Canada Election 2019: Stopping gun violence shouldn’t be a popularity contest

Unfortunately, many voters believe gun violence represents moral failure, the result of poor impulse control – it’s easy to see it that way because it means society doesn’t have to change

It’s been a violent year for Toronto: more than 300 reported shootings and 30 homicides so far by gunfire.

On September 28, Mothers Leading The Walk Against Violence led a march starting at Yonge and Bloor.

After a moving prayer – hopeful but nevertheless a reminder of the pain caused by gun violence – the group walked south on Yonge. Unlike most demonstrations, this march took place on the sidewalk.

It was a jarring experience. Most of those who passed the demonstration were headed to restaurants, bars and clubs. There was a long line to get into Chick-fil-A.

Only months ago I fled from the sound of gunfire on this street, but tonight there was a festive mood at the outdoor market at the corner of Gould.

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Paul Salvatori

The marchers continued to Nathan Phillips Square. Young people spoke about gun violence in a way not often heard in mainstream media. Their voices were loud yet vulnerable.

As they spoke it became clearer that the roots of gun violence are not firearms themselves. Rather, it starts with being let down or not cared for, leading to anger because you have been hurt too many times by those who should be protecting you – friends, family, your community. Then, you’ve got police who only show up in your neighbourhood to enforce the law instead of to build healthy relationships.

As youth advocate Brooklyn said about her own neighbourhood: “The sound of bullets is as common as doorbells.”

How many Torontos, I thought, are there? The one we call “world-class” is not the same place Brooklyn and others spoke about, and refusing to acknowledge the Toronto they know would be a lie. And lives are at stake.

With the federal election campaign off and running, the main party leaders are speaking about gun violence. They all seem confident they have a solution.

The Liberals have pledged to introduce a handgun ban. The Conservatives want to make it harder for those charged with gun crimes to get out of jail. The NDP is adamant about allowing municipalities the “right” to ban guns.

These are reactive responses. They do not nourish the neighbourhoods where these crimes take place. That’s what it’s going to take to end gun violence. Which politician is courageous enough to say that it’s time we invest in the lives of young people? Among them, who will admit that governments are not doing enough to help communities lift themselves up?

Louis March, founder of Zero Gun Violence Movement, is keen on reminding us, “No one is born with a gun in their hands.”

This is the starting point we must work from to properly address gun violence. We must reckon with the structural and other injustices that continue to plague marginalized communities in Toronto – namely, the racism, police profiling and poverty that make reaching for a firearm seem like a good idea.

But politicians who do so might lose votes. Unfortunately, many voters believe gun violence represents moral failure, the result of poor impulse control. It’s easy to see it that way. It means society doesn’t have to change, only the “criminals” do. It is much harder to face the difficult, everyday reality of those on the margins.  

Arresting more people won’t solve gun violence. It’s time political leaders work alongside and not against communities. Saving lives, after all, shouldn’t be a popularity contest.    

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