David Clayton-Thomas was vocalist for Blood, Sweat & Tears for more than three decades. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996. His autobiography Blood, Sweat and Tears was published in 2010, and his latest album, A Blues for the New World, will be released on May 7.
Have you ever owned a gun?
No, of course not. I lived in Canada. Although I did live in New York for almost 40 years, which is quite a different situation. I didn’t own a gun there, either.
Did you ever feel the need to own a gun there?
Not really. If you own a gun, you should be prepared to load it and be prepared to use it. I wonder how many people really are.
The major issue is poverty. Inequality of income. It’s not rich people who are committing these crimes with guns, or are the victims of it.
I mean, you talk about [protecting] Second Amendment rights, the right to bear arms. You are not allowed to own an anti-tank gun or a shoulder-fired missile or a machine gun. These are military weapons. To have them on the street is unthinkable. So, already, the Second Amendment has been abridged and modified, hasn’t it?
In the aftermath of the Newtown school shooting, President Barack Obama has been pressing for gun control measures that seem pretty mild: a ban on assault weapons, magazine restrictions and background checks. Is that enough?
They’re all sensible and all laws that we have in effect in Canada. The NRA totally ignored gun ownership as a contributing factor and, instead, concentrated on violent video games. Well, we’re watching the same violent video games here and in England and in Australia and, of course, we have a minuscule rate of gun violence.
The NRA, which began as a representative of sportsmen, has turned into a representative of the arms industry. It’s not hunting licences that are funding the NRA, it’s the arms manufacturers. [They’ve become] a lobbyist for the makers of guns.
There are gun firms in England and Germany; why is the gun lobby not rampant there?
Well, you’ve touched on something that I found puzzling all the years I lived in the States, and it’s come to light in the Tea Party movement. The strong suspicion and fear in their own government. The people in Washington are “the enemy.”
The militia mentality. Why does that persist 240 years on?
Well, growing up as Canadians, we were never under the illusion that somehow we were going to rule the world. I was continually amused by this idea of American exceptionalism. That, somehow or other, it is their God-given duty to bring freedom to the world, whatever “freedom” means. And, of course, America was born in gun violence. The Second Amendment was written in a time of muskets.
You can cite the Second Amendment and the Constitution to your own purpose, too. The Constitution was written more than 200 years ago. Scripture was written 2,000 years ago, and these don’t necessarily apply today. There’s a reason for amendments.
The right to bear arms remains in the U.S. Constitution. That freedom is a sacred tenet to the NRA and its supporters.
Well, it’s gone to an extreme. In the land of the free, there are more people imprisoned than in any other country in the world. Obviously, something is not working and to cling to a 200-year-old ambiguous amendment to the Constitution written in the time of muskets can hardly apply today in the time of AR-15s.
The mentality seems to be that any control on arms is an assault on freedom – “What freedom will they take next?”
That’s the slippery slope argument isn’t it? [Gun control] seems very sensible. You have to be registered to fly a plane, to drive a car; we don’t consider those to be an encroachment of our liberties. Why shouldn’t gun registration be just as tightly regulated? It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not. It sets off some very deep feelings and feelings that are uniquely American.
“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Do you have a rebuttal to that?
I guess it’s 50-50, isn’t it? So it’s very simple. If you can take 50 per cent of the equation away, why not?
In the wake of Newtown, might things change?
I think it is changing. I think this has shocked the nation. A lot of politicians are finally standing up. They were terrified of the NRA because they carry so much clout.
The NRA has got a lot of egg on its face. Their response was completely unreasonable. They should have stepped in and said, “We are going to use our power as the National Rifle Association to register these weapons and get some regulation in place.” They would have come off looking very good had they done that. But they didn’t. They’re basically slaves to their masters, the arms industry. There was absolutely no bend in their position whatsoever.