Canada and US: Guns

First things first: My heart goes out to anyone who has a lost a family member, a friend, a loved one, etc. attributed to gun violence.

I am writing this blog post after much deliberation and thought. Over the last few days I had much conversation in person and online somewhere with various individuals on handgun bans or about strict gun control. This type of conversation usually festers a lot of emotions inside me. Not because I have lost someone to gun violence *knocks on wood*. Not because I am a gun-totting Indian. Not because I despise law enforcement. Rather, it is the fact that individuals who are unfamiliar with crime stats/reports, gun violence stats/reports, regulations/legislation, or rights of others tend to be reactive to the issue. By being reactive to this issue, individuals tend to stick to questions that appeal to emotion rather than logic or facts.

The fact is that nobody will ever answer a question relating to gun use or gun violence that goes along the line of “Well, what is the sole purpose of a gun other than to kill people?” where this question had repeated itself on my twitter list. Of course, a gun can kill a person. A gun can kill anything. Well, actually it is the bullet and the gun powder in the bullet that kills. The gun just serves as a vessel. A gun can be used for sport and for hunting, whether it is for game (which I don’t support as a First Nations person) or for food. For example, take the recent story in The Toronto Star featuring Chris Baldwin and Sabrina Sergeant who were re-allowed to take part Ontario Summer Games after “city staff made a decision not to have the athlete am

bassadors representing sport shooting participate in the on stage welcoming ceremony.” Yes, that’s right. These two young, budding athletes in their chosen sport were treated like criminals for simply participating in a sport of their own choice. Then you have a particular group of people who were given treaty rights (and even have other groups fight for their non-treaty rights) to hunt for food in their particular territory. This right, whether it is non-treaty or treaty, has been fought for in court. Have you ever fought for your right in court? I doubt it. On top of this, Indigenous people in Canada are the most policed population group. Meaning, they are simply targeted by policing agencies for being who they are: Indigenous. The proof in this is the rates at which they are arrested and at which they populate prisons, whether it is provincial or federal

So when people told me that only law enforcement should be allowed to carry guns, all I could do was shake my head. I also shook my head when someone said that handguns should be banned and then eventually society will be socialized to accept this. Sure, in a perfect world. Yet, given the most recent incidents, we don’t live in a perfect world. If we did live in a perfect world, James Holmes’ alleged fantasy of playing Joker would just get him into a fight with Batman with a few “pows” and a few “bangs” here and there. Sadly, that didn’t happen. People lost their lives and families/friends lost their loved ones.

In contrast to this incident, we have, in Canada, an alleged issue of gun violence at a gang-banger level.  The views on this differ from various criminologists. Some say that it could have just been a fight over a girl. Others say this could not be a gang fight because gangs do not like to attract public or police attention. So what is the issue? In another GTA community targeted by marked and unmarked police officers for their supposed high crime rates, police are calling out the fact that they cannot arrest the single mothers who are opting for opportunities that are presented to them by fellow community members *ahem* drug dealers who are asking single mothers and children to act as look-outs for their business. The police are complaining that they cannot patrol the drug dealers. The police are complaining they cannot criminalize single mothers for trying to make best use of the opportunities presented to them. Yet, the violent crime rate seems to be falling. Yet, Mayor Ford was $10 million dollars to add more police. Yet, the programs that Amiga Taylor had hoped to see put in place 5 years ago to help deal with gun and youth violence are no where to be found.

Amiga Taylor lost her brother, who was shot dead at BBQ near Sheppard Ave.. She would like to see things like more community policing, more social programs, and the room for trusting relationships to build between police officers and community residents. These are all valid items that SHOULD be looked at. The idea that more police creates safer communities and that only police should be allowed to carry guns does not work in favour of community policing or social programs or opportunities. It further stigmatizes communities such as those recently affected by the GTA shootings. It doesn’t do the residents of those communities any justice in creating equality and in creating opportunities. It limits the room for equality, freedom, opportunities granted to other Canadians not living in such stigmatized communities. There should be room for opportunities to meet police officers not just in retroactive situations. Wente’s most recent article on the Danzig shooting demonstrates this. Wente highlights that the residents of the Danzig community are “not really helping the police.” This could be very well true because one of the residents has already had her face plastered all over the media and has been arrested in front of her children. Then in Wente’s same article, a city-councillor blames the system, and the fact that is it broken. The fact is that the system isn’t broken–it is made to do exactly what it is meant to do, and that is perpetuate the cycle of poverty. When programs are cut and job opportunities moved else where, there is no place else to go but stay put. Social welfare is not made to make people get rich and it isn’t very helpful for those who do try to find work and try to get out of the system.

So what’s the answer? I cannot even compare two separate country’s incidents because both countries view the right to carry arms very differently. In the United States, it is entrenched in their constitution “a right to bear arms” and in Canada, there is nothing in relation to the right to bear arms. The way the two countries also interpret the law according to the constitution is different. The US uses the intention of the “founding fathers.” Meaning the US courts will refer to what they think or how the founding fathers would have interpreted the law to date. In Canada, there is the living tree doctrine which states that the constitution is organic and will change with the times. And again, the way the two countries have their criminal justice systems set up is very different. In the US, there is a different criminal code for each state and different sanctions. In Canada, there is one criminal code and for some crimes, mandatory sentences (which I don’t agree with). The answer to each incident cannot be the same. The answer to the Colorado incident raises many questions but to ban guns would mean to infringe on the rights of all American citizens. Even the rights of those who legally carry and store their guns. The answer to the incidents in the GTA also raises many questions but to ban guns and only to allow police to hold and carry guns will further stigmatize the communities and the residents of those communities, and limit the rights of those who fought for them in the court system.

To me, the answer lies in the youth. We must look to the youth for answers. They will be the ones that will be most affected by the changes. If there is no social programs or opportunities for them in the future to help them turn away from the opportunity that crime provides, then what have we accomplished by simply adding more speciality cops and more surveillance to alleged high crime areas? If there is one thing I can suggest it is what I say in this last paragraph: Support the youth and don’t just support programs. The youth will be the ones who use the programs and they have to be the ones to help design the programs. The youth will be the ones who rise above the violence and make conscience decisions to not contribute to violence. If you do not give them the space to feel safe and comfortable to make those decisions, then what have we accomplished? Nothing.

For sources used in this blog, please refer to the links below:

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