Monday, March 22, 2010

One pull of the trigger: from "law-abiding" to "law-breaking"

The most recent spate of gun violence, including the shooting of 3 women near Belleville, and 3 men in an Edmonton car dealership almost 2 weeks ago, remind us that, although Stephen Harper and the gun lobby pretends otherwise, the boundary between “law-abiding gun owner” and “criminal” is easily crossed. It only takes a second, one pull of a trigger, to get to the other side. Many lives have been lost at the hands of "legal" gun owners. In January, Stephanie Hoddinott was shot dead by a former partner with his legally owned handgun. He later turned the gun on himself. Joan Hanson, her daughter, and granddaughter, were also shot dead in July 2009 by her estranged hunter husband with his legally owned rifle, which he also later turned on himself. Last week, Const. Vu Pham was shot and killed by a hunter despondent about the break up of his marriage.

The risk factors associated with gun violence are well known. To reduce the chances dangerous people will have access to guns, we need to maintain and strengthen rigorous licensing and registration procedures, not undermine them by abolishing the long-gun registry, as Mr. Harper is attempting to do.

We need to remember all guns are dangerous. We need to lose the fallacious rhetoric and ensure that citizens understand the risks, so they can take appropriate action when friends, neighbors, or loved ones with depression or anger issues have access to guns.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Canada's schizophrenic Conservative government: Drunk drivers vs. "law-abiding" gun owners

Why does it make sense to assume all shotgun and rifle owners are law-abiding citizens, but that everyone behind the wheel of a car is a drunk? Isn’t that the message behind the federal Justice department’s recent proposal to institute random roadside breathalyzer tests?

On one hand, the government, hiding behind the skirts of its latest sock puppet, sends Candice Hoeppner to pontificate: “Irrational government policy had to be challenged…The long-gun registry is a massive Liberal policy failure and it needs to end. It makes no sense to force law-abiding individuals with firearms licences to register their long-guns. It makes no sense to believe the registry will prevent a gun crime from taking place.”

But apparently it makes perfect sense to assume that all drivers are drunk. Memo to Justice Minister Nicholson: if a policy has the Western Standard saying “Harper government wants full-blown police state,” you have a problem on your hands—a “Houston-we-have-a-problem”-sized problem.

Minister Nicholson is said to approve of the random breathalyzer idea, while Mothers against Drunk Drivers Executive Director Andrew Murie does, too (by the way, aren’t there any actual mothers capable of executive directing that organization? Or is this an example of “the best woman for the job” being a man? I’m just asking).

Purchasing a gun must magically confer “law-abiding” status on an individual through some noble alchemy of lethal weapon possession. Meantime, the latest example of small town gun mayhem unfolds on our front pages: the sad murder of Ontario Provincial Police Constable Vu Pham, 37, allegedly by the late 70-year-old Fred Preston, former reeve of the Township of Joly, and lifelong resident of Sundridge ON. Const. Pham was a Vietnamese War survivor and father of three who also spent part of his youth in Sundridge. Current accounts suggest Mr. Preston may have gone off the deep end after his decades-long marriage broke up. Add a gun to the mix and voila: the perfect domestic violence storm. A “domestic violence call from what is reportedly the home of Mr. Preston’s estranged wife in Leadbury” preceded the shooting, according to The National Post, reporting that a man named John Driscoll resides at the home, since put under police guard. (Talk about closing the barn door after the horse has skedaddled!)

Tim Williams, an acquaintance of Mr. Preston, said, "I'm quite stunned at this news, given his personality."

But should anyone really be surprised? Anger and guns make a lethal cocktail.

Roughly 100,000 Canadian women and children annually take refuge in domestic violence shelters. How many of them live in homes with rifles or shotguns, remembering some 11 million such guns are in Canadian hands (and that 90 per cent of those hands are male)? How many Canadian women have been threatened with guns? How many of these guns are owned by “law-abiding” gun owners?

How long does it take to pull a trigger, anyway? That’s the amount of time it takes for a “law-abiding” gun owner to become a law-breaking one.

Here’s how the gun registry helps prevent crimes, including murder (I’m typing slowly so even the dullards among us will understand): knowing who has which guns allows the police to remove them as a preventative measure, should it become necessary. For example, in this case, if Mr. Preston’s estranged wife had been threatened by him and reported this to the police, they could have removed the guns from Mr. Preston’s possession. ALL his guns, which wouldn’t be possible if he hasn’t listed them with the registry.

Why do critics of the long gun registry persistently ignore this simple truth? Enforcing the registry DOES prevent crime. Since its creation, close to 23,000 firearms licenses have been refused or revoked because of just this kind of public safety concern. And it only costs $3 million a year to maintain, despite gun lobby bluster.

For years now this “tough on crime” government has encouraged the flouting of the Firearms Act—still law in this land, despite their efforts to ignore it. They instituted an “amnesty” for those who failed to renew their gun licenses and waived or refunded licensing fees, over $120 million-worth. Far from being “tough on crime,” they actually facilitate law-breaking!

Canada's Supreme Court has ruled, “The registration provisions cannot be severed from the rest of the Act. The licensing provisions require everyone who possesses a gun to be licensed; the registration provisions require all guns to be registered. These portions of the Firearms Act are both tightly linked to Parliament’s goal of promoting safety by reducing the misuse of any and all firearms. Both portions are integral and necessary to the operation of the scheme.”

Const. Pham’s shooting is a tragedy--for his family, his community, for us all, as is the death of Mr. Preston. But just imagine how much more danger our cops will be in when they pull us over to sample our breath if our gun laws are even further eroded.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Countering gun registry disinformation

In the attempt to delegitimize Canada's long gun registry, a concerted disinformation campaign has been mounted by those ideologically opposed to it.

Myth 1: gun death is an urban, gang-related problem. The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians points out nearly 75 per cent of gun deaths are suicides. Here’s the perspective of a small-town doctor and coroner in rural Ontario:

"My own personal experience with gun-related death has mirrored the national statistics. Most are suicides, the great majority have involved long guns and, of course, they live in rural environments. I have never seen a death with a handgun and have never seen a death committed as a criminal act, with one notable exception of a murder as a result of domestic violence. Typically, I am called to a rural property or farm, where some headless corpse lies with blood and brains bathing the hunting rifle or shotgun that lies by the motionless body. As if this image wasn't soul-wrenching enough, I then have to deal with the anguished cries and the shattered lives of the loved ones of the deceased huddled in the family kitchen…Those who have voted to repeal the long gun registry clearly have a sterilized view of gun-related deaths. How else to explain their callous disregard for the health and safety of rural Canadians?"
--Alan Drummond, Perth ON, The Ottawa Citizen, November 9, 2009.

Myth 2: the gun registry does nothing to prevent gun deaths. In the words of a rural psychiatrist in an area of B.C. where guns are prevalent:

"I have invoked the gun registry…to either get someone’s guns removed or prevent them from getting guns because of mental illness. I am sure this has prevented tragedies but, unfortunately, none of those events make headlines…Before the gun registry was available…it was difficult…to have guns removed. There have been some 22,000 licences denied to date, and a recent Ottawa Citizen article reported that the number of firearms surrendered and confiscated…is 8,281 — 74 per cent of which were nonrestricted shotguns and rifles…the reason for these confiscations is usually that the individual has threatened or used violence. So, are we really comfortable with allowing these people to arm themselves by removing the mechanism which allows authorities to locate and remove firearms…?"
--Dr. Barbara Kane, the Guelph Mercury, July 3, 2009.

The long-time psychiatrist also notes gun deaths and injuries are at their lowest levels in over 30 years, that the rate of homicide with rifles and shotguns is half what it was in 1995 (when the long gun registry was introduced), and that gun-related murders of women have fallen by two-thirds. The gun registry may be an inconvenience for hunters, farmers and other gun owners, she says, “but it helps people like me and the police prevent tragedies.”

Myth 3: the long gun registry has cost $2 billion. Two-thirds of the costs opponents attribute to “the Registry” are related to screening and licensing all gun owners, not to the registering of long guns. These costs will remain even if the registry is shot down. Between 1995 and April 2005, net costs for the Canadian Firearms Program were $946.4 million, or about $95 million per year. In 2006, the auditor general found eliminating the long gun portion of the registry would only save a projected $3 million annually. (

To put this in perspective, not long ago, the federal Government invested $400 million to widen a stretch of highway in New Brunswick where 43 people had died over 5 years. In the same period, guns killed 5,000. In any case, the cost issue is easily solved: make the gun owners pay.

Myth 4: Long guns are not associated with criminal activity. The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians points out that last year, 34 per cent of Canadian gun-related homicides were committed with rifles or shotguns, as were 72 per cent of firearm-related spousal homicides. Between 1995 and 2004, the drop in the use of firearms in spousal homicides was 36 per cent.

We register our cars, boats, trailers, dogs and bikes: why is the registration of long guns such a unique hardship? And how does ignoring the opinions of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, the Quebec Public Health Association, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the civic administrations of Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg advance the Conservative government’s devotion to "law and order"? Not to mention their duty to protect Canadian women, children, and of course men, who make up the lion’s share of gun violence victims.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Parliament, don't pass Bill C-391!

The interesting thing about staring down a gun barrel is how small the hole is where the bullet comes out, yet what a big difference it would make in your social schedule.

P.J. O’Rourke, Holidays from Hell, 1989

Somewhere around 80 per cent of Canada's nine million guns are owned by men, so perhaps by definition, gun control can be seen as a "woman's issue." And repeated polling shows a substantial majority of women support the gun registry, perhaps because we know that guns are often used to harm or intimidate women in the throes of domestic violence. Women around the world are at greatest risk of harm from their intimate partners—“the usual suspects” in such cases. Fully 85 per cent of Canadian women who are murdered are killed by their spouse or partner, and most of those shot dead are killed with legally owned firearms.

Despite pro-gun lobby bluster, this gun violence is not just an urban phenomenon — the rate of women killed with guns is higher in rural areas because rural people own more guns. And murder is just the tip of the domestic violence iceberg—for every woman killed, many more are injured or threatened. And these “domestic violence” incidents appear in the papers almost daily. Several recent examples:

Smith AB, July 30th: Ian Jeffrey Paget kills estranged wife Joan Hanson, her daughter and granddaughter, and then turns the rifle on himself at her rural home in northern Alberta.

Kitchener ON, August 11th: Nadia Gehl is shot in early February at a bus stop close to her home. Waterloo police finally apprehend three suspects: her husband and two of his friends.

Orangeville ON, September 13th: Police investigate a murder-suicide that left a mother of two and her estranged husband dead. Witnesses say 39-year-old Heidi Ferguson, shot in the chest, sought help at a neighbour's. As she lay dying, Ferguson reportedly cried, "I've been shot by my husband ... please help me." An avid hunter and gun collector, Hugh Ferguson turned the gun on himself after a standoff with police.

Winnipeg MB, September 17th: Police are called after a 19-year-old woman is allegedly assaulted and threatened with a firearm. The woman flees the house and calls police from another area residence.

Fort St. John BC, September 30th: A northeastern B.C. man is shot and killed by the RCMP after a five-day standoff that began when the 41-year-old farm resident pursued a van carrying his wife, an unspecified number of children and a friend, and shot out the front tires.

Since the gun registry was created, close to 23,000 firearms licenses have been refused or revoked because of safety concerns. We register our cars and our dogs--not to register our guns would be criminal.

No matter what the gun lobby says, gun control works. Consider the following :

· Controls on rifles and shotguns were strengthened in 1991: that year 1441 Canadians were killed with guns. By 2005, the number of such deaths dropped by almost half, to 818.

· The number of women murdered with guns fell from 85 in 1991 to 32 in 2005. But the number of women murdered by weapons other than firearms declined only slightly during the same period of time. Again, the effectiveness of gun control is inescapable.

My son was at Dawson College on September 13, 2006 when Kimveer Gill went on his murderous rampage. I will never understand why Mr. Gill had such easy access to such enormous firepower--the fact that he managed to kill “only” a single young woman was due to the fortuitous coincidental presence of two brave and well-trained police officers. (I say “only” because, of course, for her parents, family and friends, the murder of 18-year-old Anastasia De Sousa is no small loss.) Kimveer Gill didn't need those guns and he shouldn't have had them. Why should his right to feel "big and bad" have trumped Ms. De Sousa’s, my son's, or anyone else’s safety?

And so I support more gun control, not less. Please don’t let our Parliament send Bill C-391, the bill to dismantle the long-gun registry, to committee, the next step in the legislative process.

Though our Prime Minister may refuse to face it, rifles and shotguns are the firearms used most often to threaten women and children, and the weapons of choice in the murder of police officers. Look, for example, at the 4 Mounties killed in Mayerthorpe, AB. And the only charges levied in that case were against the gun providers, who were traceable only because of the gun registry!

When Mr. Harper talks about law and order one day, and laxer gun control the next, I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Contact your MP on this issue. Don't let Mr. Harper play fast and loose with our children's lives.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Harper in denial: Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Police Association, major safety and health groups still support registry

On February 6/09, our intrepid (Latin for soon-to-be-turfed) Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, announced a resumption of debate on scrapping the gun registry, promising at the same time that over 200 jobs in Miramichi NB, the site of the registry's main processing centre, will be maintained no matter what.

The Brantford Expositor published my letter in response:

Dear Editor

Too bad your reporter missed the part of the PM's Miramichi speech announcing another futile and divisive debate on the firearms registry. For good measure, he'll safeguard the 200+ jobs at the registry's main processing centre, which just happens to be in Miramichi. The PM must care more about those jobs than Canadian lives. He and his party are as mistaken in this file as they were on the economy in December: mega wrong, uber-wrong, "Dewey beats Truman" wrong.

Because rifles and shotguns are the firearms used most often to threaten women and children, and the weapons of choice in the murder of police officers. Many are stolen from legal owners; they're also frequently seized from gangs.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association and major safety and health groups continue to support the registry, consulted by police over nine thousand times daily. Remember, the recent Mayerthorpe shooting convictions were only possible because the gun involved was traceable through the registry.

Since the registry was created, close to 23,000 firearms licenses have been refused or revoked because of public safety concerns. We register our cars and our dogs--not registering our guns would be criminal.

In 2007, the rifle and shotgun murder rate was almost 80 per cent lower than in 1991--meaning 500 fewer such murders each year. The rate of robberies with firearms fell 68 per cent in the same period. There's only one possible conclusion: gun control works.

The gun lobby says target "criminals," not "law-abiding gun owners." Wake up and smell the coffee: legal gun owners are all entirely law-abiding--right up till the moment that they're not. After all, how long does it take to pull a trigger?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Okay, we get it, let's focus on the economy. But Canadians still care about other important issues (gun control, anyone?)

[As published at the Gun Control Yenta wants Prime Minister Harper and his government to know that, though we are deeply concerned about the economy (and, hey, didn't President Bush recently prove tax cuts won't stimulate the economy?), we are as concerned as ever about other social issues. To wit, gun control...]


The interesting thing about staring down a gun barrel is how small the hole is where the bullet comes out, yet what a big difference it would make in your social schedule.

P.J. O'Rourke, Holidays in Hell (1989)

While the chattering classes do their thing over Mr. Harper’s having prorogued parliament, the government would do well to remember that Canadians are concerned about more than just the economy. For most of us, with apologies to P.J. O'Rourke, gun control is no joke.

In September 2008, the Prime Minister said

I don’t think by registering every shotgun or long gun or having further restrictions on weapons you’re going to deal with gun crime. I think it’s gun crime we have to deal with, not some duck hunter with a shotgun.

While the Prime Minister raises the spectre of Keystone cops chasing Elmer Fudd from his duck blind, the truth is far darker. In case he doesn’t know it, rifles and shotguns are the firearms used most often to threaten women and children, and the weapons of choice in the murder of police officers. Many are stolen from legal owners, and they’re also frequently seized from gangs. Here are just a few “highlights”—lowlights, actually--proving Canada needs stricter, not laxer, control of rifles and shotguns:

- An 8-year-old, using his father’s .22 calibre rifle, wounded his 9-year-old friend while playing “guns” in the basement of a house on Manitoulin Island (ON).

- Cody Wellard, a 31-year-old hunter, turned himself in for allegedly shooting the Jack Russell terrier pup of Max Rose, a 12-year-old brain cancer survivor. The Quadra Island (BC) shooting—occurring 30 meters from the Rose family's driveway--may be related to a previous run-in Wellard had with the boy's father. Following the shooting, the RCMP confiscated 25 guns registered to Wellard's father.

- A teenager in Whitby (ON) contacted police as her distraught stepfather locked himself in a closet with a rifle, while threatening suicide. Police found 26 firearms in the house, all of them legally registered.

- Jesse Imeson, found guilty in November of a triple murder in Ontario, found a .22 calibre semi-automatic rifle, an ammunition clip and 200 rounds of ammunition in a shed and used this stolen rifle to kill Bill and Helene Regier at their Mount Carmel (ON) farmhouse in July 2007.

- In December 2006, a nurse was shot with a rifle by her estranged husband, previously convicted of uttering threats against her, in Brockville (ON).

- A man shot his wife before killing himself with a legal shotgun returned to him at the end of a 2-year weapons prohibition for domestic assault in 2006, in Hermitage (NL).

Those in the gun lobby who repeat the foolish mantra that we must target “criminals” and not “law-abiding gun owners” should wake up and smell the coffee: legal gun owners may well be entirely law-abiding--right up till the moment that they're not. After all, Marc Lepine, Valery Fabrikant, and Kimveer Gill were all “legal” gun owners.

Since the passage of controls on rifles and shotguns in ‘91 and ‘95, the rate of firearms deaths has fallen to ‘91 values, with 500 fewer such deaths annually. In 2007, the rifle and shotgun murder rate was almost 80 per cent lower than in ’91, and the rate of robberies with firearms fell by 68 per cent in the same period. There’s only one possible conclusion: gun control works.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association and major safety and health groups continue to support the firearms registry, which is consulted by police almost nine thousand times each day. Critics say the searches are triggered automatically whenever police run a license or address check. But the value of the registry was underlined following a botched 2007 drug raid at the Montreal-area home of Basil Parasiris that left Constable Daniel Tessier dead. When a police investigator checked the registry prior to the raid, he entered only the suspect’s address; it turned out one of Parasiris’ four guns was legally registered—but under an old address. Had the investigator searched under Parasiris’ name, the SWAT team would have been called to conduct the raid, and Const. Tessier might still be alive (procedures and training have been adapted as a result of a workplace health and safety commission inquiry).

Stephen Harper and the government of Canada probably have their hands full over the next couple of months, juggling the economy, national unity, and the new Senate appointments. It may be tempting to slip a little red meat to as-yet-unassuaged Conservative gun-loving supporters. But that would be a mistake. Because, with apologies to James Carville, for most of us Canadians, “it’s not just the economy, stupid!”

Legal or illegal, guns kill people

Yes, the Gun Control Yenta is still here!! Following is a letter from the Saint John New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, published Oct. 1/08. Yep, still here. And still convinced more guns mean more danger...

On Sept. 21, Albert Legault , a 71-year-old retired cattle farmer, decided to investigate gunshots that seemed to be coming from his nearby fields. Simon Lanthier, 18, allegedly shot Mr. Legault dead. Lanthier was target-shooting; he's been charged in Gatineau court with reckless endangerment, two counts of careless use of a firearm and three other firearm-related counts.

On Sept. 19th, three hunters apparently wished to take a shortcut through a farmer's property. An "altercation" between the armed farmer and the hunters ended with the farmer sustaining
life-threatening gunshot wounds to the leg.

On Sept. 15th, Cody Welland, a 31-year-old hunter, turned himself in for allegedly shooting the Jack Russell terrier pup of Max Rose, 12, a brain cancer survivor. The shooting - which occurred 30 metres from the Rose family's driveway - may be related to a previous run-in Welland had with the boy's father. That's just the sport shooter/hunter incidents of the last few days. Guns are accidents (and worse) waiting to happen. Five thousand "legal" guns are reported stolen every year. Choking off every avenue of supply of these inherently dangerous machines is in the best interests of all Canadians, most especially those of us who are unarmed, law-abiding, and innocent.

Those in the gun lobby who repeat the foolish mantra that we must target 'criminals' and not
'law-abiding gun owners' should wake up and smell the coffee: you're all law-abiding - right up to the moment you're not.