Thursday, May 26, 2022

Gun Control - A Not So Modest Proposal

This post will no doubt annoy firearms aficionados - I don’t much care.  In the last 2 weeks, the United States has experienced 2 mass shooting events that resulted in multiple deaths each - one approaching 10, and another over 20 dead.  

Uvalde, TX - a community of 13,000 souls spends 40% of its annual budget on policing.  It has a 10 person SWAT team … heavily armed and armoured … in a town of 13,000 people.  Sit with that for a moment.  In what universe did you ever expect a town that size to need a SWAT team, much less to spend $4M of a $10M total budget on policing?  A SWAT team that apparent spent its time keeping parents from entering the building while their children were being murdered by a man with an AR-15 … in a state which allows civilian carry without license, training, or well … pretty much any restrictions. 

Of course, the usual suspects have been offering up platitudes and “thoughts and prayers” commentary genuflecting towards the deceased, and are happily accepting NRA bribe money to blockade any meaningful action that would bring firearms abuse under control. 

Which brings me to Canada.  Canada has firearms control laws - imperfect they might be - but they work pretty well in terms of making firearms much more difficult to acquire, and strangely, mass shooting events here are relatively rare.  (Like they work in most countries that have actual, effective firearms control laws)

Within hours of the shooting in Uvalde, a candidate for the leadership of the CPC posted a promise on Twitter to shred Canada’s gun control laws.  

Firearms advocates love to claim that the problem is criminals, not “law abiding gun owners”.  Yet, when we look at the situation in the US, it’s fairly clear that many of the mass shootings are committed with legally acquired firearms. Yes, the moment the shooter turned their weapon on fellow citizens, they became a criminal, but up to that point most of them were “law abiding gun owners”. 

The problem is that the myth of the “law abiding firearms owner” is being used to tar paper over the fallout to society from their hobby.  Yes, I understand that it’s only a small minority of the overall population that become mass shooters.  Any one person owning a firearm isn’t necessarily a problem, and in some settings, they are a necessary tool.  

However, as the number of firearms in the society increases, so too increase the costs and risks to society. Policing becomes a more expensive proposition, the potential presence of ammunition in the home increases the risks in firefighting, domestic violence incidents are more likely to involve firearms, meaning that armed response is more likely to be needed, and on it goes. 

Let’s say you have an extensive collection of firearms in your home, and you do all the right things in terms of having them securely stored, alarm systems on the home, and so on. Perhaps you even go so far as to register with the police that you have this collection, and therefore they need to prioritize responding to an alarm or 911 call from your home.  That’s all pretty good stuff to do, isn’t it?  

Guess what? Those precautions have a price to them.  It costs more money to administer that status, it means that _ANY_ emergency response to your home has to involve police response because the chances of a firearm becoming involved increase.  Let’s say it gets into the public domain that you have this collection.  How long do you think it is before criminals are thinking about how they can get into your home and make off with this cache of weapons you have amassed?

Or, perhaps you have conversation with friends and neighbours about your hobby, and some of them decide to pick up a firearm (again, nothing intrinsically wrong with that), but they don’t have your level of knowledge and commitment to storage, and safety.  The weapon gets stored carelessly in the home (perhaps on a closet shelf, but not locked away).  Then it gets stolen in a random B&E, and suddenly there’s another gun in the hands of criminals. Or, it becomes the “trump card” in your friend’s domestic arguments with their spouse. You aren’t directly responsible for what your friend does, of course, but recognize that there can be unintended consequences to actions - police may suddenly find themselves attending the home because of domestic violence incidents that are escalating to include the use of firearms - guess what - the cost of policing increases as a result.  

Even if you are doing all of the right things to secure your collection, there is a cost to society.  That cost emerges in hidden ways.  Small, incremental costs in public services that make society safer for everybody, including you, creep in and can’t be ignored. 

You can argue all you like that we need to “go after the criminals”, and while that is true, it is a deflection from the hidden costs of your hobby. The hidden costs emerge in the corrosive effect that gun violence has on the community. 

One of the things that I noticed on my trips to various parts of the US over the years is the lack of trust people have in each other. One trip I made to Houston, TX was particularly striking. Walking through downtown during the day, so many men’s suit jackets were obviously hanging over shoulder holsters it was frightening. People spoke casually about having guns around to “defend themselves”.  People I talked to really feared that the guy 2 doors down was going to come over one night and break into their house.  The idea of walking down the street in some parts of that city is a non-starter because someone else might have a gun pointed at you.  

That level of distrust and fear is stunningly corrosive to any sense of social cohesion and safety, and we see the results every time one of these mass shootings occurs. 

It’s no secret that Canada’s gun lobby wants US-style availability of firearms, as well as public carry rights, and other changes to our gun laws. They shamelessly borrow from the NRA for their marketing and propaganda campaigns.  The current defence is always “but law abiding gun owners” - as if the “law abiding gun owner” is not creating a problem. They are, but the firearms lobby doesn’t want us to think about that. 

Every time there’s a mass shooting in the US, we need to look at it, and look at the gun lobby here and demand that they clean up their own house first.  What are they doing to address the corrosive cost that their hobby horse brings to our communities?  What are they doing to break down the machismo that is associated with weapons that “look military” (even if they aren’t)?  Based on the aggressiveness of their logos, the fascination with bigger, faster firing weapons, etc, I would suggest that they are doing very little. 

Every firearm in the home increases the probability of it being used in a domestic dispute; every firearm in the community becomes a potential target for criminals looking to increase their supply; every firearm in the community makes walking down the street with your dog in the evening more risky - because sooner or later, you may come across the person who wants to _USE_ their firearm to get their way. All of these things make policing more dangerous for the police, and the costs download directly to the community. 

Do we need to clamp down on criminals who are smuggling firearms into Canada?  Absolutely. Do we need to clamp down on criminals using firearms in the commission of an offence?  Of course.  We already have laws that enable police to do that. We need to be able to focus police on those activities, but you can’t do that if police are dealing with on the ground risks in our communities increasing because of the presence of firearms.

Until the firearms community starts taking its responsibilities to the communities they exist in seriously, the need for restrictions on their hobby will remain. Until they are able to honestly acknowledge the costs to society stemming from their hobby, and they come to a place where they can address the issues in a meaningful way, all the protests in the world over “the meaninglessness” of banning particular types (or styles) of firearms are moot. 


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