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The politicians who failed to take action in America, actually made a choice to allow mass shooting events to happen.

The politicians who failed to take action in America, actually made a choice to allow mass shooting events to happen.

We had only been in Canada a matter of weeks when a deranged gunman massacred innocent children at Sandy Hook elementary school.

Our family stayed transfixed and bewildered by what we were seeing. We were sure that now, finally, Americans would take action on gun control.  We were wrong.

As an Australian, and particularly a Tasmanian, the repeated suggestion that introducing tighter gun control would have no impact on tragedies like this seems wilfully, and perhaps culpably ignorant.

We had a sickening tragedy here. Our then Prime Minister bravely stood in the face of opposition and changed the law.

I distinctly remember his decision to stand in front of an angry crowd to answer for his decision with the outline of a bullet proof vest filling out his jacket in a way that signaled the risk he believed he was taking.  There were lots of things I disagreed with John Howard about, but I will be forever grateful that in a moment of tragedy he demonstrated what leadership looks like.

The reason an American leader hasn’t taken the same path (although clearly Obama wanted to), is that the United States is slightly less aware of a fact that most of us forget most of the time: we are shaped by our environments much more than any of us want to acknowledge.

Guns don’t kill people, politicians who don’t lead kill people.

We want to believe that success or failure, winning or losing, good or evil behaviour is always a product of our free choice. It’s not. And the fact it’s not is a huge problem for a country that prizes free choice above everything.

It is the prizing of free choice that produces the unique kind of politics we see in the States . It is also this prizing of free choice that produces the gun culture in the U.S.A.  There is nothing that says “I’m free” more than my ability to kill anyone who wants to compel me to do something I don’t want to do. In America guns equal freedom. That freedom though, is an illusion.

As I pointed out in a previous reflection, one of the biggest risk factors for death by shooting is gun ownership. The tools that are meant to bring freedom, bring the opposite. Why is that? Our lives are profoundly shaped by our environments.

We all need to understand that nations are much more than a collection of individuals, and their choices. Nations are complex systems that are shaped both intentionally and unintentionally by the conscious and unconscious agreements their constituents make about how they live together. The same is true for families, churches and organisations. Those agreements then, in turn, shape the constituents.

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