Tuesday, September 19, 2006

College Shooting Not Preventable

The events of September 13 at Dawson College in Montreal are awful, upsetting, and tragic. Throughout the debate that follows, let's agree to this and not forget it.

It is so easy to point out that Kimveer Gill obtained his long guns legally and in compliance with the gun registry and conclude that the registry is useless. But there is no way that this one instance of the registry's failure should overshadow the millions of times that the registry has prevented violent and deadly crimes.

What's that... preposterous you say... a million deaths have not been prevented by the registry?

But how do you know? How do you know it hasn't been a million crimes prevented? How do you know it hasn't been a thousand?

The trick with preventative or proactive measures is there is no way of verifying their success, yet the one time they do not prevent what they are supposed to, critics will jump on the "I told you so" train and ride it into the town square, shouting the whole trip through. Such is so with the gun registry and its critics (read Stephen Harper and the Conservatives).

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a supporter of the Liberals gun registry and its ridiculous cost overruns. However, I believe it is narrow sighted and ignorant to conclude that one violation of the registry's purpose defines the entire project as ineffective.

Stephen Harper's reaction (http://calsun.canoe.ca/News/National/2006/09/19/1861913-sun.html) to the tragedy has been particularly misguided.

"The events at Dawson college tell us precisely that today's laws did not protect us," Harper responded.

"This government is determined to have more effective laws that would prevent such a tragedy in the future."

The PM pointed out his government has already introduced legislation that would mean stiffer penalties for violent crime, including mandatory minimum sentences.

If Mr. Harper believes that any law could have prevented this violent and unnecessary attack, then I have given him more intellectual credit in the past than he deserves, and I have given him very little credit. By including the point that the Conservatives are increasing penalties for violent crime, Harper is implying that a long jail sentence would have dissuaded Gill from committing this senseless act. I am unequivocally positive that Gill did not consider the jail time he would face at the end of the day, before he left home on September 13th. Furthermore, research shows that many acts of violence are done without care for the possible sentences that the criminal may face and it makes sense. Gill was planning to kill himself from the beginning, he fantasized about dying in a hail of bullets. Similarly, many domestic violence killers will not be dissuaded, as they see murder as their only way out of an unlivable situation.

The only way that we can reduce unwanted gun killings is to reduce access to guns. Don't worry, I've heard it all before:
  • Guns don't kill people, people kill people
  • If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns
These arguments/slogans are catchy but thoughtless. Guns have only one purpose and that is to kill, their access needs to be controlled. I understand that some guns are needed in society and their are many responsible gun owners who do not deserve to have their private property controlled by the government. But even responsible gun owners want to see illegal guns removed from society.

The first step in getting rid of illegal and illegally obtained guns is to identify them as such, as opposed to legally owned firearms. How can we possibly tell the difference between a legal gun and an illegal gun? You keep track of the legal guns, identify them and compile the list in some sort of ...er, ...ah, ...catalogue of guns. I don't know if this was the purpose or intent of the Liberal gun registry, and that is why I cannot support it - but I see no way to get rid of illegal firearms that are already in Canada without it.


Breakenridge said...

There are some problems with your argument about registering guns, notably your use of hyperbole to counter the often hyperbolic arguments of the right-wing gun nuts (of which I am not a member, let's not forget).

A million deaths haven't been prevented by the federal gun registry. Canada doesn't just have that kind of crime rate.

And the other problem is nowhere in your essay do you state precisely how a gun registry, specifically the flawed one we have in this country, actually prevents any deaths. People get killed every year with illegal guns. Just as people get killed every year with legal guns (as the Dawson shootings and a number of domestic homicides in the country show).

People are going to kill people regardless of whether they have a legal rifle, an illegal handgun, a machete or a vodka bottle, or, in a recent case in Calgary, allegedly a minivan. And, as the Liberals made hay of during the last election campaign (to their detriment, I might add) the bulk of violent crimes in major cities, such as T.O, are being committed with ILLEGAL guns, likely smuggled into Canada from the U.S.

The only way deaths are preventable, is if people who show evidence of being a risk, such as uttering threats to an ex(see domestic homicides) have guns taken away from them. That's the only way a registry actually could prevent a death. And it has failed families miserably in that respect.

Instead of a registry, why don't they just tack onto one's gun licence ( which is a requirement), what weapons one owns.

And as far as the PM's comments being in poor taste, the next person who uses the Dawson tragedy to further political gain on the issue, will get a swift kick in the head, because heavy boots are still legal, and I don't have to register them either.

Breakenridge said...

Oh, and BTW, I give you a piece of gold about Klein stepping down and you write about Dawson?

I mean COME ON!

Atypical Albertan said...

I definitely agree that people are going to try to kill people regardless of their access to weaponry of any sort. However, limiting access to weapons will hopefully reduce their probability of success and maybe some murders can be prevented. Guns have a high probability of success in attempted murders, and therefore should be looked at first. Similarly, gun accidents are frequently fatal and should be considered in the debate.

I will not support fully the Liberal gun registry, nor do I necessarily believe that a registry will prevent murders. However, I believe that restricting access to guns is a good thing - particularly illegal guns.

The only way to identify and remove illegal guns is by defining which guns are legal and which are not. This can be done with a registry, or it can be done by linking guns to their licensed owners as you mentioned.

Finally, I do hope that your perfectly legal heavy boots get a workout as you kick some Conservative head down there.