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Russell Wangersky: Welcome to the new anything but normal

A “BANG Flag Gun,” complete with warnings not to point it at anyone because “This product may be mistaken for an actual firearm by law enforcement officers and others.”
A “BANG Flag Gun,” complete with warnings not to point it at anyone because “This product may be mistaken for an actual firearm by law enforcement officers and others.” - SaltWire Network

It looks like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, if you remember such things: a black-handled plastic gun with an orange barrel, and when you pull the trigger, the barrel splits open and a flag unfolds that reads “BANG”.

It calls itself the “Clown ‘BANG’ Flag Gun,” promises “High Caliber Humour,” is made in China and then distributed by a company based in Melville, N.Y., no doubt a bit of fun until the moving pieces break two days after you buy it.

It’s made for the three-year-old-and-up set, who most likely can’t read the extensive warnings on the back of the package. Warnings like the one that says, “This product may be mistaken for an actual firearm by law enforcement officers and others.” Another points out altering it to look more like a gun, “is dangerous and may be a crime” and that using it to commit a crime is “punishable with criminal penalties.”

Maybe it’s just the boilerplate U.S. warning that all things that could look like guns have to carry: it sure looks odd on something so completely toy-like.

But there’s a lot that’s odd south of the border.

Here’s a statement that generated a healthy amount of response after six people, including the gunman, died in a mass shooting in Bakersfield, Calif., on Sept. 12. The gunman shot and killed a supervisor at a trucking firm, the gunman’s workplace. His ex-wife. Another employee at the trucking firm. A man who had loaned him money, and that man’s daughter.

The gunman shot and killed himself as police closed in.

“Six people lost their lives in a very short amount of time,” Sheriff Donny Youngblood of Kern County told the media. “This is the new normal.”

Sadly, Youngblood is right — it is the new normal, with the U.S. having experienced 256 mass shootings already this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive — and no one seems to be interested in doing anything about it.

The Bakersfield mass shooting was a combination of guns and domestic violence.

Here’s something gleaned from the shooter’s self-filed divorce documents: “We are getting divorced because my wife cheated on me. I would like for the judge to grant me a subpoena for me to see the text messages to whom my wife texted to. These are the following numbers...” Two of the phone numbers were for people who the gunman shot and killed.

And numbers are rising: in 2014, the Gun Violence Archive counted 12,578 gun deaths in the U.S. In 2015, it was 13,534. In 2016, 15,107 and in 2017, 15,637.

The idea that pointing even the most obvious of children’s toys at a police officer could have tragic results is horrifying (483 children aged 11 or younger have been injured or killed in gun violence in the U.S. already this year).

The idea that mass murders are in any way normal is also horrifying.

There should be no normal in that at all.

People get angry: armed people, obviously, get angry and deadly. Police officers, regularly answering calls where weapons are involved and on edge because of that, might conceivably shoot you just as the “BANG” flag appears at the end of your toy gun. Think about that.

Normalizing any of this is not the answer.

Fixing it is — and the lesson for us up north is how important it is to keep big, secret money from having any pull in our politics. The American gun lobby, still strident amongst the firearm shambles south of the border, is an example of how dangerous that can be.

“High Caliber Humour,” it isn’t. Not in any way.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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