09/28/2012 02:54 EDT | Updated 11/28/2012 05:12 EST

Nunavut, RCMP target unsafe gun storage after dozens of firearm incidents

IQALUIT, Nunavut - RCMP and the Nunavut government are trying to change the territory's culture around the safe storage of firearms in response to dozens of gun incidents that have threatened police and civilians.

Hunting is part of life in the North, said Chief Supt. Steve McVarnock, but too often hunters coming in off the land don't take immediate steps to deactivate their guns.

"That's the type of mindset we want to start right from the get-go. When you come back to the community, you secure that weapon. You separate the ammunition from it. You secure it so that it is locked and very difficult to access," McVarnock said Friday.

RCMP in Nunavut are routinely called out over gun concerns.

Police statistics show the territory had a total of 118 gun offences in 2011. So far this year, police have responded 73 times to calls with "firearm implications."

Both civilians and police are being endangered.

Last March, in the hamlet of Kimmirut, shots were fired into the homes of two Mounties while they sat inside with their families. A 20-year-old man was arrested after being disarmed and subdued by 10 fellow citizens.

McVarnock acknowledges that safe storage won't solve all the territory's firearm problems. But locking guns away will make it that much less likely that they'll be close at hand during emotional disputes.

"If there's an event happening in a community, or people are drinking, or emotions rev up and anger starts to happen, if a firearm is safely secured and keys are removed from the individuals, then I think that enhances safety for that moment and others around him with cooler heads may be able to intervene."

McVarnock said he'd like to see a trigger lock on every rifle in Nunavut.

Mounties and Nunavut conservation officers plan to visit all the territory's far-flung communities to talk to people about firearm storage. A video on the subject featuring Inuit officers is to be widely distributed.

The Canadian Forces is sending up storage lockers for rifles assigned to the Rangers, the army's largely aboriginal northern reserve force.

"We're not trying to disrupt the traditional lifestyle of the North," McVarnock said.

"We're not driving this down the throat of people. We want to engage them in a very positive and proactive way and hopefully we can reduce the incidence of gun violence in the North."

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton