Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Saeed Selvam


Are We Too Comfortable With Gun Violence?

Posted: 02/20/2013 12:22 pm

Kesean Williams.

Recognize the name? What about Tyson Bailey?


These two young boys lost their lives to gun violence in Toronto within the past two months. What if I you told you that Kesean was nine years old and Tyson was 15?

Make a difference?

In February alone Toronto lost two more 15 year olds -- one, just this last Sunday. Some blame City Hall, others, the police. Some will just flip to the entertainment section of the paper. The apathetic, believe that acts of violence are so far removed that they're irrelevant, only the concern of certain ethnic communities or completely unsolvable all together.

Time to start caring again.

I recently had the opportunity to brief the team advising President Obama on his 23 executive actions to prevent and mitigate gun violence. I had to withhold my excitement at such a unique chance to inform Barry's administration on Canada's best practices for violence reduction, while stating the facts. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, a number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the some of the deadliest nations in the world. When I highlighted to one of the aides that Toronto's 2005 gun violence peak death rate was 52, he replied "5,200!?" I said "nope, just 52."

The reason for his wild stretch to 5,200 was not because he misunderstood the pointed Canadian accent at the other end of the phone, it's because major urban centres like Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles have murder rates that are in the hundreds. This is normal. In 2012 New Orleans had 427 shootings, and 199 documented murders, while in Chicago, the President's hometown and a city comparable to Toronto in population alone, had a whopping 506 homicides last year, 435 of them committed with guns making it a city with one of the highest homicide rates in America. In the words of Jay-Z, "men lie, women lie, numbers don't."

So what's makes Canada so different from the States? Since it's not accurate to merely blame population differences and knowing that it's not the bacon and maple syrup and keeps us Canucks in such a sedative state, I believe that gun culture in the United States has become so mainstream and pervasive that many are too comfortable with violence as an accepted and unstoppable part of American life.

During Toronto's "Summer of the Gun," the issue of violence, youth and marginalized communities received more airtime than ever before because 52 murders -- 52 lives lost -- were 52 too many. Violence in Canadian cities received international attention because the risk to public and personal safety was unacceptable, the feeling of insecurity was at an all time high because shootings, especially downtown, were a jolt to our collective consciousness. The notion that a shooting could happen anywhere, any time and to anyone was a jarring and relatively new concept. We started caring more because of the high-profile nature of the incidents that included the 'Boxing Day Shootings' which occurred within Toronto's downtown core; but also because the trend of violence was not something to be stood for.

Almost immediately, community leaders, advocates and politicos leapt into action designing innovative community-centric models of prevention which included community funding, better policing and economic development for priority communities. A series of preventative steps in consultation with NGOs and frontline workers helped to address the violence effectively, reducing the rate of murders by guns drastically over five years. It worked because it was at the top of Torontonian and Canadian minds until the violence started to reduce.

The last non-mass shooting in the United States I saw on CNN that wasn't in Iraq or Afghanistan was the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Arguably, this tragedy received national attention due to the circumstances and racial undertones of the murder along with the chilling, recorded 911 call. Such shootings in the United States rarely make national news and are de-prioritized unless there's something "compelling" enough about it to capture national attention. The Newton school shooting is a terrible reminder of this, it's also a terrible reminder of what guns can do when in the wrong hands, it's unfortunate that it takes such events to kickstart executive action.

We need to start caring again. By caring I mean that cities with high homicide rates need to urgently adopt preventative legislation to combat what becomes a cycle of violence once unchecked and un-remedied. What type of legislation you ask? Worldwide, there are examples of what works and what doesn't, Canada has a decent record because we had to learn the hard way, through a series of integrative policies that promote resilience and a strong welfare system with the goal supporting our economically vulnerable. Canada is by no means perfect, but we're not Communist either. Can we prevent every violent act? Of course not. But as the President says, if we can do anything at all to prevent even one act of violence, then it's our responsibility to do so.

The 500 lives lost in Chicago are 500 birthdays that will never be celebrated again, 199 in New Orleans will never get to see children or loved ones and Kesean and Tyson will never get the chance to start a family or even attend a high school prom. Ever.

One shooting is one too many, we need to understand this. Once we do, the goal of a safer city and country, wherever we are, turns a pipe dream into a reality.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Swat team members secure the scene near Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nev., after a shooting there on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Authorities are reporting that two people were killed and two wounded at the Nevada middle school. (AP Photo/Kevin Clifford)

  • Sandy Hook Elementary

    Molly Delaney, left, holds her 11-year-old daughter, Milly Delaney, during a service in honor of the victims who died a day earlier when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as people gathered at St. John's Episcopal Church , Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims.

  • Police secure the scene near Sparks Middle School after a shooting in Sparks, Nev., on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Authorities are reporting that two people were killed and two wounded at the Nevada middle school. (AP Photo/Kevin Clifford)

  • Clackamas Town Center

    A security guard looks over the food court at the Clackamas Town Center mall as it opens, on Friday, Dec 14, 2012 in Portland, Ore. The mall is reopening, three days after a gunman killed two people and wounded a third amid a holiday shopping crowd estimated at 10,000. The shooter, Jacob Tyler Roberts, killed himself after the attack Tuesday afternoon.

  • St. Vincent's Hospital Shooting

    Birmingham police arrive at the scene of a shooting at St. Vincent's Hospital on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 in Birmingham, Ala. Authorities in Alabama say a man opened fire the hospital, wounding an officer and two employees before he was fatally shot by police. Birmingham Police Sgt. Johnny Williams says the officer and employees suffered injuries that are not considered life-threatening.

  • Sikh Temple Shooting

    Mourners attend the funeral and memorial service for the six victims of the Sikh temple of Wisconsin mass shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., Friday, Aug 10, 2012. The public service was held in the Oak Creek High School. Three other people were wounded in the shooting last Sunday at the temple. Wade Michael Page, 40, killed five men and one woman, and injured two other men. Authorities say Page then ambushed the first police officer who responded, shooting him nine times and leaving him in critical condition. A second officer then shot Page in the stomach, and Page took his own life with a shot to the head. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

  • July 2012: Aurora, Colorado

    A policeman stands outside a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colo., where a heavily armed man opened fire, killing at least 12 people and injuring 50 others.

  • May 2012: Seattle, Wash.

    Friends, family and employees react after a shooting at Cafe Racer in Seattle on May 30, 2012. A lone gunman killed four people Wednesday -- three were shot to death at a cafe, and a fourth in a carjacking. The gunman later killed himself.

  • April 2012: Oakland, California

    Alameda County Community Food Bank workers move a memorial from a parking spot next to Oikos University in Oakland, Calif., Monday, April 23, 2012. Some students and staff members have arrived to resume class at Oikus University, the small California Christian college where seven people were shot to death earlier in April.

  • November 2009: Fort Hood, Texas

    Panou Xiong, center, is comforted by family and friends following a Remembrance Ceremony commemorating the one-year anniversary of the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base, where 13 people were killed and dozens wounded,, Nov. 5, 2010 in Fort Hood, Texas. Xiong's son, Pfc. Kham Xiong, was killed in the shooting. <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> This slide originally said that the Fort Hood shooting took place in November 2010. The shooting took place in November 2009.</em>

  • March 2009: Kinston, Alabama

    The charred Kinston, Ala. living room where suspected gunman Michael McLendon allegedly killed his mother Lisa McLendon, is photographed Wednesday, March 11, 2009. Authorities were working Wednesday to learn why a gunman set off on a rampage, killing 10 people across two rural Alabama counties.

  • August 2007: Blacksburg, Va.

    An unidentified family member of slain Virginia Tech student Daniel Alejandro Prez Cueva, pauses at his memorial stone after the dedication of the memorial for the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting in Blacksburg, Va., Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007. More than 10,000 people gathered on the main campus lawn as Virginia Tech dedicated 32 memorial stones for those killed by a student in a mass shooting on campus last April.

  • April 1999: Littleton, Colo.

    This aerial shows the news media compound near Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., April 21, 1999. Media from around the world poured into the area after 15 people were killed during a shooting spree inside the school.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Flowers lie at the door as a member of a cleaning crew is pictured in the empty foyer of Toronto's Eaton Centre on Sunday, June 3, 2012. Police continue to investigate the Saturday's shooting which resulted in one death and seven injuries. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

  • Members of a cleaning crew are pictured in the window of Toronto's Eaton Centre on Sunday, June 3, 2012. Police continue to investigate the Saturday's shooting which resulted in one death and seven injuries. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

  • A police officer is pictured in the empty foyer of Toronto's Eaton Centre, as a colleague and his police cruiser is reflected in the window, on Sunday, June 3, 2012. Police continue to investigate the Saturday's shooting which resulted in one death and seven injuries. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young


    Toronto police order bystanders to clear a path so EMS can move the injured to transport. (Brian Trinh)

  • A male gunshot victim lies on the floor at the Urban Eatery food court in Toronto's Eaton Centre as EMS tends to his wounds. (Brian Trinh)

  • A female victim lies on the second floor at the Eaton Centre as EMS tends to her injuries. (Brian Trinh)

  • Male gunshot victim lies on the floor at the Urban Eatery food court in Toronto's Eaton Centre. (Brian Trinh)

  • Mall security officers escort workers during the chaos. (Brian Trinh)

  • Toronto police seal off entrances to the Eaton Centre to conduct their interior search. (Brian Trinh)

  • The intersection of Yonge and Dundas was blocked off while Toronto police conducted their search for the shooter. (Brian Trinh)

  • The scene outside the Queen Street entrance of the Eaton Centre on Saturday, June 2, 2012. (Brian Trinh)

  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford watches the activity outside the Eaton Centre in Toronto, Saturday, June 2, 2012. A shooting that sparked mass panic at Toronto's Eaton Centre killed one person Saturday and injured seven others. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Victor Biro


Follow Saeed Selvam on Twitter: www.twitter.com/saeedselvam