Opinion | Winnie-the-Pooh teaches kids about gun violence — while grown-ups stick their heads in a jar of honey

At least they didn’t title the book, “Winnie-the-Pooh and the AR-15 Too.”

Living next to America is like being next-door neighbours with a dysfunctional family. Why are they always bickering? And why is everyone packing heat?

Our neighbours have a gun problem. There are now more firearms in America than people and more mass shootings than days in the year. Guns are the leading cause of death for children. If plastic building blocks were even one per cent as dangerous, LEGO would be illegal in all 50 states. Kinder Surprise eggs are regulated more than guns.

Earlier this year, Business Insider catalogued the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. Texas notched six of the top 15 spots, including last year’s horror at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers were killed.

Enter Winnie-the-Pooh. Running out of ways to dodge sensible ideas they’d never be willing to try, Texas is turning to the beloved A.A. Milne character to teach kids about active shooting events. Next, maybe Bugs Bunny can solve the opioid crisis.

As the Guardian reported this week: “Texas schoolchildren as young as four years old are being given Winnie-the-Pooh cartoon books, teaching them to ‘run, hide, fight’ if a gunman enters their building.”

Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, mockingly shared two pages from the “Stay Safe” book that was tucked into backpacks like granola bars. In one illustration, Kanga and Roo, wearing boxing gloves, advise children: “If danger finds us, don’t stay, run away. If we can’t get away, we have to FIGHT with all our might. Like Kanga and Roo do, it is better to fight together.”

Oh, bother.

Awareness, training and public education are never bad ideas. “Run, hide, fight” is a suggested tactic from the FBI. But I’m pretty sure agents who came up with the three words were not expecting four-year-olds who can’t yet tie their shoes to overpower a homicidal maniac firing a weapon of war in a classroom.

Is this really the best our neighbours can do to keep their kids safe?

Now that Winnie-the-Pooh is in the public domain, you can image future scenarios from the “Stay Safe” series. A literal trigger warning from Tigger. Piglet strapping on a bulletproof vest before story time. Eeyore hiding in a janitor’s closet. Rabbit reading an National Rifle Association brochure as Christopher Robin removes a concealed Glock from his blue shorts to engage the masked assailant in a shootout near the snack mats.

As one teacher from Dallas told the Guardian of the books that suddenly arrived without advance warning to educators and parents: “I found it extremely disturbing, and was very uncomfortable with the whole contents of the book. The fact that people think it’s a better idea to put out this book to a child rather than actually take any actions to stop shootings from happening in our schools, that really bothers me. It makes me feel so angry, so disappointed.”

Yes, it is at once maddening and saddening. But what can be done? How can we help our neighbours escape this shoot ’em up epidemic? There were no Bushmaster M4s when the Second Amendment was ratified. Joe Biden should issue an executive order limiting firearms to what was available in 1791: “We must confiscate that Honey Badger. Here’s a musket. You can take your gun to 7-Eleven if it’s a flintlock pistol.”

Or maybe Chris Rock had the right idea when he jokingly proposed solving the gun insanity by jacking up the price of bullets. Levy a $5,000 tax on every bullet. Or make the prospective gun buyer pay through the nose for a mandatory background check.

Do something, anything, beyond hoping Winnie-the-Pooh can be a reincarnated Elmer the Safety Elephant as elected officials stick their heads in jars of honey.

What’s really disturbing is how our neighbours are getting inured to the senseless carnage in their backyard, how learned helplessness is blocking out the noise of rampant gunfire. After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, months of media coverage followed. Now a mass shooting is quickly followed by another mass shooting and then the thoughts and prayers all blend together inducing mass numbness.

On this side of the neighbourly fence, it’s incomprehensible. When I drive my daughters to school, I’m not worried about a lockdown or active shooter situation. Gun deaths for Canadian children did not rise by 50 per cent between 2019 and 2021, as they did south of the border. A new PBS/NPR/Marist poll on Thursday found 40 per cent of Americans believe “schools in their communities are not safe from gun violence.”

We love our neighbours. But why are they the only house on the block with this crisis?

America, it’s not 1791. This right to keep and bear arms that shall not be infringed is killing your kids. Biden, to his credit, has lobbied for reform and common sense safety laws. But what can he do when the Republicans in the holster of the gun lobby keep easing restrictions as the body count soars? If Texas governor Greg Abbott had his way, there’d be a bazooka and howitzer mounted atop every pickup truck.

Good luck, Winnie-the-Pooh. Teach the kids.

Hopefully, you don’t get gunned down.


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