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Saeed Selvam Headshot

Are We Too Comfortable With Gun Violence?

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Kesean Williams.

Recognize the name? What about Tyson Bailey?

Anything?

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.

Shootings In America
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EATON CENTRE SHOOTING -- WARNING: GRAPHIC
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