Anyone who's followed my various social media feeds for the past few years knows that at some point I'm going to be posting about guns. Gun incidents, gun injuries and deaths, gun lobbying, gun trafficking, gun policies, and the leadership (or not) in addressing gun issues in society. I expect the response has ranged from a mild interest to boredom to (hopefully not too much) annoyance. But I don't care. This is one of the few issues where I'm not going to keep quiet just because a few people might be turned off by the issue. I just can't.
I didn't start out focusing on firearms issues in my formative years. Guns were not a part of my family life and/or traditions (e.g. hunting, target shooting), and I never had to use them as a tool (e.g. protection of livestock). I have always lived in an urban downtown environment, with much of my life living immediately adjacent to neighbourhoods/communities that have higher rates of gun violence due to gang, drug and/or prostitution activities (e.g. Parkdale pre-gentrification, my current location adjacent to a social housing neighbourhood that periodically experiences gang violence involving firearms.) However, I've never felt the need to personally worry about firearms or seek to own a firearm.
At university, my focus was on security-intelligence history (i.e. the history of spying and covert operations) and as part of that I studied firearms trafficking issues as part of the larger covert operations policies/issues, but it wasn't my whole focus (save a year monitoring G20 commitments on curtaining the trafficking of Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems (MANPADS) for the G8 Research Group.) It wasn't until I started working for the City of Toronto -- first as an assistant to a City Councillor responsible for the Parkdale area, then as the Project Manager for Community Safety/Policy Development Officer -- that I really came to understand the importance of addressing firearms issues, and perhaps more importantly, the absolutely horrible human costs firearms have on our society.
That said, let me acknowledge first and foremost that the issue of firearms and their place in our society is not a question of absolutes, 'black and white' answers or especially an issue where yelling at those you disagree with using purely passionate arguments will bring people together to actually get anything done. There are a lot of legitimate concerns when it comes to firearms, and you have to acknowledge that at least part of the motivations driving many firearms issues is legitimate personal fears (even if the reasons for those fears may not be legitimate and/or have any basis in fact.)
I don't hate those who own guns, nor do I hate those who disagree with me about guns.
So why won't I shut up about them?
Simply put, I can't ignore the stats on firearms, nor can I ignore the victims of firearms -- those who've lost friends and loved ones to the use of firearms through violence, unintentional injuries/discharges and self-inflicted suicides. Too many have been lost to these devices, devices that are completely within our ability to control and dictate how they're used. And to be honest, I can't shake the faces of the victims of gun violence that have stayed with me since I held the post of Project Manager for Community Safety.
When I held the post, I kept a Toronto Star year-end photo spread of all the victims of violence in the GTA in 2007 on the bulletin board directly above my computer, with firearms victims highlighted. It included victims as young as 12 years old and as old as 71 years old. It included people of a variety of ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds (although undeniably there was a disproportionate number of lower-income and black Toronto area residents on the list.) And I made a point of viewing photos (and to the degree possible reading about) the victims of subsequent gun violence. I couldn’t only treat them as part of Toronto’s annual violence statistics. They deserved better, and they collectively helped to remind me why I needed to work hard on my hardest/lowest days. I was also fortunate enough to be able to meet with victims and families of victims of firearms violence to better understand the impact of these weapons, along with members of law enforcement charged with addressing firearms violence and people living in communities where there is a very real and very legitimate fear of gun violence on a daily basis.
It was a powerful experience, and frankly one that I’ll probably always take with me.
But I’m not going to try and change anyone’s mind on firearms in this post. It’s not the point. I’ll save the stats and arguments for another day. This is about the ‘why?’
There are a lot of pressing issues that require a global response, one that requires all of us to make small changes every day in our societies to truly make progress on – climate change, poverty, gender parity and equality in society prominently among others. I argue that gun violence and its related issues should be considered among those daily issues. And I will continue to argue it going forward. Those lost to gun violence deserve no less.
I hope that you will understand my position, and that my posts offer an opportunity to think about the issue. Gun violence is an issue that impacts us all on a daily basis, but the great news is that it’s one that can be directly addressed and by-in-large solved through meaningful actions. We can do this as a people, and as a society.
I thank you for sticking with me this far. If you need a further illustration of why I remain so passionate about this issue, I give you Exhibit 1 – a recent interview by BBC Channel 4’s Jon Snow with Neil McCabe, Reporter for Armed American Radio: