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The AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, which can become fully automatic and has been used in several mass shootings globally, continues to be widely sold in Canada
Sunday, July 22, 2018, was the day that woke my family up to gun violence.
Previous to that date, we were aware of what was happening, and certainly knew that gun-related crimes were on the rise in Toronto. Many voices were pointing this out, but somehow we took it for granted that Toronto’s streets were safe. Canada is known for having strict gun laws. It was America’s problem.
Then at about 10 pm on that lovely summer night, my wife and I got a call from our daughter’s cellphone, only it was a stranger on the other end. The stranger explained, firmly and calmly, that our daughter had been shot, and that a stretch of Danforth whose bar and restaurants had been packed moments earlier was now locked down, the scene of a mass shooting. Two people were dead and 13 others injured.
Even if you were not one of the families directly affected by the violence, chances are you felt connected to it. The Danforth is a neighbourhood frequented by many Torontonians. People’s reaction was, “It could have been me. I was just there.”
Fortunately, the kind person with our daughter’s phone explained what was happening and where we could go to see our little girl. We will forever be grateful to St. Michael’s hospital staff for the care they provided.
Of the 13 gunshot victims who survived, six were friends of our daughter. But one of her friends – the one standing beside her in Alexander the Great Parkette at Logan and Danforth – did not make it. Reese Fallon was a fierce, brave and energetic young woman of 18. She is now gone.
At Reese’s memorial, her younger sister described the loss. “Ours is now an incomplete family.” She should never have had to say those words. Certainly not because of this night, when her sister was simply out celebrating a birthday and enjoying ice cream on a summer evening.
We learned later that a father was also non-fatally shot after being hit by bullets from a shooter who killed his 10-year-old daughter. Julianna Kozis was another spirited and beautiful young soul taken too soon. We all lose because of that.
In the almost year since the shooting, each of the victims and their families have grieved in different ways. We try and support each other. But grief is personal. It requires healing of the mind and soul and there is no straight path, as there can be with physical injuries. My wife, Claire, and I and some of the other affected families have decided to channel our recovery on becoming better informed about the issue of gun violence. We are no longer bystanders in the debate. What life dealt us has provided a reason to become informed.
We attended a couple of the many town hall meetings that Bill Blair hosted to hear different perspectives on the state of gun ownership legislation in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had given Blair the task of looking at whether changes should be made to regulations that have largely stayed the same, or have been relaxed, over decades.
We learned a few things.
1.) While many guns are sourced illegally, a growing number used in crimes are coming from legal sources. The handgun used in the Danforth shooting was reportedly stolen in a break-and-enter in Saskatoon some years earlier.
2.) The solutions to gun violence will involve more than a law-and-order response.
3.) Emergency room doctors see more suicides than homicides – and suicides are more likely to be successful when there is a gun involved.
4.) Those opposed to stricter gun laws are a minority in this country but are well organized and seem to carry a lot of weight with politicians.
Other citizens groups have been trying to call attention to the risks and results of widespread gun ownership in Canada. One is the Coalition for Gun Control, headed by Wendy Cukier, who started the group in response to the massacre of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989.
Here are a few facts we’ve learned from them:
1.) There are more than two million registered gun owners in Canada.
2.) Since 2004, the number of restricted firearms such as semi-automatic rifles and handguns in Canada has doubled to more than 900,000.
3.) The AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, which can become fully automatic and has been used in several mass shootings globally, continues to be widely sold in Canada. This is a restricted weapon but one that gun advocates are lobbying to move to the unrestricted list.
4.) Canada has the fourth-highest rate of gun deaths among the 22 countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
While countries like Australia, Japan, the UK and now New Zealand have tightened gun laws in response to tragedies they’ve experienced, policy-makers here have offered easier access to firearms. Bill C-71 proposes very modest changes, including stronger background checks and record-keeping by retailers. But even this measure has been effectively stalled in the Senate.
Predictably, more guns have led to more gun crime. From 2013 to 2016, criminal incidents involving firearms were up 30 per cent, and gun homicides increased 60 per cent.
I do not doubt the sincere efforts of hunters, sports shooters and collectors who adhere to restrictions on the use and handling of weapons. But inevitably there will be those who do not abide by the laws and are not screened from getting permits. And the problem with “only a few” getting through is that “only a few” can destroy the lives and families of so many.
It is time to stop asking why we should not let private citizens have guns and start asking why we should. How many and what types are truly used to hunt or for sport?
Removing the most powerful, most deadly and most easily concealed weapons is not an attack on gun users. It is for public safety. Gun ownership is not a right in Canada gun ownership is allowed by law. There is a difference. These laws need to change. And it is time that policy-makers start listening to the majority position.
On February 22, seven months after the Danforth shooting, a large number of families and victims held a press conference to share an open letter to Blair, the prime minister and all MPs urging that they ban the private ownership of handguns and semi-automatic weapons.
Others have called for action as well. Dr. Najma Ahmed, head emergency physician at St. Michael’s hospital, has started a group called Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, and rallied the medical community in a national day of action.
Pas Ici /Not Here, a group of 17 student associations across Canada, rallied in Montreal on Good Friday to call for changes to gun ownership laws as part of an effort to trigger change.
It’s time for Canadians to reflect on this issue for the sake of all families. Borrow our grief and our loss before you have to own it yourself.
Ken Price is an advocate of the triggerchange.ca campaign for stricter gun laws.