Sarah Leamon: There's no magic bullet to reducing gun violence

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      Tragic news of the recent shooting in Toronto has given many Canadians pause for thought. In the blink of an eye, gun control was at the forefront of our collective cultural conscious and at the tips of our tongues. 

      But gun control has been a problem in Canada long before this incident. 

      Statistics on gun violence in this country are growing at a rapid pace, and nearly all of our major cities are affected.

      Toronto has experienced a record-breaking year for gun violence. As of mid-July, there had been 228 shootings there, resulting in 29 deaths and more than 150 injuries.

      Vancouver is no better. By November of last year, the Vancouver Police Department had issued an official statement expressing its concern over mounting gun violence in our city.  

      Edmonton aired similar worries, and the same story with Winnipeg, which has formerly earned its infamy as the so-called “murder capital” of Canada.

      All in all, it seems that gun violence is steadily on the increase throughout our great nation. 

      Although we pale in comparison to the U.S. on this issue, Canada has the fourth-highest gun homicide rate when compared to the 31 countries comprising the European Union. Only France, Germany and Italy have higher gun homicide rates. 

      So, what’s causing all this gun violence? And more importantly, how can we put an end to it?

      The short answer is that there is no easy answer. 

      Statistics tell us that the vast majority of gun violence in all major cities has to do with gang activity. This is nothing new. Therefore, deterring antisocial behavior that leads to gang involvement through a variety of mechanisms such as education, police enforcement, and judicial denunciation is of pivotal importance. 

      But as evidenced by the most recent shooting in Toronto, not all gun violence is gang violence. Ending gang violence will therefore not end gun violence, full stop. 

      In order to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by firearms in this country, we need to reconsider how ordinary Canadian citizens access them, and how to restrict access in circumstances that could pose a threat to public safety.

      Generally speaking, federal gun legislation is in place to do that. Under this scheme, federal authorities are tasked with ensuring that firearms are properly licensed and registered in this country.

      Under our current model, there are three classifications when it comes to firearms: nonrestricted, which means that a person must be licensed to possess the firearm, but does not need to register it; restricted, which means that both licensing and registration is required; and prohibited, which means that the weapon cannot ordinarily be lawfully possessed by a member of the general public. 

      This all means that any Canadian who wishes to possess a firearm must have a valid licence to do so. 

      This requires basic gun safety training and a security screening, which includes background checks and reference interviews. License holders may also be flagged for more rigourous review on an ongoing basis if there is a reason to believe that there has been a change in circumstances and that they may pose a threat to public safety after having acquired a licence. 

      Potential applicants who suffer from mental health issues or who have a history of violence, for example, will be barred from acquiring a license and possessing firearms—or could have their licence revoked.

      The idea is to promote responsible gun ownership and promote public safety.

      But even with all of these licensing precautions, public safety is not promised. As we know all too well, some people will get through the cracks, and some firearms will fall into the wrong hands.  

      We need a more multifaceted answer to this ongoing and worsening problem. 

      While the establishment of even more stringent and thorough federal precautions, like a stricter gun registry and licensing program, may help, federal programs are simply not enough. 

      Proactive, local responses tailored to meet the specific needs and concerns of the community are necessary in order to reduce the prevalence of gun violence.

      We can look to the City of Regina for one such example. There, a two-week gun amnesty program was implemented in February, 2017. More than 157 firearms were turned in during that time period. This means that 157 firearms were taken off the street and will never be used in the commission of a crime. 

      The program was so successful that it has been replicated again in the city and in other cities throughout the province. So far, well over 300 firearms have been collected.

      Closer to home, the City of Surrey has created special task forces designed to address the problem of gun violence in the community. Funding from the provincial government has bolstered initiatives that aim to create programs and services to help increase proper firearm education and ultimately decrease violence. 

      Community support services for mental health are also of fundamental importance. By ensuring that these types of services and resources are available to people who may be struggling with such issues, it may be possible to prevent violence before it ever happens. 

      But at the end of the day, all of these programs and community responses require personnel, money, and resources to make them a reality, which can be hard to come by. 

      In order to create a safer future for tomorrow, it is essential that all levels of government—from federal to provincial to local—make gun safety and community support services a priority today.

      We simply can’t afford to wait any longer.