An almost obsessive focus on the weapons used in acts of violence rather than the underlying causes of violence will hinder efforts to prevent violent crimes. Barely a week goes by when we don’t hear from politicians or activists demanding a ban on firearms as a means to combat violence.
It’s easy to villainize firearms. We see guns used by criminals on television and in movies all the time. Guns clearly are the weapon of choice in the realm of dramatized fiction. In reality, however, firearms account for only a little more than a third of Canadian homicides. If we are going to tackle violent crime, we can’t ignore the method used in nearly two-thirds of the murders, can we?
Stabbings account for a third of homicides but we don’t hear politicians calling for knife bans. A number of mayors from Quebec banded together last fall to demand federal election candidates commit to handgun bans. The most shocking recent act of murderous violence in Quebec was perpetrated by a man in Quebec City with a sword in the fall of 2020. He killed two people and injured five others. Just this week, a student in Montreal stabbed his teacher. No weapon bans could have prevented those assaults.
Calgary’s worst mass murder in history was carried out by Matthew de Grood in 2014, when he killed five young people at a house party with a kitchen knife.
If we want to reduce violent crime, we need to look at the motives of the perpetrators rather than the means. In the cases of the fatal stabbings in Montreal and Calgary, both of the murderers had mental health issues. Mental health issues are complicated, expensive, and sensitive to deal with, however. Politicians are often loath to wade into such sticky policy areas, so they take the easy route of focusing on weapons.
Violent crime patterns have socio-economic roots and racial elements wrapped up in them. Activists and political leaders are always terrified to enter such potentially controversial territory when considering policy. But those roots of violent crime have to be examined in any serious efforts to quell violence.
Provincial homicide rates in Canada are at their highest in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. According to an index published in 2019 by Maclean’s, Canada’s top nine most dangerous communities due to violent crime are all small and all in Western Canada. When we get down that list to the larger cities, the ones leading the list are Winnipeg, Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Regina. While people associate violent crime as being something that is highest in large urban centres such as Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver, it simply isn’t the case.
While nobody likes to talk about it, the common denominator in all of the most violent communities is a high proportion of indigenous citizens. Indigenous Canadians are very overrepresented as both victims and perpetrators of all crimes. Stating this is not a condemnation of a race by any means. It is a statistical reality indicating how severe the socioeconomic challenges are with Canada’s indigenous peoples. It is a complex minefield of an issue, thus folks tend to try and avoid it.
In Canada’s larger urban centres, firearm violence has been predominantly committed by gangs. Street gangs usually have an ethnic minority component involved with them. Mitigating gang violence will involve work on the integration of immigrant communities and ethnic minorities in large cities. That’s a vast issue with no clear-cut solutions. The racially delicate nature of the issue leaves people less than eager to wade into it.
Firearms provide a simplistic and visible target for people who want to look as if they are tackling violent crime without actually having to immerse themselves in the complex causes of violent crime.
Most of the handguns used in murders were illegally obtained in the first place. Putting restrictions on legal firearm owners will have no impact on the actions of criminal users of firearms. It’s easier to crack down on the law-abiding than the criminal. Illegalizing types of recreational firearms gives the illusion of taking dangerous weapons off the streets, but in reality it has little impact on violent crime.
Blaming guns for violent crime is akin to blaming syringes for overdoses. In both cases, it is taking a simple and ineffective approach to solving a complicated problem.
If we are ever to see good policy initiatives to reduce violent crime, our leaders are going to have to find the courage to drill down into the complicated issues at the base of violent crime. As long as we continue to scapegoat inanimate firearms, we won’t see any real progress on solutions.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.