Guns, America and Tragedy: The View From Here

December 31, 2012 10:17 am

As everyone knows, there was another gun massacre in America on Friday December 14th, this one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut.  The horrific details are almost too painful to recall. Adam Lanza – a bright, quiet, socially awkward 20 year old – first shot his mom multiple times at their home and then proceeded to drive to Sandy Hook Elementary. He had in possession three guns legally registered to his mother. He would only use one: a .223 calibre rifle. When he arrived armed and wearing a bullet proof vest, he first shot his way through a secured door and entered the school. The school’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was among the first to respond to the sounds of gunshots. She must have courageously attempted to intervene before the shooter could do more harm. But she had no chance and was riddled with bullets. The shooter then made his way to a classroom full of kids and their teachers. He killed most, if not all, of them. He then entered another classroom and did the same before turning his gun on himself. He had enough ammunition left to kill many more kids. It is believed that it was only the knowledge that the police would soon arrive at the school that prompted the shooter to kill himself.

The community of Newtown Connecticut has been plunged into the sort of grief too profound to contemplate.  Who wouldn’t be driven to the depths of despair by the knowledge that twenty kids and six adults were ruthlessly mowed down in a place of learning, a place of community, a place of apparent safety? The rest of the country is no doubt sharing in Newtown’s grief. Intermingled with their profound sorrow, however, is a question and crisis over which Americans remain strangely divided. How many mass killings need to occur before more of America realizes that their love of guns and their strange belief that guns and freedom are synonymous will only lead to more such episodes?

By now it is clear to most people outside of America that their love of guns is demented, dangerous and tragic. This explains why much of the world is dumbfounded by America’s lack of action around guns, despite the haunting regularity of mass shootings on its soil. No wait: there has been action. A panel of federal appeals court judges in Illinois just last week struck down the state’s ban on carrying concealed weapons. In 2008 courts struck down Washington’s ban on handgun ownership. Such court led folly is in keeping with the country’s perverted fascination with the second amendment of its constitution.

Those who zealously defend the right to bear arms don’t only point to the country’s constitution. They also invoke arguments which would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is perhaps the most inane response to the plea for a saner approach to guns. Equally inane is the idea that all these tragedies highlight the need for more guns. If someone else had a gun in at Sandy Hook Elementary School or that theatre in Aurora – or so the thinking goes – the shooter would have been killed sooner than was otherwise the case.  It’s hard to imagine a more dystopian scenario: an entire nation of citizens carrying concealed weapons wherever they go.

Yet amid the tears and the goodbyes to those murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary are voices of sanity struggling to be heard. These voices are perhaps too polite, their outrage muted, but at least they are being raised and not only with respect to gun laws. Thus, for example, they are saying the simmering issues of mental stress and mental illness can no longer be ignored. In all of the coverage I’ve observed the shooter hasn’t once been referred to as a ‘coward.’ It suggests that people understand that such a designation doesn’t begin to explain his capacity to murder dozens of people in cold blood. I don’t pretend to know what combination of twisted thoughts and deprivations drove the killer to commit mass murder. We must be careful not to assume he had a mental illness. But at the very least he was mentally unstable and possibly prone to psychotic episodes. In a nation of 315 million people it is reasonable to expect there are individuals – usually young, disaffected males – who will be similarly unstable. Most grope their way through the darkness without doing harm to others. Occasionally, however, someone acts on his most violent impulses. America, these voices are now saying, is unique in its apparent determination to make it as easy as possible for such individuals to do so.

This is why these same voices are insisting their country toughen its gun laws. After this latest massacre, they appreciate more than ever that an endless proliferation of guns enables horrific violence, not deters it. There is, at last, the recognition that there is no good reason to own a rifle capable of killing many people in a matter of seconds and that eliminating them will prevent more tragedies. They are likely haunted by the question of what might have happened if the killer didn’t have three guns in his home. How would he have channeled his dark thoughts that led him to kill? It’s impossible to know but still worthwhile to speculate. Perhaps his weapon of choice would have been one not able to inflict so much carnage, so quickly. Perhaps he would have only killed himself or perhaps saner thoughts would have somehow won the day. What we do know is this: having his mother’s semi automatic rifle vastly extended the reach of his violent impulses. And so long as such guns are readily available it’s only a matter of time before there is another such massacre.


That much seems obvious. Yet America’s leadership has been tragically timid in the face of the pressure exerted by the National Rifle Association and others like them to eliminate restrictions on gun ownership. Indeed America’s leaders too often appear to be actively working against the voices of sanity. Whether that will change is an open question.  Much has been made of President Obama’s speech at Newtown’s inter faith vigil on Sunday night. He expressed the nation’s sorrow and said that the country had to do better. Not once, however, did he utter the word ‘gun.’ Some thought the word’s absence was appropriate. It struck me as in keeping with his tendency of avoiding offending anyone. This has to change. He and his administration must resist the pressure of the NRA, must ignore their howls of derision and contempt. It is they who are contemptible. Obama must get passed meaningful gun reform. This is the only way the voices of sanity in America will prevail.




Norway: A Country of Unequalled Equality

December 3, 2012 3:18 pm

As the need for accessibility reform grows in Ottawa, it is important to examine countries that have successfully created effective accessibility programs. In Norway, the government has been busy over the past three years attempting to make the whole country more accessible to persons with disabilities.

On January 1, 2009, the Norwegian government, with the permission of the King, enacted aggressive legislation that strengthened legal protection against discrimination on the grounds of disability. The Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act applies to all public areas of society and targets direct and indirect forms of harassment and discrimination towards the disabled, from refusing to hire someone due to a disability or simply neglecting to make a workplace accessible to disabled persons. The Act also requires that public schools allow all disabled students to be given equal opportunities to learn and participate in curricular activities.

This legislation was followed in the same year by a groundbreaking Action Plan put forward by the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion. The Plan details the government’s intentions to make Norway universally accessible for persons with physical disabilities.

In order to enact this mammoth plan, the Ministry began collaborating with a large number of other Norwegian government administrations, including the Ministries of Regional Development, Transport and Communications, Environment and International Development, and the Ministry of Government Administration and Reform. In this way, the accessibility reforms enacted will reach every aspect of public life throughout the country.

The Act was put forward to be in concordance with The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which obliges countries to “implement the necessary measures to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the physical environment, transport, information, communication and other areas and services that are open to or offered by the public.”

Norway plans to increase the number of accessible homes, buildings and outdoor areas by 2025, and ensure that all aspects of Norway’s travel system, including trains, buses and stopping stations, are accessible to disabled persons. Norway is also seeking to improve its information and communications technologies (ICT) network to be entirely accessible to the elderly and persons with disabilities by 2021.

But accessibility isn’t the only concern of the Norwegian government. The Norwegian government has spent nearly a decade enacting legislation prohibiting discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religious belief and sexual orientation.

In 2006, the Anti-Discrimination Act was passed by the Ministry of Labour, which detailed the government’s commitment to promote complete social equality. The Act prevents any forms of discrimination based on ethnicity, national origin, skin colour, language, religion, belief, sexual preference or sexual orientation. Because of this act, employers can no longer fire, demote, refuse to hire or refuse to promote anyone based on any of the above factors.

Arni Hole, former Director General of the Ministry of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion of Norway. PHOTO:

One year ago, at the European Forum for New Ideas, Director General Arni Hole of the Ministry of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion delivered a series of speeches detailing Norway’s commitment to total gender equality.

She emphasized that nations can no longer “afford not to employ all talents from both genders,” and that the world “need[s] women in politics as much as in the corporate world – at all levels.” Hole argued that enabling social frameworks to benefit women and men will build “a more sustainable, fairer and economic[ally] viable society” and that such a society will benefit all involved, “even in strict economic terms.”

The government has enacted a long list of legislation looking to improve the overall equality felt between the two genders. According to Hole: “Sometimes it takes radical affirmative action to produce results and eradicate some of these stern and strict stereotypes.”

Legal protection was offered by the 2003 amendments to corporate laws, requiring every Norwegian company to have 40% of either sex represented on their elected board of supervisors. The amendments accomplished the hoped-for objective: by 2006, an average of 43% of all Norwegian board members were women.

A 2010 study conducted by the Oslo and Copenhagen Business Schools found that the female board members helped make strategic work more efficient by strengthening the board’s capacity-building, developing new competencies and improving conflict management.

These changes to gender representation in Norwegian public and private life have not gone unnoticed. Norway’s legal quotas have been so successful that Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Iceland and Italy have started enacting their own quotas for gender equality on corporate boards.

However, not all of Norway’s gender reforms were brought about by legislation. Since 1986, every Norwegian Cabinet has had a 40%-60% or greater gender balance. There is no law requiring the Head of Government to appoint a certain number of women to Cabinet, yet every government in the past 26 years has chosen at least eight women to hold ministerial offices.

Seeing the increase in available opportunities, brought about by legislation and public pressure, more and more young Norwegian girls are going to school in order to attain employment they never had access to before. As of 2011, 62% of Norwegian University graduates were female.

Hole also stated that “a quota is not a quick fix.” She believes that in order for gender-equality legislation to be successful, it must be enacted in “a more or less gender-equal society” that gives both genders “opportunities to combine careers and family life.”

Thus, the government sought to improve gender equality by enacting legislation to help parents of young children balance work and home life. Norway’s 1993 Parental Leave Scheme gave fathers and mothers of small children the right to leave work early in order to pick up their child from daycare or preschool. These parents also have the right to refuse to work overtime when no one is available to take care of their children.

This legislation has improved the overall status of parents and families in Norway. Save the Children’s 2012 State of the World’s Mothers Report placed Norway as the best country in the world in which to be a mother, with Canada ranking 19th and the US ranking 25th.

On MSN’s 2012 list of the top 10 countries to live in, Norway ranked second.  Canada previously held the second-place rank, but sank down to sixth place in the past year. The ranking is based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Better Life Index, which creates reports and rankings on developed nations based on overall population satisfaction. As of 2012, the index reported that there is a higher per cent of the Norwegian population reporting to be employed, volunteering in community activities, contributing to environmental efforts, managing work-life balance, and feeling more satisfied with their overall quality of life than in those reporting in Canada. Canada still ranks higher in housing availability, income earned, quality of education, quality of health care and overall safety in public life.

But these statistics don’t lie, as in the past year alone, Norway has seen a substantial increase in labour migration, as tens of thousands of immigrants moved to the country looking for work, many of them with their families.

According to Hole, the government strives to be as transparent as possible, placing all public hearings online and opening Ministerial journals to the public.  All social reforms are always subject to consultation and public hearings before being voted on in Parliament.

All private and public businesses are required to submit annual reports to the government detailing the status of social equality in their workplace. The government responds with measurements and evaluations based on the information submitted. Such “transparency” and “exposure,” says Hole, keeps companies and government accountable to the commitment to social equality and thus promote “sound economics,” as well as “a moral base [with] equal opportunities for all individuals.”

Hole believes that Norway needs to continue to “develop a society better prepared for future challenges in terms of demographic changes, economic competitiveness, employment, social sustainability and human rights.” Hole and the Norwegian government claim that all individuals should have equal access to all sectors of society, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, religious belief or disability.

By giving equal opportunity to all individuals, at the workplace, in school, in government, and even through public transportation and building accessibility, Norway seeks to enable to ensure that those with high competencies, unique talents, creative minds and indomitable spirits are never hindered in any aspect of their daily life.

This includes the disabled and handicapped, as preventing even one person from being able to enter a building or travel to work runs the risk of preventing someone with inimitable aptitude from contributing to the betterment of their country.


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