National strategy needed to curb gun violence

The spectre of gun violence and the proliferation of guns in the midst of the so-called “gun culture” haunts the world as never before as we begin a New Year.

What gun-related tragedies will 2015 bring, in what parts of North America and the rest of the world, we can only imagine.

Critics of the now-defunct Long Gun Registry, repealed by Canada’s current Conservative government in 2012, were fond of saying the registry did nothing to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, that it just made criminals out of “law-abiding” citizens who were required by the law to register their long guns.

What nonsense. Justin Bourque, who murdered three RCMP officers last June in Moncton, tried to murder two others, and cried out for more to murder on his rampage, did not have a criminal record before he pleaded guilty to those crimes in October and was subsequently sentenced to 99 years in jail.

His own Defence lawyer, David Lutz, described the high-powered, semi-automatic, M305 .308 rifle Bourque as a “gun that did not belong in Canada.

“This is a gun that went to Vietnam. This was a gun that was used by snipers. People in Canada don’t need these kind of guns.”

Guns are already so plentiful, so much a part of the world in which we live, they’re not hard for people with criminal records to obtain. That apparently was true of the gun used to kill nine people in the Edmonton area earlier this week, a “mass murder” that has shocked that city and the rest of this country and made headlines around the world. So much for Canada’s declining global reputation as a peaceful,  non-violent country. The nine-millimeter handgun had been registered in B.C. But it was reported stolen in 2006. There is still much to learn about the circumstances involved, and especially the state of mind of the alleged shooter, except that he may have been depressed and suicidal, and that he had a lengthy criminal record.

The news media had to go to court to get more evidence from the Justin Bourque murder trial made public. That’s a good thing. Canadian society needs to know as much as it possibly can to understand what’s going on, why these terrible things are happening in our midst. We seemed suddenly faced with an epidemic of murderous gun violence in 2014.

Moncton, Edmonton, The National War Memorial in Ottawa, where Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was gunned down, shot in the back by a madman who would have killed many more people minutes later in Parliament if he hadn`t been stopped – these places are all part of our Canadian community.

It could happen anywhere, and it has. A  few years ago a family physician practicing medicine in Lion’s Head was gunned down on a country road just around the corner from where I live as he drove home from work.

Somehow, if at all possible, we have to figure out how to see the warning signs before such tragedies happen. We now know Justin Bourque virtually made no secret of his murderous intentions on his Facebook pages, of all places.

We need a national strategy for, not just gun control, but for the control of gun-violence, based on an understanding that digs deep into all aspects of the “gun culture” and why it has so much appeal to people like him.

In the meantime, can we afford to make it easier, not harder, to obtain and own guns? Do we want to become more like the U.S., where the “gun culture” is so deeply embedded, taken so casually, that a young mother carried a loaded handgun in her purse as she shopped with her two-year-old son and several other children in a Wal-Mart store in Idaho? The little boy put his hands in his mother’s purse, got his hands on the gun, and it went off, killing his mother.

It’s a horrible tragedy for that family, one that little boy will have to somehow carry with him for the rest of his life, if he can.

Hayden, the small city in northern Idaho where it happened, is not very far from the Canadian border.

Permits for the carrying of concealed weapons are much easier to obtain in many states in the U.S., including Idaho, compared with Canada. Ironically Hayden just a week earlier had amended its gun law to bring it into clear conformity with the state law allowing gun owners to fire their guns in defence of person or property.

“It’s pretty common around here – a lot of people carry loaded guns,” a spokesperson for the Kootenai County Sheriff”s Office, told the New York Times.

“Guns are part of the Culture,” said Hayden City Administrator, Stefan T. Chatwin.

Years ago I made the point that a citizenry that included people skilled in the use of firearms is a good thing to have, especially in time of war. It helped Canada help win two world wars, including the defeat of a ruthless, murderous dictator.

But do we want a something called a “gun culture” to grow and thrive in Canada. I don`t think so.

Originally published in The Sun Times in January, 2015.



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