The cries to take action against gun violence in the United States grew much louder Tuesday after a mass shooting at a Florida high school left 17 dead. But these cries aren’t unique to the United States. Canadians are crying for some action too.
It was just last November, when the headline on CBC Radio’s The Current web page read: “Canada has a gun problem, says firearms author.”
“I don’t think Canada should feel smug,” Iain Overton told The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti.
Between 2009 and 2013, the U.S. had more than 56,000 gun homicides while Canada had just over 800 firearm murders, according to Overton.
“Between 2003 and 2012, over 5,500 Canadians shot and killed themselves,” Overton said. “And this, I think, is something that really is lacking in the Canadian debate.”
If you don’t have a gun in the house, then your risk of suicide will go down, according to Overton.
So what is our federal government doing about all this?
It was also last November when the government announced major new funding to tackle gun violence and gang activity.
“As part of its commitment to make it harder for criminals to get and use handguns and assault weapons and to reduce gun and gang violence, the Government of Canada is announcing up to $327.6 million over five years and $100 million annually thereafter, in new funding to help support a variety of initiatives to reduce gun crime and criminal gang activities,” the government’s announcement read.
“The Government of Canada will also bring together experts, practitioners, front-line personnel, and decision makers for a Summit on Criminal Guns and Gangs in March 2018. The Criminal Guns and Gangs Summit will be an unprecedented national summit on challenges, solutions and best practices in the fight against gun crime and in combating the deadly effects of gangs and illegal guns in communities across Canada,” the announcement went on. “The government hopes to hear from key stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies, provincial, territorial and municipal governments, community and mental health organizations, Indigenous groups, government and non-governmental organizations.”
An extensive report by Global News in December, 2015, after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., seemed to indicate Canada’s problem with gun violence wasn’t nearly as serious as the situation in the U.S.
“We chose several different Canadian causes of death — purposeful, accidental, illness-related — with frequency rates roughly similar to U.S. firearm death rates,” read the Global News report. “Overall, Americans are almost 70 per cent more likely to die at the end of a gun — shot by someone else, by themselves, by accident — than Canadians are to die in a car accident, 35 per cent more likely to be shot to death than Canadians are to die of a fall. American firearm death rates are almost three times higher than Canadian death rates of ovarian cancer and Parkinson’s; 42 per cent higher than Canadian prostate cancer deaths; 10 per cent higher than pneumonia.”
But there’s still gun violence in Canada. And the problem is begging for action from our federal government.
Here’s another headline from a CBC story Feb. 1: “First month of 2018 marked by gun violence in Ottawa”
About five years ago, The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists had its own summit. The summit concluded action against gun violence couldn’t be delayed.
“A theme heard throughout the summit was: The time for action is now! The Stephen Lewis Report identified the need (for) action over two decades ago yet the crisis continues,” the CBTU’s report on the summit read.
But Canada has tried to tackle gun violence before. It’s long-gun registry was a miserable, expensive failure that was more of a pain to hunters than a deterrent to criminals. Originally, the registry was supposed to cost $2 million.
But a Wikipedia summary shows just how much this ill-fated registration program really cost.
“In early 2000, the Canadian Firearms Program released a report that showed that implementation costs were rising,” the Wikipedia summary reads.
“Major backlogs in registration—largely as a result of firearm owners waiting until the last minute to apply.
“In December 2001, (the) cost rose to an estimated $527 million for the whole gun control program which included the long gun registry,” the Wikipedia summary continues. “The Canadian Firearms Program reported that a major factor behind the rising costs was the difficulty it had keeping track of licence fees collected.
“In December 2002, the Auditor General of Canada, Sheila Fraser, reported that the project was running vastly above initial cost estimates. The report showed that the implementation of the firearms registry program by the Department of Justice has had significant strategic and management problems throughout. Taxpayers were originally expected to pay only $2 million of the budget while registration fees would cover the rest. In 1995, the Department of Justice reported to Parliament that the system would cost $119 million to implement, and that the income generated from licensing fees would be $117 million. This gives a net cost of $2 million. At the time of the 2002 audit, however, the revised estimates from the Department of Justice were that the cost of the whole gun control program would be more than $1 billion by 2004-05 and that the income from licence fees in the same period would be $140 million.
It was clear the program wasn’t working. So does that mean we should just do nothing?
The Coalition of Gun Control has been demanding action from the Trudeau government long before the incident in the U.S. yesterday.
“The evidence is clear: Gun control saves lives,” a headline on the coalition’s web page reads.
It calls on the Trudeau government to:
Establish as quickly as possible, a system for whom to track all gun sales, re-establishing and modernizing measures that were introduced in 1977 but eliminated in 2005.
Reverse the measures passed in C-42 (The Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act) and restore strict screening and routine licensing checks and verification on all firearm purchases.
Eliminate the loopholes in Authorizations to Transport restricted weapons such as handguns.
Ban military assault weapons – update the prohibited and restricted lists consistent with the advice of police experts.
Put in place the necessary measures to allow Canada to ratify important international agreements – including the OAS Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, explosives, the 2001 Program of Action on the Illicit Trafficking of Small Arms and the Marking and Tracing Agreement and CEDAW.
Restore detailed data analysis of firearms death, injury and crime; imports/exports, sources of firearms in crime to support research and track progress.
Embark on a national awareness program to highlight the risks associated with firearms in suicide, homicide and unintentional injuries, extending our Quebec firearm violence prevention initiative “Save a Life. Ask the question. Is there a gun?”
Reinstate evidence-based approaches which consider firearms in the context not just of street crime but domestic violence and suicide. Provide open and transparent access to data on guns and gun ownership, firearms death and injury.
Bring back a comprehensive approach to preventing crime, domestic violence and suicide, which recognizes the importance of effective gun control.
Bring experts on public safety, suicide prevention, crime prevention and prevention of violence against women back to the discussion table.
It appears the government is starting to work on the last initiative. But it should also be clear that the government has to do more to ensure incidents such as the one in the U.S. yesterday don’t pop up in Canada.
It won’t be an easy task. The government has to strike a balance between controlling the illegal use of guns and fairly regulating the use of guns for recreational purposes, which include hunting.
In the City of Victoria, B.C., for instance, it was reported hunting generates $350 million in economic activity annually.
So, our government faces a tough task if it wants to reopen the debate on controlling gun violence. Will it take that step? We’ll have to wait and see.
But after the shooting incident, you can be sure, the U.S. will be revisiting its gun control programs in the immediate future.
Jeff Wilkinson is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.