Senseless tragedy reignites gun debate

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Wendy Elliott column

Towns like Columbine and Aurora in Colorado, Richmond, Virginia and now Newton, Connecticut are forever marked by senseless tragedy. Most of us cannot conceive of a young man, clad in black, carrying two handguns into an elementary school and creating a massacre.

As police were trying to identify the 20 innocent child victims amongst the 26 murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, many Americans (and Canadians) were blaming lax gun laws and the secularization of education.

In this country, we have our own meaningless school deaths to chronicle. The 20th anniversary of the 14 women who died at Montreal’s École Polytechnique just passed. Then there were the shootings at the high school in Taber, Alberta and at another Montreal’s Dawson College.

Last week, I scoffed while visiting a local elementary school to take a photo. There were no teachers’ names on the classroom doors, so I had to interrupt several lessons to find the right spot. No doubt, those nameless rooms were the result of a security concern. After what happened at Sandy Hook, no one will lampoon security measures in an educational setting.

Ironically, we ran a story in The Advertiser last week about funding for Wolfville Schools, which mentioned the old rifle range in what was once the high school.

Afterwards, I heard from a reader that the rifle range was built for the school’s cadet corps, which disappeared soon after the structure was opened in 1956. Imagine students practicing their shooting skills during class time, but then, civilization had just endured a second world war.

The previous school in Wolfville had a rifle range too, which was located in its basement. The doors to the basement were locked, then the doors between the boy’s section and the girl’s section were opened, so students could aim at targets at the opposite end of the building.

Apparently the rifles were Lee Enfield military rifles, but students never brought their own guns in order to train. However, I am told that 60 years ago, it was not uncommon for teenagers to ride their bikes down Main Street, with their own .22 rifles or a shotgun, to the dump on Maple Avenue to shoot rats.

“We thought nothing of it, nor did anyone else,” I was told. Not only that, the school janitor at the time patrolled the school grounds on Halloween night with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with coarse salt. And he used it on mischievous boys.

When I relayed that story at the office, a colleague laughed and allowed he has scars from coarse salt that he picked up trying to steal fruit off trees near downtown Windsor. The landowner had no qualms about shooting him.

Earlier this fall, I had a chance to read

Robie W. Tufts’ autobiography. He was a renowned birdman and migratory bird officer for Nova Scotia from 1919 to 1947. Tufts had a deep concern about declining flocks of birds due to overhunting.

With relentless determination and armed with new conservation laws, he collected an impressive 679 charges and convictions during the first 13 years of his work. He got into boats, bearded offenders and took chances like a seasoned police officer.

One tale about his unique approach to law enforcement concerned two young boys that he caught shooting birds in a Valley orchard. In the first instance he delivered a blood-curdling lecture, then he took the two lads into his Wolfville home, where he introduced them, in a friendlier way, to the philosophy of conservation. Later in life, the two young mischief-makers developed distinguished careers in wildlife conservation.

It is obvious that 60 years ago, guns were far more commonplace and prevalent than they are today, but massacres were largely unheard of. Young boys thought it was fine to kill masses of birds, but they would never have directed that killing power at human beings.

What has changed? We need to figure out why our society has become so much more violent, 

Organizations: Dawson College, Sandy Hook Elementary School, École Polytechnique Wolfville Schools

Geographic location: Montreal, Columbine, Aurora in Colorado Richmond, Virginia Newton, Connecticut Wolfville Taber Alberta Sandy Hook Maple Avenue Windsor Nova Scotia

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