While I had long believed in gun control, its importance hit home for me after losing my mother at the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. After that tragic event in which 33 people were killed, I wanted to understand why and make sure others would not have to suffer like I, and my mother, did.
Like many Canadians, I took some comfort in the strong Canadian laws and the seeming lack of comparable influence of the Canadian gun lobby compared to their NRA cousins in the US. However, the changes to Canadian gun laws over the past year show that this sense of comfort was naive.
This month, the government is set to delete the gun registry data on all rifles and shotguns outside of the province of Quebec. The loss of this data, that all Canadians paid to collect, means that no record will exist on nearly six million guns. It means that should those guns be used in crime, police will be unable to link them to their owners and hold them accountable and their investigations involving guns will be more difficult and expensive. It also means that our relations with other countries that are taking steps to reduce illicit firearms trafficking will be affected.
Little attention has been given to other changes to Canadian gun laws discretely passed by the government or to the connections and influence of the Canadian gun lobby to these policies. For example, the government also eliminated mandatory licence checks before a gun sale. Now a seller must only have "no reason to believe" the buyer does not have a licence, but no obligation to visually see it, or to call in to check if it is still valid and not a fake id.
This creates a loophole that seriously weakens the effectiveness of the licensing process we have in place. While those applying for a gun licence are screened for risk factors for violence and suicide such as a history of mental illness, of domestic violence, or criminal behaviour, those whose licence was revoked for safety reasons and those without licences will find it easier to buy a gun. And the gun lobby has said that the licensing process itself is their next target.
The government has also forbidden provinces from requiring dealers to keep records of their sales of long-guns, a requirement even the US government imposes on its dealers. This is the principal method used by police to ensure that dealers follow the law and to prevent illegal arms trafficking, and Canada is now an outlier.
Piece by piece, and with little scrutiny, Canada's gun laws are being severely weakened. We are now in breach of several international treaties meant to stop illegal gun trafficking. This reflects the strong influence of the gun lobby on both our domestic and international small arms/firearms policies. The Public Safety Minister's Firearms Advisory Committee is composed almost exclusively of vocal critics of Canada's gun laws.
To quote Virgina Tech survivor Colin Goddard "You have to look at this problem... in two ways. From the supply side: how did someone this young get a weapon they were legally not allowed to own. And you also have to look at it from the demand side: why did this young man feel like using a gun was the way to solve his problem?"
In Canada, we are easing the supply side for the guns that are most used to kill women in domestic violence, to kill police officers, to injure and to commit suicides. And on powerful guns, including some sniper rifles, like the Ruger Mini-14 used to kill 14 young women in the 1989 Montreal Massacre and to kill 69 people in Norway last summer.
Over my five years in research on both Canadian and US gun laws, there are many statistics I can quote that plainly show the reduced rates of violence directly supported by our current gun control measures. We have only to look at the US to see what ease of supply and lack of responsibility can do.
The bottom line is that Canadians had a system that worked and supported international norms for the prevention of illicit gun sales. We could have continued to improve it. But over the past year, the government has literally scrapped all those efforts and are on the verge of deleting the hard copy knowledge we have gained and invested in, despite being advised by its own officials that this would put us in breach of several treaties Canada has signed to fight the illegal gun trade.
Whether a national tragedy or a single victim, if you had the chance to avert a death by gun violence, would you not take that chance? And if you had the tools at your disposal, after a violent death, to seek out justice, would you use those tools or throw them away? The destruction of the long-gun registry data, along with all the other changes this year, will change Canadian public safety for the worse, leading to others suffering that same fate.