The massacre of nineteen fourth-graders and two of their teachers in Uvalde, Texas, last month, prompted the immediate tightening of gun laws – in Canada. Less than a week after Uvalde, Justin Trudeau’s government tabled legislation that will ban all handgun sales and buy back military-style assault weapons, measures that will pass easily and with little fuss. And Trudeau left little doubt about what prompted the move when he said publicly:
As a government, as a society, we have a responsibility to act to prevent more tragedies. We need only look south of the border to know that if we do not take action, firmly and rapidly, it gets worse and worse and more difficult to counter.
This sensible action is often chalked up to Canadian cultural differences, a gentler politics, even easygoing Canadian temperaments. But a really smart analysis in the New York Times says it’s about something else entirely: a fundamental difference in government structure – a one-chamber (House only) parliamentary system in the Western world vs a two-chamber (House + Senate) constitutional Republic that exists only in the US.
To see how well it would play out if the US had a parliamentary system just take a look at what happened in the House this week. On the heels of heartbreaking Congressional testimony from survivors of the Uvalde tragedy, the House passed a good number of gun control measures by majority vote, 223 to 204. Which, in a nutshell, is how a parliamentary system works.
But the US is not about to join the world; instead, it’s back to Groundhog Day, where the House measures are doomed to fail in the evenly divided Senate, where solid Republican opposition means it can’t draw the 60 votes needed to break through a filibuster and move forward, thus locking in, once again, its outlier position:
Ranking US officials tacitly admit to a flawed governmental structure. For instance, as the Times points out, whenever they help set up new democracies abroad they almost always model them on European-style parliaments and not on their own two-chambered system.
The American people, too, might want to consider whether they have a fundamentally flawed governmental structure, because 66% of them favor stricter gun control measures – the exact same number of Canadians who favor, and have, such laws.
But in just a few weeks time on July 4th the United States will celebrate Independence Day. Where we’ll be inundated with the time-honored rhetoric of the “genius” of our Founding Fathers who, in 1789, authored the country’s seminal document, the Constitution. Which prescribed, for the very first time, an “upper chamber” – a Senate – whose mandate was to be a wise “cautious . . . more deliberative body in the legislative branch to cool the passions and control the urges of democratic masses.”
Certainly a good idea in principle. But in this era of massive gun violence and children, to name but one pressing matter, we’re being held hostage by a large cohort of senators whose wisdom counsels . . . even more guns and – of course – less doors.