We know them all by name: Columbine, Newtown, and El Paso are just a few. Last Civic Holiday weekend, another place closer to home endured its own mass shooting—Toronto. The gun violence in the Greater Toronto Area spanning from August 2 to August 4 saw 17 people shot during 13 separate incidents.
Canada has complicated but stringent gun laws vis-à-vis our neighbours to the south. Our federal regulations divide firearms into categories with requirements including registration, permits, training courses, and exams. First-time owners must fill out a survey detailing their mental health and criminal record. There is a background check and mandatory 28-day waiting period before they receive their license. Canada also has no constitutional provision underwriting the right to bear arms.
All of this, however, was not enough to prevent our own version of mass violence. Although on a smaller scale to the cases seen in the United States, the series of shootings last month in the GTA demonstrated the need for continued reform on how we distribute and allow the usage of firearms.
Yet, we must also recognize the strong political will in this country by both the citizenry and government to eliminate gun violence. One week after the shootings, Toronto mayor John Tory proposed a city-wide handgun ban and police chief Mark Saunders announced that all three levels of government committed a total of $4.5 million in additional funding solely to fight gun crimes. The 11-week project is aimed at targeting gangs in the GTA, focusing on the prevention of firearms-related offenses and enforcement of standing gun laws. Saunders says that Toronto needs a “collective and holistic approach to combat gun crime” and the results of this “intelligence-led” strategy will be made public this November.
This governmental response to a gun-related tragedy widely differs from the actions of Congress in the United States. After every mass shooting, public officials will express their condolences and accept the #NeverAgain movement fueled by their constituents. They will call for legislative action and then, they will not follow through.
I went to high school in California and although the state is comparatively strict with its gun regulation, gun culture and the reality of mass shootings becoming characteristic of America still stands in stark contrast to the political and social climate here in Canada. In Congress, any legislation tightening the accessibility to purchase a gun through extensive background checks and a universal licensing system is halted by outdated Republican ideologies of protecting the Second Amendment at all costs and relegating the causes of mass violence to video games and mental illness.
Hiding behind the Second Amendment and the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful and wealthy organization dedicated to advancing the agenda of gun owners, is often the response of Republican representatives to any argument in favour of gun control. The NRA’s injection of money into politics stalls action on gun reform, and moreover, its mindless defense of the Second Amendment perpetuates gun culture. The U.S. was vastly different when the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791—assault weapons and firearms have no place in our streets today. I’m not calling to ban all guns and violate the amendment. However, the amendment is not absolute and sensible gun reform can focus on a variety of other measures from eliminating military-grade weapons to challenging pro-gun lobbying.
Contrary to what anti-gun control supporters believe, nearly all the perpetrators are homegrown rather than terrorists from abroad, and the access to buy their weapons, the lack of resources for those at risk of violent behaviour, and the inadequate policies to keep guns from dangerous people are the primary causes of mass shootings. Insisting that white supremacy and racial tension is not involved is getting old, and dangerous. The convergence of mass shootings and hate crimes is clear and was brutally exemplified in the shootings at Christchurch mosque in New Zealand and just last month at a Walmart in El Paso. Both gunmen subscribed to anti-immigrant manifestos, targeting ethnic populations in their crimes.
After watching the devastation from the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and then at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I, along with many others, distinctly remember thinking these had to be the tragedies that finally pushed federal gun reform through. Instead, more states have legalized and incentivized arming employees at schools with military weaponry, and the total number of mass shootings is continuing to steadily skyrocket.
When both sides of the debate on gun control recognize that giving uncomplicated access to these weapons and the militarization of society is the problem, we can enact meaningful policy change. Mass shootings can no longer be the norm of American life. They demand action and we the people need it now.