minister's office.
There isn't a story online or in print about gun control that doesn't receive a response from gun enthusiasts, shooting range owners, gun manufacturers, and other usual suspects espousing the right to bear arms.
Last week, one of the top read stories on this website was one I'd written more than four years ago on why Canada needs a handgun ban. In the wake of Newtown, people are talking.
The last time we ventured into gun ban territory, right after the Eaton Centre shooting and Adam Vaughan's suggestion of a bullet ban, the deluge came from gun advocates far and wide.
I got this email from a regular reader:
"As a gun owner, I can assure you that buying a handgun is extremely onerous, even for me, an officer of the Court of Appeal of Ontario. Buying a shotgun required me to attend a weekend long Canadian Firearms Acquisition Course (cost: $320), then apply to the RCMP for a Possession and Acquisition License, submit to a thorough background search, have my three references interviewed and an RCMP officer attend at my house to investigate my means of storage - a separate safe for the gun and ammo AND a trigger lock. Then, a 28-day waiting period.
"I apologize if I come across as rude, but you folks on the left are extremely uninformed. I have practiced law for over 20 years here in Toronto. Not once have I been involved in a case where a criminal used a lawfully purchased firearm. The problem is with the criminals and the fact that the left doesn't want to adequately deter the criminals using long prison sentences. Sorry, but that's the truth."
It's a familiar refrain that gun regulation is pointless because it won't discourage those responsible for most of the gun violence, i.e. the so-called "criminal element."
(Gun advocates usually mean mostly black, mostly urban crime when they say that. Perhaps they haven't noticed that most of the perpetrators committing the mass murders are mostly white loner types with mental health issues. But back to the point at hand.)
To say stiffer regulations won't help curb gun violence simply ignores research on the subject. For everyone except for gun enthusiasts, it's a given that countries with tighter gun controls have less gun violence. The cold hard fact is that many guns used in the committing crimes, around half, have been stolen from registered owners or gun shops.
A good number are also entering the black market thanks to unscrupulous dealers and crooked cops looking to make a buck. There have been a number of high profile cases over the years on that front. Another fact: illegal weapons employed in crimes started out as legal somewhere.
After the events of Friday's massacre in Newtown - another mass murder in another quiet town in gun-loving America - some observers opined that the U.S. has reached the tipping point: after four massacres in the last four years the time has come to toughen gun laws. The U.S. president said Sunday night in his speech at a memorial in Newtown, "We can't tolerate this anymore."
It's hard to know if anything will come of it. The Obama administration has been all but silent on gun laws. And the horror seems already to be fading from newspaper and TV accounts, the discussion turning from outrage to sober second thought. Let's not get too emotional about this folks, right?
Signs of America already tuning out the shock came during the president's speech, which interrupted the Sunday night football game, and unleashed a torrent of racist blather on Twitter as a result.
There was horror, to be sure, as news began to trickle out that 20 children had been gunned down, mercilessly killed by Adam Lanza, yet another alleged offender described as an outsider with a penchant for violent video games. It's not known if mental illness played a part. Lanza, who took his own life, reportedly suffered from Asperger's, a mild form of Autism not usually associated with violent behaviour.
The NRA, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, D.C., held its fire, refusing to comment. As of this morning, it still hadn't. None of the 30 odd pro-gun reps in the Senate would go on Meet The Press Sunday morning to defend gun laws. How can anyone explain away the cold-blooded killing of 20 innocent children?
Some tried. Indeed, more than a few gun sympathetic media pundits (so-called) were advising early on the importance of not jumping to conclusions, even as more horrifying details emerged of a coldly calculated killing. By Sunday afternoon firearm apologists among the U.S. Congressional ranks began to chime in, offering that if the teachers at Newtown had had access to their own guns, none of it would have happened. One NRA-backed Senator has called for a ban on assault weapons. So will that be the bargaining position then, leaving all other weapons out of reach?
More than just part of America's frontier image, the new mythology in America is that more guns are safer, presumably since more people with guns can defend themselves. I've heard the same from gun advocates here.
In 49 U.S. states, it's legal to carry a concealed weapon either with or without a permit. (The holdout state, Illinois, is expected to present a concealed carry law by spring of next year.) In 13 States, one can carry a gun in the open without a license. Ten other States allow open carry with a license. Fourteen more allow gun owners to openly carry guns with certain restrictions.
Guns are big business, a point which seems to get lost in the equation when debate on gun laws come up, as they always do, after shockers like Newtown. Commerce more than the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is what's pushing back gun control measures.
As of 2011, there were approximately 5,400 licensed firearms manufacturers and 950 licensed gun importers in the United States. The deaths associated with gun violence seem to be a price Americans are willing to pay. Almost 10,000 people died from gun violence in the U.S. last year.
The NRA, the new spin goes, is not the force it once was in American politics - at least, if we're to judge by the number of pro-gun Senators and Congressional reps the group didn't manage to get elected despite pouring huge money into election races this past November.
That analysis doesn't completely fit. Americans had more on their minds than guns, the economy and health care, when they cast their ballots for Obama last month. Time will tell if Newtown proves the watershed moment.
Certainly, the NRA's power in Canada has never been greater.
The same outfit notorious for buying influence among lawmakers in the U.S. has played an instrumental role, albeit a more insidious one, in blowing holes in gun restrictions north of the 49th parallel.
The NRA's lobbying efforts in Canada through counterparts here go back more than a decade. The group has denied providing direct funding to Canadian pro-gun advocates. But it has provided strategic advice to the Canadian Institute for Legislative Action, the lobbying arm of the Canadian Sports Shooting Association, over the years, including during the recent long-gun registry debate.
CILA's executive director, Tony Bernardo, has appeared in an NRA informational video on the gun registry. He sits on the PM's firearms advisory committee, a body loaded with pro-gun advocates that recently recommended the removal of fully automatic rifles and assault weapons from the list of prohibited firearms. The move would make it easier for gun owners to get a license for semi-automatic and assault rifles.
The PM was quick to say he has no intention of making the change. But it's unclear if that reaction was prompted by the fact news of the committee's recommendations surfaced as opposition MPs in the House were remembering the anniversary of the Montreal massacre.
On the gun control front, Canada is going backwards.
Besides killing the long gun registry, a useful investigative tool for police that experts say has saved as many as 600 lives a year, the feds are no longer requiring shop owners to keep records of guns and ammo purchases. It's too costly and messing with our freedom. Where have we heard that one before?
The HarperCons are also considering extending gun licenses to 10 years from the current five, despite concerns raised by the RCMP and mental health officials. The feds are not only weakening gun control laws, they're doing it in secret.
Last month, the government quietly postponed for another year implementation of the firearms marking regulation that are part of Canada's obligations to the UN Firearms Protocol and the Organization of American States' Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking of Firearms. Gun control advocates only heard about it from pro-gun types who were heralding the change as yet another victory for freedom.
Guns may be as American as apple pie, but Canada is cutting out it's own reputation when it comes to firearms. It's alone internationally among developed countries in rolling back gun laws.