Thursday, 23 October 2014

Calm down, everyone. It's just an idiot.

     Yesterday, in our nation's capital of Ottawa, there was an incident that has drawn a great deal of attention and led to much wringing of hands. A man with a hunting rifle shot and killed a soldier standing guard by our National War Memorial, and fled the scene in a car. Shortly thereafter, the same shooter arrived a couple of blocks away at Parliament Hill, and ran into Centre Block. There were two exchanges of gunfire, after which the shooter lay dead. There were two casualties: the shooter and the soldier he had shot. Some of the staff in the Parliament block were injured, but no one else was killed.

     Now, this certainly was a significant event, and definitely newsworthy, but let's try to put it into perspective. So far as we know, one person, for reasons known only to himself, undertook heinous acts of violence. He murdered one guy, and then was shot while presumably trying to murder some others. We grieve for the man he killed, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, and the shootout on Parliament Hill is scary to contemplate not just because it's where our government does its work but because it's a location so familiar to us from media scrums and tours. (I was there myself earlier this year.)
     But that's about as far as it should go. This was not a meaningful attack on us as a nation or an act of war, because a lone deluded individual doesn't and shouldn't have that kind of power. Back in 1981, a mentally ill man shot President Ronald Reagan in the bizarre belief it would impress an actress he was infatuated with. What does it matter who yesterday's shooter was trying to impress, or what ideology he thought he was advancing? He was a criminal idiot, and that's how we ought to react to this.

     The sad truth is that people are murdered from time to time, even in Canada. It's a tragedy when it happens, and we should look to ways to prevent it, but the happier truth is that it happens less and less often. More and more of us live our entire lives without ever killing anyone. Violence may never completely disappear from human society, but it is in decline. A side effect of that decline, though, is that we are more shocked by violence when it does happen, and perhaps a little more prone to overreact.

     So what should be done?  I'm not sure we need to do much differently at all, at least not in response to this incident. It's just another data point to consider when formulating policy on a number of issues: gun ownership, mental health, etc. Probably security procedures at Parliament Hill may need to be revised somewhat, as it's a little troubling someone was able to run all the way up into the front door and get as far as the library while brandishing a hunting rifle. They make visitors go through metal detectors, after all. And yet, let's not forget that he actually failed to kill anyone else, and ended up dead himself. Although he shouldn't have got as far as he did, they did stop him.
     But there is absolutely no reason why this should have any impact whatsoever on foreign policy. It should not dissuade us from participating in the fight against ISIS, nor should it stir us to escalate our contribution. The criminal stupidity of a lone gunman should not move us to anger or fear. Let's not give him that power.


  1. Only 2 people died. But there were at least 3 or 4 others injured.

  2. The injuries were not reported in the coverage I saw, so foolishly I assumed there were none, or at least nothing life-threatening. Thank you for correcting me; I will edit the post accordingly.