The tools we choose to use

Dear Artist, I’ve always been fond of brushes. Traditional tools going back to primitive times, for the past five hundred years or so, brushes have more or less standardized into a classic form; gently lathed, finely finished, long-handled and short, balanced for holding in various ways and points of view. Brushes come easily to men’s hands as well as those of women and children. In all shapes and sizes, their soft parts help to describe the personalities of those who use them.

Teach your children well.
Zoe Genn in the studio.

Even in the hands of madmen, brushes can do little immediate harm. But, like pens and pencils, they have the potential to be mightier than swords. Every time we pick one up we reinstate our membership in a great brotherhood and sisterhood. From the first Stone Age flint or adz, man distinguished himself as the most creative and inventive of the tool-making animals. The axe, the shovel, the ploughshare, the book, the brush, the cello, the scalpel, and the CT scan evolved to serve purposes that could not always be visualized by the generations before. Tools within tools within tools now take us across skies and straight up into space so we can look back at the gift of our mother earth. Is there no limit to mankind’s ability to create tools? And do we not have a choice which tools we will use? Our accumulated culture and the breadth of our character determine the tools we use. The camera tool and its various iterations, for example, permit the re-enactment of lethal confrontations, the depiction of imagined evils and the greatest depths of fear. The camera tool can visualize for us the solving of problems by both violence and gentility. Whole industries glorify the use of our tools, and just cleaning our tools can give some of us a thrill. Future anthropologists, arriving from another planet, may dig in our middens and determine we were “The People of the Gun.” A brilliantly conceived tool, the gun has evolved to reach a remarkable range and power. Plain or sophisticated, outsized or miniaturized, concealed or openly brandished, apart from its legitimate use for shooting pop cans off fences, the gun has always been a tool for taking the lives of other beings. Understanding how it is possible to fall in love with our tools, it’s time we study how this gun tool is now out of hand. Do we not need to rethink its value and its presence among us? Can we outgrow the gun? Best regards, Robert PS: “We must all work to make this world worthy of its children.” (Pablo Casals) Esoterica: In the time it takes to paint a small picture, someone, somewhere, will lose his or her life to a gun. Like mental illness and fanaticism, gun ownership is worldwide. And wherever home ownership of guns is highest, gun deaths are also the highest. Let us return to our gentle tools. To brushes and violins, to cellos and palettes. If mankind has a destiny, it should be for greater things than guns.   No finger pointing by Mary Jeanne Mailloux, Oakville, ON, Canada  

“Costa Rican garden”
watercolour painting
by Mary Jeanne Mailloux

It is by broad public dialogue and social pressure that we will change society. We’ve done it with smoking, with drinking and driving and with car emissions. Let’s make owning a gun as unpopular and as dangerous as it has proven to be. We must not overlook the seriousness of the problem of dealing with acting-out youth either. Parents who are lost in terms of their teens in trouble need to be able to speak out and get help. There should be no finger pointing or judgment passed, but instead a broad recognition of a social phenomena escalating in every class of society.     There are always signs by Donna Veeder, Utica, NY, USA   There are entirely too many guns in this world. Not enough art and not enough brushes. But this past week’s tragedy was more of a mental health phenomenon. Someone did not talk to another person about this young man. Someone kept it all to the self, and maybe more than one person did that. Who had suspicions that he might become violent? There are signs. There are always signs. We did not see the signs in my mother before she killed herself. Afterwards, it was very clear. There were signs. We need to help people, everyone, to learn to understand the meaning of the signs of what they are seeing and thereby save other lives in the future. There are 3 comments for There are always signs by Donna Veeder
From: Darla — Dec 21, 2012

The signs of mental illness are not always distinguishable from normal things that people do. The signs are always clear afterward; that’s because we know what happened next. Starting a witch hunt for mentally ill or disabled people would be incredibly wrong. It would be better to treat everyone well even if we think they’re strange, and make a safe place for people to talk about their problems and get help. As the mother of an autistic adult, I see that things like a job or friends are out of reach for my daughter. Just being accepted as a human being with feelings who deserves to be part of society would be a step up. Why can’t we do this? It wouldn’t cost a cent.

From: Cyndie Katz — Dec 21, 2012

I agree that there are not always signs, and mental illness can come on very quickly. That’s why we shouldn’t all be armed to the teeth. There really is no telling who might become violent without warning. For example, medications can cause psychotic episodes, dementia comes on and most are in denial when it does, emotional tragedy strikes — there are lots of things that can push ANYONE over the edge.

From: Jan Milner Cole — Dec 22, 2012

It would be a terrible shame to side step the issue and witch hunt people with mental illness just when we seemed to be slowly taking the stigma away from mental illness and accepting it as an something that effects a majority (I think) of people at some stage in their lives. I also agree seeing ‘warning signs’ is unreliable. As I recall most people interviewed about their neighbor or workmate who commits an act of this sort says something like “he/she was just a quiet person, inoffensive and keeping to themselves”. Well their a lot of us out there who could described like that. It is scary when you think about how many of us, artists more particularly, are thought to be a bit ‘odd’. Gun control surely is the issue. This crazy thing where Americans seem to associate the ‘right to bear arms’ (and defend their country when faced with peril) with everyone having guns in their home, in their cars, in their offices, handbags, god knows where, to protect themselves from what ever evil they fantasize is lurking specifically to ‘get them’, is simply beyond me. What makes people actually take up arms and use them when seemingly unprovoked is a mystery. It is worth thinking about what happens elsewhere. Is Switzerland a country with considerable personal position of fire arms as a result of national service? What is the incidence of gun violence there? It might be interesting to look into the stats in Israel. Whatever I definitely think that there should be gun control and a lot of investigation into why people (Americans in particular) come to feel so angry, so disassociated from others, or so paranoid that they take action of this sort. Love your shared thoughts Robert and particularly love your wonderful quotes from wonderful people so worth quoting….

  The gun religion by Jim Oberst, Hot Springs Village, AR, USA  

“Wales Mud Flats”
watercolour painting
by Jim Oberst

We may be artists and art-lovers, but we’re also people, and are deeply touched by the violence in our society. It’s difficult for me to understand why some people are so fervently in favor of guns — all guns, even ones with large magazines — when they see that they’re often used as a “tool” to kill innocents. To not be willing to rethink this stance after the terrible tragedies that have occurred seems strange to me. It’s as if for some, gun ownership has become a fundamentalist sort of religion where faith is king and there’s no tolerance for challenges to the status quo based on real evidence or honest thought. Let’s hope, for the good of all of us, that our gun culture refocuses on hunting and in-home self-defense, and away from super-lethal weapons and carrying guns wherever we go. The next time someone in a vehicle gets angry because they feel that I cut them off, I hope they don’t have a gun in their glove compartment! There are 2 comments for The gun religion by Jim Oberst
From: Anna H. — Dec 20, 2012

Well said, Jim. I couldn’t say it better myself. We can only hope that people will wake up and recognize reality one day…

From: Selma Blackburn — Dec 21, 2012

I agree with you, Jim. Our culture needs to change its values.

  The loss of moral values by Mary Marriner, Atlanta, GA, USA  

“Dark Horse”
pastel painting
by Mary Marriner

We will never be able to remove guns from all the bad guys out there, because they just seem to have ways of obtaining them. So, why would we want to remove guns from the good people who need them to protect and defend themselves? If the principal had been armed at the school in Connecticut, then the outcome might have been very different. We must all remember that the gun didn’t kill the precious children any more than a fork makes you overeat. It is the person behind the “tool” that causes the problem and faulty judgments by parents, or lack of parenting. We have strayed way too far from our moral roots. It would be more effective to find these troubled people and attempt to help them… teach them the consequences of their behaviors… teach them to value life and to do kind things for others and not to be so self-absorbed. Again, most of this goes back to parenting and teaching values. I am afraid that as future societies look back on us, it won’t be the guns that they see, but rather, they will see a society that has lost sight of moral values and respect for life. One that has been overtaken by greed and self, rather than caring for the needs of others. There are 9 comments for The loss of moral values by Mary Marriner
From: Brigitte Nowak — Dec 20, 2012

Guns don’t kill people? But for people who kill, it is so much easier to do so with a gun, easier than it would be with a paintbrush, or a rock, or even a knife. And in a country where there are more gun shops than grocery stores, maybe it isn’t the guns that kill, but having so many guns makes it easy for the wrong people to acquire – and use – them. The concept that the gun is simply a “tool” gets trotted out fairly regularly. Ana analogy is that motor vehicle fatalities are “accidents”, rather than preventable collision (interesting that in the U.S., the fatalities resulting from motor vehicle collisions are only slightly higher than those resulting from gun violence!. Of course we need to “find these troubled people and attempt to help them”. But while that is being done, removing the “tool” from the equation would do wonders to reduce gun-related fatalities. For evidence, it isn’t necessary to look any further than the incidence of gun crimes in cultures where gun ownership is not endemic: while U.S. gun related fatalities (depending on the sources cited) range from 12,000 to 35,000 annually, in countries where guns are difficult to acquire, gun fatalities are as low as 18 (U.K.) and 11 (Japan). Even in Canada, which has a society fairly similar to that of the U.S. (except that we believe that public health care is a right), we average fewer than 150 gun-related deaths per year (and if our population were equivalent to that of the U.S., this figure would still be one tenth that of the U.S. Perhaps it is time that, rather than glorifying guns and suggesting that the solution to gun violence is more guns, the U.S. may want to take a cue from cultures that don’t celebrate such nasty “tools”. Too many precious lives, with all of their unfulfilled potential, have been lost to not try another path.

From: Diane Mayer — Dec 20, 2012

Let’s not forget that the first victim had 5 guns. That didn’t save her life. We cannot put our faith in guns to save us.

From: Anna H. — Dec 20, 2012

It is much more difficult for a person to kill a roomful of people with a knife than with a gun…

From: Anonymous — Dec 20, 2012

Simple rebuttal. Nancy Lanza thought that guns would protect & defend her if there was an economic/social collapse. How’d that work out for her?

From: Darla — Dec 21, 2012

The “tool” you talk about was designed for just one purpose: to kill people. Why the surprise when someone uses it for that? We need to help and teach moral values, certainly-but if you miss just one person and he has a gun available, he could be the next mass murderer.

From: Jean — Dec 21, 2012

I have heard the quote, “if the principal had been armed, the outcome may have been different” a number of times. Regardless of your stance on gun control, that argument is not valid. In fact, it seems ridiculous. Picture yourself as the principal. Would you have the training, the split second ability to make a decision, and the moral fortitude, to gun down someone who enters your school, right at that moment? Arming school personnel is NOT the answer.

From: Ann — Dec 21, 2012

It is illegal in Connecticut to possess a firearm if you are under the age of 21. It is illegal in the US to kill your mother and steal her guns. It is illegal in the US to bring a firearm into a gun free school zone. It is illegal in the US to kill teachers and administrators. It is illegal in the US to slaughter children. I don’t understand how more laws are the answer here. As to Jean’s point about arming school personnel, I agree that everyone is not suitable to carry or use a firearm, but some certainly are. And the principal or some other administrator might have made a difference even if it was locked away in her office. There are many retired military and law enforcement people who have concealed carry permits that would welcome the opportunity to volunteer in their schools if allowed. The overwhelming majority of mass shootings have occured in gun free zones and for good reason. Even lunatics don’t want people shooting back at them. Gun free zones = criminal safe zones. Taking guns away from people who didn’t do it is not the answer.

From: Hugo — Dec 21, 2012

Great Ann, carry on with that line of thinking. Put the retired military and law enforcement people in front of every school and at the end of the year total the “incidental” fatalities caused by them (I can hear it now: I thought he had a gun under his coat, or I thought he was reaching for a gun – when it was a cell phone). Bet you the fatalities outnumber the cause…

From: Ann — Dec 22, 2012

Hugo, clearly you haven’t spent much time around law enforcement and military personnel to have such a low opinion of their abilities.

  The enemy is us by Stewart Turcotte, Kelowna, BC, Canada  

“John’s Sentinels, Coming Home”
acrylic painting
by Stewart Turcotte

You are correct to point out that the generations past could not have foreseen how any tool in our tool box could have evolved and be used or misused in the future. One thing is certain, in the days when the American Constitution was penned there was a fairly real threat of invasion and there was a real value to being able to have a gun on hand to defend your country. There may still even be a need and desire to hunt for food or sport. Nowadays, however, the enemy will not be sailing into New York or San Francisco harbour; any real threat from another country will be dropping from the sky, so no number of personal armaments will be effective. What is more up-to-date and relevant is something Pogo said in 1974 in Walt Kelly’s comic strip: “We have met the enemy and he is us!” Americans who have armed themselves and then lost their guns, left their gun cabinets open with guns loaded or used them unwisely (to say the least), are openly hostile to other Americans or, as we have seen so many times, are people of limited mental capacity, now leave more carnage on their streets in the USA than any in other peaceful country in the developed world. It is time to simply take the assault guns out of the American home. They are used to kill policemen, other gang members, store owners and now children. Live in Peace.   The decaying society by Ingrid Dabringer, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada  

art posters

Territorialism is a natural part of humanity and so is narrative. Humans have used stories to make sense of their lives & deaths, food & water sources, astrological & environmental milestones, not to mention moral choices (The Bible, Brothers Grimm and Aesop). Fantasies and realities often mingle but life becomes very difficult to manage when reality is no more than a toy batted around by ideological fantasies (please see Fox News). We will always be measured by the stories we tell ourselves, the myths by which we choose to live. The current myth systems of Individualism (at all cost) and Capitalism/Consumerism (at all cost) is a limited and diseased framework. I think that these ideologies and their Somas (Brave New World) create a madness of being and a general normalizing of dissociative behaviour — where people vote by watching TV or purchasing objects. This is yet another reason we need to have gun regulations. Until recently, we were all products of ancestors who had survived drought, famine, disease, environmental catastrophes and wars. But in the age of excess and consumerism, where we mine the earth like drunken sailors, this is no longer true in our western society. But, every condition in life comes with built-in limits. The infinite is a wonderful concept and has a place in our society as a concept. But the infinite has no real application here on earth. It seems logical to me that Individualism and Capitalism will have its own built-in pestilence/limit/ expiry date/ best-by date. There are many signs (and our upcoming treasured winter solstice is not one of them) that something in our society stinks to high heaven. But, in a culture that holds leisure as its primary goal and where death is an unmentionable reality, I wonder if the very essence of what it means to fight and die for democracy can even still exist. When and how do we take to the streets and fight for democracy when the “sources” say that those streets are cold, dark and unfriendly? If we can’t take the time to stand for what we believe in and physically undertake actions that support our beliefs then we can’t expect our children to do so either.   Craving peace by Jan Oxendale, Minneapolis, MN, USA  

“Snowy swim”
oil painting
by Jan Oxendale

I live in the country south of yours where gun ownership runs rampant. Adding to it is the multimedia form of entertainment in which the gun is the featured tool to use for murder and mass destruction. It comes in the forms of television shows, movies and of course, video games. Violence is not limited to the United States. Witness the 2011 Norway attacks when 77 lives were taken at the Workers’ Youth League summer camp. The assault took the lives of adults as well as children and babies. Anders Behring Breivik had trouble procuring weapons in Prague, even though it was known to have relaxed laws regarding guns and drugs. He was able to obtain the lethal guns he used from Norway, albeit after taking some required sport gun training to imply that he bought a .223-caliber Ruger, semi-automatic carbine, for the purpose of hunting deer. He used explosives, as well, to carry out his twisted purposes. The violence is not limited to psychotic individuals who, for some reason, believe there are evil forces to be reckoned with in ways that are unimaginable to the reasonable person. We see reports of violence, where the gun is used to kill innocent lives regularly in countries constantly at war, as in the Middle East and Africa. We need to limit what kind of gun can be purchased on the free market. Semi-automatic and automatic weapons have no place in society other than to kill people. As a start, I have made my feelings known to the powers that are capable of changing it. But that is only one step, although a significant one, that would send our society on a path to peacefulness. As artists, we are creative people who may be able to use our tools to bring the craving for peace and tranquility to the rest of the population. As citizens, we can let our neighbors, the media and governments know that regulations must be put in place to prevent the gun from being so easily used to kill each other.   It’s the culture by Alan Mynall, Oxford, UK  

“Green man 3”
oil painting
by Alan Mynall

Canadians own more guns per capita than USA, but gun homicides are about a tenth of those in the USA. FIREARM HOMICIDE RATES (per 100,000 people) USA: 3.98 Italy: 0.81 Switzerland: 0.50 (gun ownership is compulsory for most adults) Canada: 0.40 Finland: 0.35 Australia: 0.24 France: 0.21 England/Wales: 0.15 Source: Kings College London I’m no apologist for gun ownership, I don’t own a gun myself, but it’s too easy to blame the problem on the tool we use rather than the culture that influences its use. There are 2 comments for It’s the culture by Alan Mynall
From: Michael Jorden — Dec 21, 2012

Alan, thanks for adding some calm science to this discussion. I am a gun owner as well as a dedicated painter. Everyone this week has been talking about guns; virtually no one has mentioned violence. For my part I wish this forum would get back to talking about art. I like your Green Man by the way.

From: Anonymous — Dec 21, 2012

I think the Swiss gunw required also require assembling before use in a national emergency.

  The death of compromise by Danny A. Belrose, Independence, MO, USA   Amid all the outrage, questions, second-guessing, third-party analysis, debates regarding gun legislation, improved mental health systems, tighter school security I find myself mourning and in grief over another tragedy — a slow impending death that undergirds our inability to adequately respond to issues raised by the recurrence of mass slayings and the will to effectively realize Shalom in a nation founded on freedom that affords life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Extremism is the rule of the day; a rule that has pronounced a death sentence on its antonym Compromise. Extremism is more than a word game. It’s an attitude, a mindset, a malignancy of the spirit of mutuality. It is political, theological, philosophical, and societal deafness to viewpoints other than our own. We are fast becoming an Us against Them culture, a people who are diametrically opposed and unyielding on some of the most basic of human rights and hopes (health care, safety, security, education, immigration, taxation, gender and sexual equity, etc.,) while waving the same stars and stripes. I am not referring to diversity of opinions or suggesting we must all be on the same page on every topic. That’s never going to happen and shouldn’t happen. I’m talking about a blatant unwillingness to budge from pre-determined verdicts set in cement. We are losing the ability to ‘listen’ to each other and to seek common ground and common good. Rather than working toward toleration, balance, and agreement through a give and take process of communication, we are fast becoming a TAKE ALL and GIVE NOTHING society. Compromise is seen as defeat, capitulation, and a surrender of objectives and principles rather than a pathway for improved relationships and shared results. Nowhere is this more evident than our present political environment. For example, politicians pledging to ‘never’ increase taxes are nonsensical and irresponsible. When a political party (Democrat OR Republican) wins by a huge margin it DOES have the mandate of the electorate, yet we see defeated parties (again, Democrat OR Republican) entrenched and unwilling to surrender on issues that the electorate failed to support. Yes, there will be some agreement struck re today’s fiscal cliff stalemate but compromise even on this issue will smack more of political gamesmanship than co-operation. The death of compromise is also evident in the quick fire responses to gun control discussion that immediately becomes fodder following mass shootings. Voices demand tighter restrictions and bans on assault weapons, while the NRA and its ardent supporters cry foul pointing to the Second Amendment as a divine mandate of one’s individual right to bear arms. Some believe the answer to a safer society is for EVERYONE to be armed. They bode no ‘compromise’ seeing ANY attempt to limit the purchase and use of ANY type of firearm as an attack on their freedom and a plot to seize every citizen’s sidearm or rifle. Senseless paranoia rules. Compromise on this topic is anathema. What then will follow the dried tears of Newtown? What action if any will be taken to help avert such heinous events? Can we put an end to mass killings? No. Can we eliminate or prevent deranged persons from harming others? No. Can we radically decrease mass school shootings? YES, through better school security systems and stiffer laws on assault weapons. Is there an ultimate solution to the issue of violence? As a retired preacher I’m tempted to shout, YES! But let’s face it; preaching joy, hope, love, and peace isn’t by itself going to cut it. To quote Barack Obama, “You can’t always come up with the optimal solution, but you can usually come up with a better solution.” I do not own a gun. I am not in the market for a gun. BUT I am not opposed to guns. There are responsible gun owners, hunters, collectors, target enthusiasts, etc. The argument that criminals and mentally unstable persons will always be able to procure illegal arms does not justify our present willingness to make it easy for them to obtain any weapon and stockpile enough ammunition to slaughter classrooms of innocent children. The horrific tragedy in Newtown echoes the cries of those heard at Columbine, college campuses, and malls in a nation where a person is 22 times more likely to be shot to death than in any other civilized country. In his most recent Sojourner’s article, Jim Wallis states, “There are more gun dealers now in America than McDonald’s restaurants.” He goes on to say, “The gun lobby and the gun business are now the same thing.” It comes down more to dollars and cents than it does to freedom to carry. Patriotic rhetoric wrapped in the Second Amendment is but a blanket for a billion dollar business. Mass shootings and political stalemate will not decrease in this nation until we learn in the interest of the common good that our intractable convictions are not sacrosanct. We must lay our divided opinions on the altar of sacrifice and work mutually toward solutions that provide life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and safety for every child and every adult in a nation that understands there is no freedom without responsibility. Failing to do so, the death of compromise may well be our death knell. There are 4 comments for The death of compromise by Danny A. Belrose
From: sjensen — Dec 21, 2012


From: Dean Wilson — Dec 21, 2012

What I find very frightening is that the course of mankind is in the hands of bankers, lawyers and journalists.

From: Jackie Knott — Dec 21, 2012

Reading the commentary and opinions of this week’s letter illustrates a gentle minded and concerned forum. Artists’ viewpoint of life is a higher calling where violence has no place. I just watched a PBS special about the CT tragedy, causation, law, mental illness, firearm proliferation, etc., … the point is we are now asking questions that are long overdue. If there is any remote good that can come from such a horrific tragedy and loss of innocent life, it is this country is so shaken we are having this conversation. I want this subject exhausted to a solution, or at least some positive action. I want politics removed from the debate. I want “pro/con” reduced to best possible solution coupled with reason. My fellow Americans, we have a problem here … to turn our backs on this issue undermines our whole society. With regards to this culture of violence I marvel at the first recourse is to reach for a gun. The immediate response to whatever is violence. Why not with the first encounter of a problem, counseling? Was it not available? Or did it “cost?” Why does a malcontent not ask for help? In this country a troubled individual first seeks a tool of destruction as the first, only, and final solution …. and that is the dividing line between reason and disconnect. My experience tells me there are evil people in this world. I was introduced to them by victims in the ER. There was virtually no reason why a patient was so viciously and maliciously attacked. In tandem with that I encountered a spiritual conversion. It came to my understanding there were some who were incapable of compassion. There are some who reject the saving grace of a Savior … some who gave themselves over completely to evil, to destruction. I don’t know if any country can pass enough laws to combat that. And last, because of them, I will protect myself with a firearm and hope I never, ever have to use it.

From: Nancy Cantelon, Port McNeill, B.C. — Dec 24, 2012

Jackie Knott, thanks for your sensible comment! Those who are campaigning to abolish the Second Amendment need to give their heads a shake. Should that ever happen, the next goal would be to scrap the First Amendment. The Bill of Rights was put in place for a reason. The role of government is to serve the people not RULE the people. Merry Christmas, all! Robert, your letter was excellent, but the commentary gave me a headache.:)


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The tools we choose to use

From: Ed Anderson — Dec 17, 2012

Firearms, by their nature, are dangerous, and require a degree of control to protect society from their misuse. However, like all our other tools they are neither inherently good nor evil. To wish them gone because you don’t like them is not particularily reasonable or rational.

From: Verna Korkie — Dec 17, 2012

Amen brother! But one can’t help but wonder if it is too late. Way too late. All one has to do is take a moment these past few days to listen to what has been coming out of the mouths of the “give me my gun or give me death” group and we are instantly and chillingly made aware of this. We do not need these heinous tools! And we must never give up hope for future generations if not the current ones.

From: CarolineA — Dec 17, 2012

I grew up in a country where the police are unarmed, and live in a land where the ownership of guns is not an inalienable right, but a rarity that is respected for the most part. I find it absolutely incomprehensible that a nation as supposedly civilised as the USA can watch mass murder on such a scale and still cling to the primitive and old-fashioned notion of a right to bear arms. Against whom? Your own children? Because they are the ones dying! It was an idea born of its time, when people needed to carry arms as they went about their daily business. Since that threat vanished long ago, there is no rational reason to cling to this outdated principal simply because its in the Constitution. If you keep killing your young people at the current rate, you won’t need a Constitution for the next generation, just a very large cemetery. I hope and pray that the wise voices in your government find the courage and maturity to resist the carrion call of those who prefer to deal death over the life of babies, and blame events like this on the failings of a health system they refuse to allow to happen. There are already too many families for whom this holiday season is anything but, don’t add to their number!

From: Faith — Dec 18, 2012

Now you’ve opened a can of worms, Bob! The tragedy in the USA seems to have caught the imagination (of course, in a negative way). Just as for many people in the USA freedom is so important that having sickness insurance for everyone is an intrusion – Mr Obama fought valiently to get it and the defeated Republican was promising to get rid of it (but only for that 47 % he considered unworthy???), now the discussion about the right to be in a position to kill anyone is in full swing. Why would a kindergarten teacher have (or even be allowed to have) 3 firearms that were obviously not kept locked away? Why are people in a free country so afraid? Is that the price of freedom?

From: Susan — Dec 18, 2012

Long ago a baby was born, to come into this world, as Gods plan to save us from our sin. Now you have to believe you are a sinner before you need a savior. All I have to do is read the paper and watch the news and I realize God’s plan is our only hope. If it’s not the guns that kill there are knifes,bats,drugs,etc.etc. not to mention the sharp end of a paint brush.

From: Consuelo — Dec 18, 2012

It’s time folks, it’s time.

From: Rena — Dec 18, 2012

Children in Paraguay playing Mozart on instruments made from trash found in the landfill. Might make you cry–for joy. You tube: “Landfill Harmonic.”

From: Adelaide — Dec 18, 2012

I would add to other comments that many computer games focus on virtual guns with the object of shooting, knifing, blowing up the adversaries and likely, innocents. Does that contribute to the likelihood that deeply angry or mentally disturbed individuals could take that with them into the real world? Then the readily available guns in their homes make these tragedies possible.

From: Darla — Dec 18, 2012

Just wanted to add my name to those who feel that an instrument designed specifically for mass killing of humans should NOT be publicly available. It’s the same as having grenades for sale at Wal-Mart.

From: Dee Maltby — Dec 18, 2012

I totally agree about your comments re guns — we also need to pay more attention to the teaching of our children – to teach them that all lives are worth caring for, and hatred is the opposite of humanity. Would be good, too, to provide more help for those who show signs of instability. Thanks, Robert…

From: ReneW — Dec 18, 2012

Gun’s have been around for a very long time. The rational for this has also been around for a very long time as well. Whether for hunting, protection or assault they will remain here for a long, long time. It is when gun’s are used as an assault weapon is the problem. Assault weapon’s and ammunition should be regulated. We already have a well-armed militia we no longer need a well-armed population.

From: Jackie Knott — Dec 18, 2012

*sigh* I would love for this letter to have been solely about an artist’s tools rather than ones used for destruction by an unbalanced individual. We don’t have complete knowledge yet to comment. I know those outside the US are completely baffled about citizens’ obsession with firearms and the right to have them in this country. Our history is such trying to reverse the trend is like closing the gate after the cows got out. Some thoughts? Accidents or theft – a responsible owner will always keep their firearms under lock and key away from children, away from any family member who is even a remote threat. Newtown may not have happened had a mother realized she lived with the biggest threat to her own safety. I personally would like to see a ban on automatic weapons. They have no place in modern society. They are designed to kill as many as possible quickly. The US bears heavy responsibility for contributing to Mexico’s drug cartels, not only with use but with a ready supply of weapons. I must state I would not be alive today had I not had a pistol. I didn’t use it … I simply showed it and four thugs scattered. The problem is that was decades ago. Today most are armed and have no respect for life whatsoever. I live in a rural county with only a few deputies. Yes, I still have that gun. Is the answer gun laws or how we treat those with mental illness or neurological disorders? How does a family raise such a child to function in today’s world? What do you do with an antisocial misfit who cannot communicate his rage? Do you turn away from a family to cope as best they can or do we fund programs to treat and house them so they are not a threat to the general public? I know two families with three adolescent boys with behavioral problems. Neither the schools or families have the resources to handle these boys and are at a loss what to do with them when they grow up. Soon they will be bigger and stronger than the teachers or parents. Then what?

From: Gavin Logan — Dec 18, 2012

This is a uniquely American problem. According to the Violence Policy Center, an American research organization, the states with the highest gun death rates per one hundred thousand people also have the highest percentage household gun ownership. Those states are Louisiana, Mississippi, Alaska and Alabama. The four states with the lowest gun death rates per hundred thousand, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, have the lowest percentage of household gun ownership.

From: Norman Brown — Dec 18, 2012

Bills will be put forward to do something about the problem. It would be wonderful if a brave Republican lawmaker would step forward and sponsor such a bill. He or she could start with the control of automatic weapons and large magazines, which is something that might now get passed.

From: B J Adams — Dec 18, 2012

It’s time I took out my anti-gun and anti-ammunition and anti-violence wall hangings I created in the 80’s, fly them from our rooftop and hang them on the front door instead of a wreath. So many artists have rendered these subjects in pointed themes in many mediums. But, no one seems to listen or care till there is another tragedy. Washington, DC

From: Sally Posner — Dec 18, 2012

I’ve been reading your letters for several years now….and have never commented, but today couldn’t resist. Your writing is wonderful….I imagine your painting must be too. I think the piece you posted today about tools….guns etc. was worth spreading around the art community. I’ll forward it to my artist friends…

From: Elizabeth Symons — Dec 18, 2012

Absolutely. We need to vote in the politicians who will fund and reinstate cultural programs to support and nurture the creative spirit.

From: Philip Lofthouse — Dec 18, 2012

Regarding Norman Brown’s remark above, “brave Republican” is an oxymoron. There are none. They are under the thumb of the NRA boys.

From: John Seccombe — Dec 18, 2012

The senseless slaughter of 20 children in New Town has left even the NRA speechless. Possibly something positive may come of this tragedy. Let us hope so. A good beginning might be banishing the ownership of rapid-fire or assault weapons. The right to bear arms as contained in the second amendment to the U.S. constitution was created at a time when the defense of the emerging nation depended upon volunteer militias. Now that the U.S. has the strongest military force on the planet; surely it’s time for them to re-think this amendment and make it relevant for the 21st century.

From: Richard — Dec 18, 2012

The Democrats are now in a position to put forward the strongest bill possible. The resistance of many Republicans will marginalize that party even further. Now is the time for Republicans to restore their party to its former glory by doing the right thing for America. We will definitely take notice.

From: Susan Thompson — Dec 18, 2012

I have been reading your wonderful newsletter for a number of years and enjoy every one of them. But I have never been moved to make a comment. This one on guns is beautifully and gently written. I couldn’t agree more. This may make us all wake up to the deadly issue of why do we need guns. I can only hope that something is done this time. Our President’s talk in Newtown last evening was also gentle and beautiful. Maybe this is the lesson from this horrible tragedy. Thank you so much for your wisdom.

From: Jim Lee — Dec 18, 2012

Love it! Timely and to the point. I am hoping an outpouring of sanity will flood the world and wash all the gun to the bottom of the sea!

From: Alexandra — Dec 18, 2012

Beautiful, thank you!

From: Ignacio Rosenberg — Dec 18, 2012

Its interesting you say this. I think the US (and I live here, but I am not from here originally) has a very black or white view about gun control. Its either full on everyone-should-have-one, or nobody should. In the end I am pretty certain that no matter what controls one puts on them, if somebody wants to harm, it will find its way to a gun, sword, club or whatever. Controlling weapons at home may be sensible, but I believe the problem lies beyond that. It begins with education. I watched the same TV shows growing up as today but was educated to understand what fiction was, what hurting someone was. I also (not my choice) worked in our family’s farms and was involved in school plays. I didn’t have time to sit around and fester these thoughts, and I was a lazy child! I think this will be a persistent, long, drawn-out debate.

From: Wayne — Dec 18, 2012

I became curious and easily found an exhaustive, worldwide study on the subject conducted by Donald Kates and Gary Mauser of Harvard. They make clear they are not pro-gun zealots, and you can read it yourself if you want, but the conclusion is essentially that less guns does not equal less killing (Holland, Sweden, Denmark, et. al). Indeed, many countries with the high rates of gun ownership (e.g., Switzerland, Israel, Norway, Finland) have very low homicide rates. If it was the guns causing the killings, this would not be possible. Apparently people, their culture, etc., determine their actions, not tools. Sort of makes sense. Japan is often cited as a gun-control utopia, but to make it work they have to maintain a stifling authoritarian atmosphere where ubiquitous policemen search you at whim and regularly visit your home to keep tabs on your personal property and affairs. How many of you free-spirited artists are ready for that? If the intent is creative, as with artists, a ban on specific implements, such as brushes, will not keep us from painting. Love will find a way. If the spirit is destructive, a ban on guns (or sticks and stones) will not deter an intent to take life, as we see in all these gun control countries with high murder rates. Hate found ready implements for mass slaughters long before the advent of personal firearms. Moreover, actual, rather than “felt” data tell us that humans are becoming less violent than ever. But our perception is altered by the constant media saturation that obsesses on problems. I found this out when I all but cut out reading and watching the stuff. There are many problems and tragedies do occur, but if you can’t trust people with guns then that’s a trust problem, not a gun problem. It’s a philosophical problem, not one that can be solved by debating the technical details of how bad people choose to do bad things.

From: Christin Kleinstreuer — Dec 18, 2012

Thank you. It is time for everyone to speak out and to sign every petition available in a grass roots movement to repeal the second amendment.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Dec 18, 2012

Straight shooting, as usual. I wish he had been kept in school where an art teacher or therapist might have caught his need for help and it would have been offered. I hope there is a change The Second Amendment was meant for muskets, against enemies, not Glocks and children.

From: Verna Korkie — Dec 18, 2012
From: Grahame Joyce — Dec 18, 2012

I have from teenage years enjoyed hunting. It has increased my environmental awareness, given companionship and the enjoyment is never measured by the success of the hunt but by the participation. However I cannot understand why anyone would want to own a handgun or an automatic weapon.These are designed solely for the purpose of killing people. True huntsmen only need a hunting rifle and at most a five shot magazine.

From: Sandra — Dec 18, 2012

Guns vs other weapons to kill: I don’t think that a knife wielding individual could have done as much destruction as one with a gun without a samaritan or two intervening. Yes, there are many handheld weapons that can kill but guns speed up the number you can destroy in the shortest possible time. I live in England and work in the police…killing with a knife is harder and takes more physical energy…guns less so.

From: Janis Parkinson — Dec 18, 2012

I advise everyone to encourage others to read and pass around this heartfelt and intelligent outpouring–with a few exceptions, it is, after all, an open forum–and sign one of the many petitions that are going around. We in America can do something about guns now.

From: Jeanette Obbink — Dec 18, 2012
From: Peter Pook — Dec 18, 2012

It would have been very, very difficult for the Conn. shooter to harm anyone with two short paint brushes and one long one even if he had 200 tubes of paint. Seriously, as a Yank, I appreciate your blog and any public forum that speaks out against the insane culture of guns in the US, in particular, as well as here in Canada.

From: Aidan Slater — Dec 18, 2012

To eliminate assault rifles and big clips isn’t everything, but it will be a good start. The horrific statistics will trend down and we will begin to see that we are on the right path.

From: Virginia — Dec 18, 2012

Thank you for today’s post on tools leading to guns and how they are out of hand. You may receive some backlash for this, but what you are saying is correct in every way, ethically and morally.

From: Rich Brimer — Dec 18, 2012

You had me fooled there for a moment. I thought this was all about my favorite tool – the brush. Then you swerved into political for the first time since I’ve been reading you. I hope that goes well. I still believe in my right to form a militia, or an army of idealized painters. Peace.

From: Richard Kent — Dec 18, 2012

Thank you so very much for your gentle, insightful way you bring forth great ideas in a meaningful way. Your letters and books have been a source of great pleasure. While the politicians and media sensationalize the violence and deceipt rampant in our world, thus perpetuating it, the artist sees through the veil to the true nature and beauty available to all. Using the tools of written word, brush, pen, or instrument, he calls it to his fellow man’s attention in a way that awakens him to his true nature. All I can say is, thank you for another masterpiece.

From: Alberta Fats — Dec 18, 2012

Canada has high ownership of guns–we are a huntin’ country, and we have a lot of bears–but our deaths by firearms are one tenth that of the average in the Land of the Brave and the Free. Apart from a few gang members bumping one another off up here, guns in Canada are for huntin’ eh.

From: Kathi Colman — Dec 18, 2012

And now, even the gentle voice of Robert Genn, who can guide so many who keep their heads down and shut out the world at large, creating from their inner depths. This new awareness needs to healthfully expand everywhere. It is overdue oxygen! No doubt it will support new creativity within the artistic community as well as elsewhere. Each of us need to speak up and take an affirmative step forward in order to effect this necessary change in our current, heartbreaking world of wrong.

From: Marty Martin — Dec 18, 2012

Anti-gun lobbying? Really? May 18, 1927 : In the deadliest mass school murder in United States history, former school board member Andrew Kehoe set off three bombs in Bath Township, Michigan killing 45 people and wounding 58. Kehoe killed himself and the superintendent by blowing up his own vehicle. Timmothy McVey didn’t use a gun to kill people. He used fertilizer and diesel fuel. Should we outlaw those as well? Crazy and/or evil people will always find a way to kill innocents, no matter what is banned or legislated. After a couple years, I have enjoyed your articles but I avoid the news because I don’t like the politics. Now I will be avoiding your emails. Unsubscribing.

From: Kate Dardine — Dec 18, 2012

I always enjoy your letters, but I must say, today’s was perhaps the most eloquent and touching one that I’ve read. You are a creative, kind and gentle man. We need more of you in this world. Peace.

From: Ellsworth Freund — Dec 18, 2012

Down here in United States of Firearms, to suggest control is the equivalent of blasphemy to the Taliban. Shame there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground that zealots feel comfortable with.

From: Ron — Dec 18, 2012

I’m a bristle man myself. Lately though I have found that mongoose hair brushes offer a different touch. My favourite is a number eight whether by Langnickel or Rosemary. It’s wondrous how a new tool can change one’s arsenal and approach, softer – more thoughtful and mature…

From: Mary — Dec 18, 2012

Let us point our finger in the correct direction, we need to focus on mental health in this country, not guns , Robert. Forks don’t make people fat, pencils don’t make mistakes…people do. Let us focus on helping the mentally ill who use the guns on other wise healthy people.

From: Chris Versteeg — Dec 18, 2012

We live in the US and desperately need gun control laws, as so very sadly shown by last week’s massacre of young children. I will be pleasantly surprised if we get such a law, and if we do, it will be a weak one. I hope that you, in Canada, will not go down our so violent path.

From: Bill Burrell — Dec 18, 2012

I hope and pray we can change. Since the beginning of recorded time an element of mankind has chosen to take the lives of others. As long as we think that we have evolved beyond that, or can expect that we can all ” put off the natural man,” we will continue to make weapons of killing. That saddens me, but also gives me hope that beginning with ourselves we can effect change. Not by trying to change others without first changing ourselves.

From: Jeri Haas — Dec 18, 2012

I get VERY angry that it takes our society so long to wake up to simple answers to horrific problems. Sorry, it’ too stupid…..what we don’t do. Mostly because of WHY we don’t do it!

From: Elly Hobgood — Dec 18, 2012
From: Char Baxter — Dec 18, 2012

I read your emails faithfully and the artist within me enjoys every one. But today’s letter brought tears to my eyes – you touched the mother and grandmother within me.

From: Wendy Gregersen — Dec 18, 2012

At the moment this country is divided on many fronts, but surely we pray, that the ability for the citizenry to find a way to act in unity and strength of purpose must be formed. A way must be found where we can move past our demand that all rights be individual regardless of the cost. We must find common ground to be able to set aside our frontier attitude, for the benefit of every innocent that finds his/herself accidentally in the midst of inexplicable violence. We must find a way to stamp out the violence. Guns, drugs, gangs, private militias, is this how the great American dream will end? Gotham City? Surely we can find a better way! Sadly however, with our government entities so entrenched in their own sense of internecine warfare on so many fronts, the real question is how?

From: Claudio — Dec 18, 2012

I like what someone said to me once. “There is no freedom until we take responsibility for our actions.” Gun control is a responsibility we must take on.

From: Brooke Pacy — Dec 18, 2012

I hope we can get there from here!

From: Hank — Dec 18, 2012

As a Republican and former NRA member, I can agree with Norman Brown who spoke above. Our people in Congress and the Senate need to ease up on this one and do what is obviously right. Guns are not the only problem, but they are part of it, and for that reason many guns need to be taken off the market. Nobody that I know of needs a Bushmaster.

From: Bobbi Landucci — Dec 18, 2012

OH, how I wish it were so easy to convince these people who feel they have to own, deserve to own, use them…..No one one NEEDS a semi automatic or an assault rifle. We pray the majority strives to return to the use of he gentle tools.

From: Peggy Sue Brady — Dec 18, 2012

I, too, wish guns could be un-invented, but it isn’t going to happen. Guns ultimately are wielded by humans and therein lies the problem. Some of us are born damaged, others become that way and do horrible things to other humans. I don’t see an end to that, nor do I know of a viable solution. I came to the conclusion that I personally was responsible for me and my attitude. It had to be loving and kind and willing to help any individuals I came in contact with each day. Then I would try to influence my children, my mate, and two close friends to do the same. It’s not much, really. If we were each holding someone’s hand and helping, there wouldn’t be a gun, rock, club, or something hateful in our hands or theirs.

From: J Morrogh Axthelm — Dec 18, 2012

Thank you for your comments on tools, however, don’t blame tools for murders caused by mentally ill individuals. Evil does not exist within a gun, a plane or a box cutter knife. In the same week that the children were killed by a gun, 22 students were stabbed in China and 29 students were killed by mortar in Damascus. Instead of looking at the tools used in the murder of the people in Connecticut, we should be looking at the root cause. We should be focusing on mental health and factors that may contribute to violent crimes, such as violent video games and films.

From: Lynn Arbor — Dec 18, 2012

I was sitting here crying over lost children, not understanding how people can love guns. You’ve used a clarifying analogy here. Thank you. Now on to the hard work of eliminating dangerous tools.

From: Jo Merrill — Dec 18, 2012

Thank you for putting this pen (tool) to paper. I am taking this message to my all art classes this week.

From: Darleene MacBey — Dec 18, 2012

Oh only if man could see how beautiful this world is and cherish it. The pain of these last few days are too much to take. I feel so helpless but I have noticed being out and about that people seem to be more compassionate. Now I am going to pick up my paint brush and paint something to make me smile. Thank you for your beautiful letter.

From: Eileen Power — Dec 18, 2012

Most tools such as the paint brush, pencils or cameras have been a great invention. The gun, however, is a tool that should not be readily available. So much pain and anguish has occurred as a result of easy access to guns. This is one tool that should not be easily accessible. Ireland.

From: Herman Boyne — Dec 18, 2012

I see you Americans making a huge outdoor sculptural piece, perhaps even larger than the Statue of Liberty, that is entirely built of returned assault rifles made impotent and welded together into the sky. Germany

From: Marilyn Smith — Dec 18, 2012

A young man in Idaho was shot because the shooter had no mental health insurance coverage. It is time to collect assault weapons and build that statue, provide mental and physical health insurance for ALL, bring back the arts in the schools to provide outlets and insights and stay tuned in to the world.

From: good news person — Dec 18, 2012

“Reacting to the Newtown massacre, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor says Congress should act immediately to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and close the “gun show loophole.” “We simply cannot tolerate this type of violence any longer,” Castor said in a news release today. “There is no reason people need access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Common sense regulation is appropriate. It is time for us as a Congress and as a nation to take swift action. Congress should consider and pass the assault weapons ban this week.”

From: Claudette LeeRoseland — Dec 18, 2012

This letter was so insightful that I forwarded it to my friends. I wish our politicians would read it! Cedarburg, WI.

From: Carol Morrison — Dec 18, 2012

When I heard someone on the radio wishing that the teachers at the school in Connecticut had been carrying guns, so that they could shoot the gunman before he could kill children and teachers, the unwanted image of gun-toting teachers came into my mind. Also the image flashed before me of walking in downtown Halifax as a new immigrant from England, nervous about the guys in uniform carrying guns and wondering what the emergency was. I later realized that they were policemen. I had never seen anyone carrying a gun before. Surely in a civilized society we should feel safe enough that we should not have to be exposed to this culture of guns. Oakfield, NS, Canada

From: Lida Hill — Dec 18, 2012

Yes! & thank you very much. I read every letter from you and forward many, so thanks for all, but especially this one. I feel you’re helping gather a landswell! B’ham, AL

From: Jo Chen Louie — Dec 18, 2012

Artists have rights too. Even young artist just starting out. Especially six year old artist have rights.

From: Naomi Gold — Dec 18, 2012

In the USA, five people per hour continue to be killed by guns as we speak. Those are pretty quick paintings you’re doing Mr Genn.

From: Moiya Wright — Dec 18, 2012

Let us hope that more thoughtfulness, kindness and beauty will be built.

From: Peter Dustrud — Dec 18, 2012

Thanks for writing this fine piece, Mr Genn. I think your last sentence was just perfect.

From: Shane Conant — Dec 19, 2012

The tool of prayer. We may not know who they are but we could pray daily for those that are considering death that they would choose life.

From: Dwayne — Dec 19, 2012

The “gun control by mental health check” has its own problems. The net can never be thorough enough to prevent every unstable person from getting a gun, and it would be very expensive to run. It would also increase the stigma on those with borderline mental problems. Besides, those who buy the gun are not always the ones who use them–witness Mrs Lanza and her son.

From: Hartley — Dec 19, 2012

There are some things we can do: (1) Sign the petitions. There is a groundswell of them out there, and responses like this in this otherwise benign site are helping them happen. (2) Check your stock portfolios for gun companies and get rid of any stocks you might have. Check mutual fund portfolios as well. (3) If you have one of the automatics or semiautomatics in your possession, turn it in to the police. They love to see them and your bullets too.

From: Charles. — Dec 19, 2012

I like having my gun, but I don’t like it that my next door neighbor has one.

From: Diane Dunn — Dec 19, 2012

Thank you very much for this letter. I rarely post on facebook, but this I will pass on to others. It’s important to keep this conversation going.

From: Rick Rotante — Dec 19, 2012

When I was a child I played Cowboys and Indians and had toy guns, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever consider them for use on real people. Children, then, had a grasp on reality. There will be a lot of talk in the media in the coming months about controlling access and use of guns and most of it will be rhetorical hysteria that will not stop the killing. When we as people come to the realization that our world is under the control of politicians and policy makers that care only for profits at the expense of the every man, only then will we entertain real policy changes concerning our welfare as individuals who demand respect and understanding as fellow men and women strapped together in a common cause to make a better world. As an Artist, I see that we can change the way things are, we can effect the minds of others with thoughts and ideas of a better world. We should not diminish this gift with trivial work that does not serve the greater good.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Dec 19, 2012

The systems we have at our disposal for our protection are not as potent as the gun. Toronto, Ontario

From: Jan Mcelhinny — Dec 19, 2012

Robert, yours is a beautifully and thoughtfully written letter that should be seen by all. Thank you for taking the time to make us think.

From: Sue Ennis — Dec 19, 2012

Thank you for sharing your insights and thoughts with so many people. Reading your reflections on all kinds of topics forms part of my morning coffee ritual, and I appreciate your generosity of spirit. Today’s writing on tools was very moving and I have forwarded it on to friends and family. Have you considered sharing it with some of our politicians both here and in the US? You never know what message might tip the scales in favour of a kinder, gentler world where the best tools are those used to inspire, create, reflect, expand, and nourish life.

From: Ester — Dec 19, 2012

America is in the grip of a culture of fear. This needs to be slowly and carefully neutralized. Getting automatics from fearful people who may be preparing to shoot their neighbors at the end times will be like entering nests of snakes. I have doubts that the law enforcers will be able to gather up all the assault guns.

From: Brenda Behr — Dec 19, 2012

Thank you for so brilliantly weaving the gun subject into your tool tapestry. When I first started reading about your brushes, I thought, How can he not address the tragedy that has just taken place in Connecticut? Is he not aware of the elephant in the living room? I am grateful you chose to discuss these dangerous tools and think the idea of our outgrowing guns, although quite doubtful, is a wonderfully brilliant concept. Might we as artists, through our work and through social media, convey to the world that we all cry the same tears? That we universally abhor murder the same way regardless of boundaries, faiths, and differences? Goldsboro, North Carolina

From: Robert Sesco — Dec 19, 2012

In a global environment of intolerance for differing opinions, I disagree with Robert’s sentiments. I suggest that all of the energy being expended to place limitations on the TYPE and NUMBER of guns could instead have more meaningful results if directed toward the improvement of the individuals which make up our culture and communities. In days gone by religion, as interpreted by vile officers of the church, was the tool that justified the extermination of so-called witches; Mao and Pol-pot used the tool of ‘cultural revolution’ to exterminate millions of innocent people; Hitler used the tool of Aryan supremacy to justify the confiscation of Jewish wealth and life. The list is long and painful and much too recent of madmen who use tools of destruction upon peaceful innocents. The historical lack of improvement in the individuals who make up our humanity is front and center for all to see, and whether that takes the form of gunmen, or pharmaceutical executives, or tobacco executives, drug lords, or fast food executives, the tools are always there, some more gradual than a bullet, but perhaps taking an exponentially larger toll over time. The individual is always the fundamental part that must be improved, whether we are talking politics (liberals and conservatives alike have good plans if only the individuals with the power to administer such plans held long-term views and were wise and benevolent), religion (every denomination can take you to God if the individuals in those denominations were wise and benevolent and cared more for their own salvation than converting their neighbors [or all of humanity]to practice their narrow cultural rituals and beliefs), or the raising of your children (all parents demand that they know how to raise their kids, and yet no child came with an Owners Manual and some kids murder innocent kindergartners). The truth is that we ALL need help with our ‘issues’ more than we need the distraction from this moral imperative by focusing on our tools.

From: Arnold Nance — Dec 19, 2012

Extremely lethal tools left lying around for the morally challenged and the immature to pick up and use is just poor housekeeping. Unfortunately, as a nation, we are going to have to do some housekeeping.

From: Richard M — Dec 19, 2012
From: Terry M Thirion — Dec 19, 2012
From: Hardworking Artist in Iquluit — Dec 19, 2012

I can neither understand nor support a country where many people love guns, violent films, and war games on the internet more than they love children. My family has enjoyed spending a great deal of time and money visiting the US as tourists. At the same time it was creepy knowing that invisible guns are everywhere and that we had to watch our backs in crowded situations. As outsiders we have made a hard decision to “vote with our feet”. Until the culture matures we will not be returning.

From: A. L. Sherman — Dec 20, 2012

Handguns (pistols) are actually the weapons of choice in most homicides. These need to be controlled too.

From: Gloria P. — Dec 20, 2012

Gun ownership has actually gone down over the past 30 years in the US. Significantly down among Democrats and Independents, slightly down among Republicans. A great deal of gun ownership is rural, which is understandable. An idea would be to repeal the Second Amendment with the exception of situations “where there is a threat from outside the country.” This was the original meaning of this amendment and it might be passable now after what has happened.

From: Jose Simon — Dec 20, 2012

An overall nation-wide repeal of 2nd Amendment –without any teeth at the present time–would open the doors for individual states to enact laws on their own. This would make the change more gradualist and perhaps more acceptable. We are already in the state by state process of decriminalizing marijuana possession. The gradual criminalizing of (certain types of) gun ownership and the decriminalization of (certain types of) dope would ease the change toward a more civilized society.

From: Katharine Ambrose — Dec 20, 2012

Maybe we should get brushes into as many hands as possible or form a brush lobby and brush away the tears………a brush drop into beleaguered communities? and bring back the colour into the cheeks of people pale with fear?

From: Nancy Fillip — Dec 20, 2012

Thank you for sharing that timely and sensitive analogy about using tools. Very well said. I cry every time I see or hear about what happened in CT.

From: Antoinette Ledzian — Dec 20, 2012

I have tears in my eyes from the gentle but serious message you have addressed. Thank you for sharing your opinion in such a creative way. I won’t rest until I can try to process the horrible tragedy here in Connecticut. What, as artists, can we do? Not sure yet. There are so many issues at stake here. Thank you for being there, always, with your wisdom, compassion and kindness.

From: Susan Easton Burns — Dec 20, 2012

The guns are not the culprit as much as the fear we have inside of us. Our human fears destroy all of life at global proportions. When will we realize our fear is a choice? Peace on earth. Peace to those millions and millions that have lost loved ones to the violence created by fear. My part is to examine and accept my own fear.

From: Kyle Carson — Dec 20, 2012

I have forwarded this page to my Congresswoman. There are valuable ideas here from a gentle and traditionally passive segment of the population that needs to be heard. Please consider forwarding it to your own representative.

From: Mila — Dec 20, 2012

Guns are the most dangerous of tools. Now imagine them being owned by the most evil beings (the warmongers) on the planet. Only. We become a society that is so well depicted in the movie ‘Hunger Games’. Overnight, too.

From: Joan Polishook — Dec 20, 2012

This is one of the most beautiful and moving of your letters. Coincidentally, I have just written to the President of the US with regard to the issue of guns… I am so in agreement with you that the gun tool is now out of hand – has been for so long. We as a society need to return to and appreciate the more gentler tools of life. Lords Valley, PA

From: David A. Bond — Dec 20, 2012

Any creative ideas around gun control need to take into account the psychology of those who feel they need guns. There are many reasons, but a frequent one is the need for control. Ideally, this is not a bad thing–a man may wish to take control over someone who may be threatening his family. But the need for control is particularly dangerous in those who may feel they have been denied control in some other area. These folks may also have no trouble getting gun permits and indeed show little sign of mental health problems.

From: Rose — Dec 20, 2012

There are countries that had success with gun control – it’s time to learn from them.

From: Dianne Harrison — Dec 21, 2012

As a former art teacher at a school for students with learning disabilities and other differences I have worked with kids like Adam. We like to explain these horrific acts as EVIL, which they are, but there is often unbearable pain and suffering that occurs in our culture when you are “different”. THIS is not to say there is an excuse for this. It is to say we must begin to see the pain and teach these kids to cope with it in a positive way and to affirm their stengths. I am also a parent of a child who is legally blind and has albinism. Though he experienced the greatest of human kindness toward him, he also experienced it’s most vile and evil side. He was told publicly in a classroom when he was 14 that he was proof that abortion should be legal. It was one of his and my darkest days. He,unlike Adam, is a person who loves himself and finds life to be so very worth living, even on the bad days. The question to ask is not how do we get rid of miltary style weapons in homes, which is an obvious thing we should agree to, BUT How do we make these young adolescent boys and twenty something young men experience a life worth living? Clearly one spent playing violent video games and watching violent movies and constant TV reports of the latest violence against each other doesn’t do it!

From: Maryellen Cox — Dec 21, 2012

Thank you, Robert.

From: Judith Prager — Dec 21, 2012

Why is there an ad for a firearms school at the top of this post? How ironic!! Take it out please! Thank you.

From: Andrew Sookrah — Dec 21, 2012

Robert, once again, your brilliant and oh, so thoughtful eloquence shines a bright light on a rather dark subject. Thank you. I was torn between rage and sadness when I listened to and read comments from the media reports. I cried when I read your note.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Dec 21, 2012

The founding fathers meant muskets against the enemy, not assault weapons against kindergartners. The arms profiteers don’t ever notice the blood on their hands.

From: Libby Swingle — Dec 21, 2012

Thank you for reminding us again how much we want gun violence to stop. My heart cries for the parents of Newtown as much as it did for my neighbors at VA Tech. This has to stop and I am going to keep after this until it does.

From: Alyson B. Stanfield — Dec 21, 2012

Beautiful! You are a brilliant writer, Bob. I knew that already, but I this sealed the deal: tying in the artist’s life with a tragedy in a poignant, but meaningful way. Thank you for your gifts. Merry Christmas!

From: Wilson — Dec 21, 2012

The NRA has now, it seems, lost credibility. They are still unfortunately in a state of denial. It cannot continue to be seen as a thoughtful, effective organization and we need to form other gun clubs that are prepared to be more responsible and compassionate–to quietly put human lives above all else.

From: Ib — Dec 21, 2012

Are we going to outlaw knives and forks so people don’t over eat? I forgot, this is America, most people eat with their hands.

From: Tom — Dec 22, 2012

Now is the time for high profile Republicans to stand up for sanity–to try to think of ways to neutralize America’s gun fetish and to slow the tsunami of pistols and other fast firing guns.

From: Peggy Moore — Dec 22, 2012

You state the issue so very well. I am a believer in the banning of all rapid fire assault guns and immediate curtailment of any sales of ammunition for these weapons. Our children are precious. Thank you for your thoughts I always enjoy your letter.

From: Sari Grove — Dec 22, 2012

It appears that the gun/weapon/war machine/killing device/ system in the States brings in alot of money…Not just the tools but the people that use these tools apparently are very dependent on that revenue…There must be a huge amount of profit in guns…Plus, people in the killing game get a large chunk of government money that is labelled self-defence…I think this is a money issue that is being clouded by opinion rhetoric…If guns were not a money-making industry then people wouldn’t sell them…So, I’d ask, how does one make gun selling unprofitable? My next thought is that possibly there is an underlying desire to kill that is latent but present in America today…That the reason nothing has been done about controlling guns there is that people basically want to kill, & vicariously are finding it satisfying…

From: Bill Petrie — Dec 22, 2012

Having spent most of this year in Kentucky, Texas and Oklahoma, I, a great appreciator of the gun, its engineering and historical import, feel my appreciation softening and shifting. Living near Oklahoma City at present, I am shocked at the daily carnage due to gun-shot victims. Most of the time, this is kept within certain ethnic, lifestyle, and city communities, but is by no means restricted to those. At gun-shows here, there is a worrisome process whereby dealers who are not registered gun dealers will sell handguns and assault rifles to anyone with the cash – no paperwork required. No background checks, no recording of name, social insurance number etc. So, absolutely anyone can walk in with the cash, and walk out with a lethal weapon. I have seen kids who look like teenagers (and who probably were) hand over the cash and walk away with a large caliber handgun. As a matter of interest, I asked, as a Canadian, if I needed to produce ID of any sort and the answer was no, just the cash. After the licensing process in Canada to acquire a handgun, this seems preposterous and is very troubling. I have always argued that you don’t blame a clock when time passes too quickly, or blame the car in a car accident, so why blame the gun in a shooting. After all it is the driver of the car and the shooter who is to blame. However this is not really the point, the point being that if the guns were not so readily available (to the responsible and the irresponsible alike), then the incidences of gun deaths would diminish, and the opportunity for the criminal or mentally unbalanced to get their hands on a gun would be greatly reduced. We will never be able to remove the guns from the hands of everyone who should not have a gun, but restricting the availability would be a start. In Canada we have made great progress in this regard, and the statistics on gun-related deaths prove this clearly when compared with the USA. Of course we have a much smaller population, and we do not have such a deeply embedded gun history as the US (second amendment), but our licensing system helps to keep the guns from being so readily available to those individuals who should certainly not have them – (unfortunately however, the criminal element in our society have no problem acquiring unlicensed weapons). Our licensing laws clearly outline how firearms will be safely stored and transported, laws that are apparently neither enacted nor observed in the US – as evidenced by the large numbers of accidents, particularly with children handling loaded guns. There are arguments to be made that guns can save lives when in the right hands. For example, the school principal who, on confronting a shooter in a Texas school, ran out to his car, retrieved a weapon, returned to the school building and shot the shooter dead. He likely saved the lives of many children. Do we arm teachers as many are now suggesting here? So really, the argument comes down to keeping guns out of the hands of those who are not responsible enough to have access to one. How is this to be accomplished? On December 16th, it was announced that due to Obama’s brief reference to the easy availability of assault weapons, that Dick’s Sporting Goods were pulling all AR-15 rifles from their shelves and would not be selling them. What was the reaction to this? Relief? No….. One gun store in Oklahoma City had a line-up of 45 individuals waiting to purchase AR-15s, and one individual bought five of them. They went up in value I am told, by $300 in one day because of their sudden popularity. Not a really a logical reaction by a populace who agree that assault weapons should not be readily available ! The answer, if there is one, will be difficult to formulate, and will take a long time to make a difference here in the US. There are powerful lobbies on both sides of the issue, and while we think that maybe a healthy debate between the two is what is needed to jump start things, the absolute and corruption in US politics comes into play. In this arena, the public good is never ever the driving force. Rather it is politicians striving for re-election, responding to the huge sums of money given by big businesses with vested interests in not changing the status quo, or amending it in their favour. It will be interesting to watch this all unfold, however, as with past issues which seemed to be of great importance to the general population, it will likely end up on the back-burner simmering away, while it will be business as usual for the criminal element to whom any control legislation means nothing.

From: Michelle Langois — Dec 22, 2012

It may not be too important to you Americans, but many of us here in France who would wish to visit your country are reluctant to do so, especially to those states where gun ownership is high and consequently homicides are high. You have perfected your “culture of fear.”

From: Art Jamison — Dec 22, 2012

Significant parts of guns can now be made at home with 3-D printers. It is just a matter of time until fully effective gun plans can be downloaded from the internet and actual guns built using a relatively inexpensive printer.

From: Victoria Pearce — Dec 22, 2012

Hello and our sympathies from this and many Canadian Artists Your thoughtful email has had me thinking of the power of symbols. The NRA uses the proud eagle over a couple of crossed guns. May I suggest replacing it with a more creative and loving symbol of two crossed paint brushes, violins , flutes or other symbols of the arts. The power of the creative can and must be used to forward a more peaceful agenda in the USA . Blessings to all in peace and paint

From: Sarah Atkins — Dec 22, 2012

The other elephants in the room that no one is talking about are the growing number of households with unwed parents who have no commitment to each other……the growing number of situations where unwanted children are the result of the idea that recreational sex is not only OK but desirable that now permeates everything from Hollywood to TV shows to modern literature……the growing number of parents who see nothing wrong with taking small children to X-rated movies or allowing them to watch adult TV shows….the growing number of children who are not taught right from wrong……the growing gang activity in urban areas like mine from mostly illegal immigrants. When is someone going to speak up and address these? What has happened to the moral values that used to guide our lives? They’re sadly missing and “uncool” in today’s world for the most part. Are you willing to speak out about these issues as well as gun control? I am.

From: Reece MacDonald — Dec 23, 2012

One thing that bothers me–when they get representatives of the NRA to speak on TV, they choose guys who can’t express themselves very well and are not prepared. Can they not get people who are better informed? I’d like to clearly hear their reasoning. Also, much is made about Switzerland having a lot of guns and sill very low homicides. What they don’t say is that Switzerland has some of the most strict gun laws in the world–enough to make the USA look like a free-for all. For example, you can have your gun at home–(one or two relatively ineffective types) but you can’t have any bullets until you get to the shooting range or the militia barracks. Guys are sometimes seen carrying guns on buses and trains, but everybody knows they’re not loaded.

From: Sharon Gray — Dec 29, 2012

You obviously are not a hunter. Please stick with comments regarding art.

From: Peg Scully — Jan 05, 2013

Your writing is always insightful and thought-provoking and this letter is no exception. Thank you so very much for using your column to express these important ideas. If attitudes change it will be in part because of columns like yours. You’ve done a great service. Freedom, NH

From: Ned Oster — Jan 05, 2013

Hunting would be a good sport if the deer also carried rifles.

From: James Adams — Jan 11, 2013

America is a unique country where there is a wide availability of guns and a percentage of the population that is too immature to avoid using them. A culture of entitlement and a gun culture is a poisonous mix.

From: Naomi — Jan 11, 2013

All men who are worried about losing the second amendment should receive a government issue muzzle loading blunderbuss. Except for hunters, police and skeet shooters, all others with guns should have them confiscated.

From: Patricia Peters — Jan 11, 2013

What is this inherent fascination with the macabre? I also find in addition to tragedies, fire and car accidents: people want to experience the event visually…. Especially with the cell phone camera available to record everything and facebook open to post within seconds . I find it disturbing how people stand around recording tragic events while doing nothing to be part of the solution. Absurd. I have recently been reminded that a group of crows is referred to as a murder of crows or a parliament; capable to hand out a death sentence……… exposing perhaps, the real meaning of “The Pecking Order” Nothing pretty about that picture, but yet there was a tangible fascination with the words….. strange or normal?

From: Len Young — Jan 17, 2013

“Living with Guns” Craig R. Whitney, former foreign correspondent and editor at the New York Times, seeks out answers. He re-examines why the right to bear arms was enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and how it came to be misunderstood. He looks to colonial times, surveying the degree to which guns were a part of everyday life. Finally, blending history and reportage, Whitney explores how twentieth-century turmoil and culture war led to today’s climate of activism, partisanship, and stalemate, in a nation that contains an estimated 300 million guns––and probably at least 60 million gun owners. In the end, Whitney proposes a new way forward through our gun rights stalemate, showing how we can live with guns––and why, with so many of them around, we have no other choice.

From: Ned Graham — Jan 30, 2013

All this discussion would not be happening if Americans were not so unusually concerned with guns and gun culture. Looking at Americans from the outside, they are fascinated–their art and culture mythologize guns and the people honour them. Other lands find guns to be not so important.

From: Len Dill — Feb 27, 2013

Most of the shootings in America are done by men who have taken some amount of training in shooting. When you train people to shoot there will be some very small percentage who will later use their knowledge for a lethal purpose against innocents. This also accounts for the recent shootings in Switzerland, where guns are available and every young man is trained to shoot. This training, which rises and falls in most other countries during periods of war and peace, is carried on at high levels in times of peace in the two countries named. In times of war some of this slaughter of innocents is neutralized because trained shooters are busy shooting at the non-innocent trained shooters of other nations.

    Featured Workshop: Donna and Tom Dickson
122112_robert-genn Donna and Tom Dickson workshops Held in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Early tide

acrylic painting by Tina Mammoser, UK

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Julie Mayser of Greenwood, AR, USA, who wrote, “The answer seems to be that we need more attention paid to offering services to help the mentally ill. No, we do not need assault weapons offered to the general public, but hunting guns or home protection guns should be available.” And also Kellianne Fleming of Fergus, ON, Canada, who wrote, “I pray that all the guns, weapons of war, ammunition… along with hate… are removed forever.” And also Mugubu Bo of South Africa, who wrote, “What happened to the Age of Aquarius?” And also Louisa Cooper sent us this image: 122112_louisa-cooper                  

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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