More support needed to stop Toronto youth from carrying guns

Of Toronto youth susceptible to violence and crime, 40 per cent said they could get a gun in less than three hours, according to a new report

Mayor John Tory says Toronto has a gun problem.

While the motives behind last Sunday’s mass shooting on the Danforth are still unclear – the family of the man accused of the shooting says he suffered from mental health issues – a recent spike in suspected gang-related gunplay in the city, has once again heightened anxiety around gun violence.

To be sure, days before the Danforth shooting, the City of Toronto released a report detailing circumstances that lead young Torontonians to acquire guns.

Look at My Life: ‘Sparks’ for Firearm Possession Among Young People in Toronto – jointly released on July 20 by the city, Humber College, Laidlaw Foundation and Amadeusz, a non-profit that works with young people affected by gun violence – identifies what types of support youth need in order to stop carrying guns.

“Decades of research from around the world has told the same story – that young people who experience multiple negative life events or circumstances, and few positive ones, often end up following the same path to crime and violence,” says Fiona Scott, the report’s author.

A study cited in the report found that of Toronto youth most susceptible to violence and crime, 40 per cent said they could get a gun in three hours or less.

Research in the report included interviews with 10 young people who have been imprisoned for possessing firearms. Positive experiences cited to by the interviewees prior to incarceration included: relationships with non-family mentors, family, employment, community and extra-curricular activities. Negative experiences that led to them acquiring guns included needing protection in neighborhoods, poverty, racism and the impact of trauma.

As one interviewee stated: “I just heard pow pow pow [and saw] a guy running and everyone was scared…and that’s what kind of like sparked getting a gun and all that.”

The report calls for an increase in support systems for youth, such as housing, employment, and the ability to deal with substance abuse and mental health challenges, to decrease their exposure to risk factors associated with gun violence. 

Last week, Tory announced 16 community initiatives, including employment opportunities and job fairs in marginalized communities, to reduce gun violence and crime among Toronto youth.

Tory and Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders have also announced a plan to dispatch 200 more cops in so-called priority neighbourhoods. | @jordgoldman

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