I've been to too many funerals of young murder victims and held too many grieving mothers, fathers and friends to fail to do everything I can about gun violence. I have been, and continue to be, a passionate advocate for changes that can greatly reduce gun violence in this province -- and across Canada.
The good news is that we know the solutions. The bad news is that we lack the political conviction to implement them. We've made progress on some fronts, but the roots of the problem remain.
First, some facts about gun violence and why it should matter to all of us:
• The cause: The vast majority of gun violence in our towns and cities today is linked to the drug trade -- a drug trade that often preys on low income neighbourhoods in our cities and towns.
• The direct impact: Gun violence has a direct negative impact residents of these neighbourhoods, and it's far-reaching. For every one victim of gun violence, there are thousands living in fear, and victims are often bystanders.
• The indirect impact: Gun violence has a profound impact on all of us because of the fear it creates -- especially when it spills into the neighbourhoods we live, work and shop in. We begin to limit our activities -- not riding transit at night, not shopping in "that mall" where someone was killed - and anxiety levels spike because nothing fuels a terror-inducing media frenzy more than a horrific gun incident.
As I said earlier, we know the solutions. Here are three action steps that will go a long way to reducing gun violence in our communities.
1. Implement the recommendations of the 2008 report on the roots of youth violence
Roy McMurtry and Alvin Curling conducted an extensive study in 2008 that looked at the roots of youth violence. They set out a number of recommendations that address the social issues that plague low income communities (www.rootsofyouthviolence.on.ca). These include recommendations about education, access to space and programs, and support for families among many others. Many of the ideas formed part of Toronto's Community Safety Plan between 2004 and 2010: we know they work. Investing in youth is the best way to ensure that young people truly have a chance.
For the most part, these recommendations have not been implemented because they cost money in a time of government spending restraint. But just as we do for transit, we need politicians to take a long term view of these costs, because it's an investment that will pay itself off many times over.
2. Treat drugs as a moral and health issue - not a criminal issue
We need to recognize that the criminalization of drugs has done nothing to reduce their use or distribution. What it has done is driven use and distribution underground, where gangs, organized crime and guns flourish. If a country as "pro criminalization" as the U.S. can have two states legalize marijuana -- as Colorado and Washington recently did -- I think we are on the cusp of a rapid change in this area. The illegal drug trade and guns are joined at the hip. By de-criminalizing one, the need for the other will be greatly reduced.
3. Ban handguns
Because we live north of a country that seems to love its guns, we're a bit smug and complacent about our own gun laws. We shouldn't be. One-third of illegal guns in Canada come directly from Canadian sources -- and our laws aren't as strict as you think. If you have a permit to own one handgun, you can buy as many as you want.
We're not talking about hunting rifles -- which have a clear use and purpose. We're talking about handguns, which have no purpose other than to kill people. We need to follow Australia's lead and ban them. And by doing so, we'll be in a much stronger position to advocate for change in the U.S., where, despite recent setbacks, I believe change will eventually come.
Solutions that work
Despite the feeling of "out of control violence" that stems from 24/7 media coverage of every incident, we have made progress in reducing gun violence. Solutions that we have put in place -- such as community policing strategies that build relationships in at-risk communities every day -- have had a profound impact on many neighbourhoods.
But we need to build on this good work and take stronger actions. We know the solutions -- now let's push for the political will to put them in place.
This was originally posted to The Agenda on Wednesday, June 12, 2013