People with guns kill people

Will last week’s mass killing in Newtown, CT turn the tide on gun control south of the border? Not likely. And here in Canada, our leaders seem to be growing more gun-happy, too.

With all eyes turned in anguish towards Newtown, CT this week, a lot of people are hoping this will turn the tide in the U.S. gun control debate.

Don’t hold your breath. According to a Pew Research Center poll, U.S. public opinion about gun laws remained virtually unchanged after recent mass shootings at Virginia Tech and in Tucson, AZ and Aurora, CO. America is basically split down the middle over which is more important: controlling guns or protecting the rights of gun owners. And support for stricter gun laws has actually plummeted, going from 78 per cent  in 1990 to 62 per cent in 1995, 51 per cent in 2007 and 44 per cent in 2010, according to Gallup.

Combine public opinion with the National Rifle Association’s sway over the Republican-controlled Congress and you can be sure nothing of importance will change in U.S. federal gun control laws. Even Connecticut’s restriction on assault rifles, itself modeled on the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004, could not stop the legal purchase of the semi-automatic weapon used last Friday to kill 20 children and seven adults with hundreds of rounds of bullets.

So despair as we might for our southern neighbours, they have adopted an intractable gun culture that seems impervious to rational argument. Not surprising, then, that 12 of the 20 worst mass shootings in the past 50 years took place in the United States. It’s among the world leaders in firearm-related deaths per 100,000 population, with a rate of 14.0, more than triple Canada’s 4.1.

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So let’s instead turn our thoughts and energies to Canada, where the gun debate is far from over and the pro-gun lobby seems to be making all the recent advances. The Toronto Star has been closely following the antics of the Tory-appointed Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee, which it notes is “led by two firearms experts and dealers, and is thick with gun advocates.”

Among the many measures proposed by the committee are changing some weapon classifications from prohibited to restricted and changing the renewal period for gun licences from five years to 10 years or more. Even the RCMP is alarmed over the 10-year proposal, arguing it will make it harder to monitor the mental fitness of gun owners.

And god knows how many guns these people will have. Since the Harper government has scrapped the gun registry and its records (except Quebec’s data, protected by court order), police will be working blind when they approach a private home for a domestic dispute or other disturbance.

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Quebec is the only province that has fought to keep the gun registry, with the support of all parties in the National Assembly. Dissenting voices are few, such as the Montreal Gazette’s doddering Henry Aubin, who last week argued “a go-it-alone registry would be impractical”  because Quebec shares borders with Ontario and New Brunswick. Well, that hasn’t stopped U.S. states from adopting their own individual gun control laws despite Aubin’s chief cop-out, the “porous borders” between them.

The point that Aubin seems to miss is that even imperfect protection is still better than none at all. He laments the “naivité” of police and the cost of a registry to protect the lives of citizens and officers, citing the relatively small numbers of gun-related homicides.

Will he also lament the costs of changing building codes, laws and inspection systems to avoid the type of accident that killed Léa Guilbeault as she sat on a terrasse on  Peel in July 2009 and was hit by a slab of falling concrete? What is the cost-benefit of saving lives? How many do we have to lose before making our streets and homes safer becomes economically justified?

Do we wait for another Polytechnique, another Concordia, another Dawson to justify eliminating weapons whose only purpose is either recreational target shooting or mass murder?

The recent massacres in Connecticut, Colorado, Arizona and Virginia can be blamed on the madmen who pulled the triggers, but the system that put the weapons in their hands will forever be the responsibility of the madmen who write the laws.

It is our responsibility to convince our own leaders that the lives of children matter more than the sport of spoiled adults. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His observations about the city and province appear at least once a week in this space. You can follow him on Twitter or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.

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