Monday, March 27, 2023

Canada should not be complacent about gun violence – it’s a growing problem here too

The Canadian government has tabled new legislation to strengthen the screening process of individual firearm owners, introduce a mandatory repurchase of banned semi-automatic military-style firearms and to ban the sale, import and transfer of small arms.

This new legislation, Bill C-21, is a potential game changer, but it has been around for a long time. Calls for a ban on semi-automatic, military-style weapons date back to the Montreal massacre more than 30 years ago.

Read more: Commemoration of the Montreal massacre: The media must play a key role in the fight against murder of women

Anne McLellan, then the Liberal justice minister, promised a ban on the gun used in that tragedy – the Ruger Mini 14 – as well as the infamous AR-15, but it never happened.

In 2005, when Liberal leader Paul Martin promised a ban on small arms while running for re-election, there were about 350,000 restricted weapons in Canada. Now there are more than a million. The proliferation of small arms is due in part to the relaxation of laws, but even more so to the lack of implementation of existing laws.

While some people are delighted with the new legislation, others are asking why it took so long.

The simple answer? The gun vestibule. But maybe there is more than that.

More guns, more firearm deaths

The evidence is clear – in industrialized countries where there are more guns, there are higher rates of firearm crime and gun-related deaths.

A comparison of Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States is instructive: While the rates of homicide without guns are comparable (although the US is slightly higher), the rates of homicide with guns differ dramatically.

The UK has a per capita rate of gun killings that is one tenth of Canada’s. There were only 33 firearm murders in the UK in 2019. In Canada, by 2020, police reported 277 firearm murders.

An important difference across the UK? It banned handguns after the 1996 Dunblane massacre that left 16 young schoolchildren dead.

A Police Officer Walks On The Grass Outside A School.  Ambulances Are Sitting In The Parking Lot Behind Him.
A police officer walks onto the grounds of Dunblane Primary School in Dunblane, Scotland, after a lone gunman killed 16 children, a teacher and himself in 1996. This has led to a ban on the possession of small arms in the UK
( Associated Press Photo / Lynne Sweet)

Although mass shooting incidents can occur in countries with strict laws, they occur much less frequently. The UK rarely sees them. Canada has about one a year. The United States had more than 600 in 2021 and saw more than 250 this year, leaving hundreds dead and injured. In 2020, nearly 20,000 Americans were killed with guns.

Rural rates of gun violence

Despite the rhetoric on gun control that is an urban or gang-related issue, Statistics Canada’s data show rural rates of gun crime are higher in most provinces. Prices of domestic murders, murders of police officers and suicides are also generally significantly higher in rural areas and the west.

Weapons advocates complain that stricter gun laws punish law-abiding gun owners. But handguns and semi-automatic military-style assault weapons are not used for hunting or by farmers for legal purposes.

A Man Wearing A Mask Holds A Sign That Reading Legal Gun Owners Is Not The Problem.
A gun owner holds up a sign at a rally organized by the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights in September 2020 against new government gun regulations on Parliament Hill.

While smuggled handguns play a role in the illegal network of drugs and human trafficking, they are not the whole problem. Legal handguns are often stolen, illegally sold and diverted. Many firearms found in crime in Canada and traced back by authorities are believed to come from Canadian sources.

The firearms used in the Montreal massacre, at the Québec Islamic Center and at Dawson College, for example, were all obtained legally.

Others, such as the 2018 Toronto Danforth mass shooting, involved guns stolen from legal owners.

U.S. self-defense is also on the rise in Canada. Colten Boushie’s killer, who was acquitted of murder and manslaughter, used a semi-automatic pistol. He also had two handguns that he claimed were for “shooting coyotes,” not a legitimate target.

And the ties between right-wing and white supremacist groups and the gun lobby are worrying.

Read more: The myth of the Wheat King and the murder of Colten Boushie

Guard against complacency

The arms control debate has been going on for decades, but we have reached a tipping point. Canadians should not feel complacent when they watch the massacre unfold in the US, where there are almost as many guns as humans and more than a third of firearms are handguns.

Countries in the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and even Switzerland have strengthened their laws in recent years. Canada, meanwhile, is fourth among countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in the rate of firearms deaths.

The Supreme Court of Canada has stated unequivocally that there is no American-style right to own guns in Canada, but many politicians echo gun lobby rhetoric about gun ownership.

A Red-Haired Woman Holds Up A Poster With Assault Weapons.
Meaghan Hennegan, who was shot twice during the Dawson College shooting, holds up a sign showing assault-style weapons while joining other gun control attorneys at a news conference on proposed federal gun control legislation on Parliament Hill in 2018.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick

After researching gun violence and advocating for stricter laws for more than 30 years, I argue that the problem was not actually resistance by the gun lobby and its political allies. There are less than 300,000 legal handgun owners in Canada and even fewer collectors of semi-automatic, military-style weapons.

The gun lobby in Canada has remarkable resources and has hijacked the public agenda in the past. But for decades, most Canadians supported a ban on semi-automatic military-style assault weapons and handguns.

Canadians must act

The uncomfortable truth, however, is that unless they are directly affected by gun violence or on the front lines, most Canadians do not actively support gun control. The gun lobby will meanwhile put up billboards, donate to the cause, organize demonstrations and even track down politicians on the campaign trail.

Politicians are much more likely to hear from gun control opponents than supporters. Public meetings on gun control tend to swarm through the gun lobby and many politicians were targeted during the election.

While only one percent of Canadians own small arms, small arms owners have dominated consultations on gun control proposals despite polls that clearly show that the majority support Canadian gun control.

Canadians will have to take action to ensure that the new proposed laws become a reality.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
Nation World News is the fastest emerging news website covering all the latest news, world’s top stories, science news entertainment sports cricket’s latest discoveries, new technology gadgets, politics news, and more.
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