Gun control keeps suicides down
TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Thu Oct 27 2011. Michael Bryant
It’s about suicide, not bad guys and good guys. Not law and order. Suicide.
The Harper government’s tabling of a bill to repeal federal Liberal gun control laws will bring out the worst in Canadian politics. Misinformation and melodrama will abound. Arguments ripped from the U.S. playbook of the National Rifle Association (NRA) will be heard in Parliament and perhaps even advertisements from NRA fronts in Canada will air.
Gun control supporters will remind people of the Montreal Massacre, the inspiration for the 1995 federal gun registry laws. Both sides will cite old and new auditor general reports regarding the costs of running the registry. (Annual snow removal costs in Montreal are higher than annual federal gun registry costs for the entire nation).
But one incontrovertible fact will sadly be lost. Most firearm deaths in Canada are suicides (over 75 per cent). Only 24 per cent are homicides. Suicides in Canada will go up if the Prime Minister isn’t careful about what he repeals.
I’ve been involved in gun control debates for a long time. Admittedly, some of my too-clever rhetoric took away from the important public safety ideas behind the federal gun registry. “The Conservatives are in the holster of the gun lobby,” he quips. I truly believe in the slogan a bunch of us Liberals coined: “No gun, no funeral.”
The website and badges we handed out drove pro-gun activists crazy, and we revelled in our partisanship. It’s a fact that more guns in a jurisdiction mean more deaths. Exhibit A: U.S.A. It’s true that most illegal guns start as legal guns. Ask the police, who access the registry thousands of times, every day.
Be that as it may, gun control supporters like me may have placed too much focus on gun crime itself. Bad guys and good guys. Some couldn’t tell whether gun controllers like me were equating hunters and gun collectors with the bad guys. We should have plucked out the one thing about the gun registry that no one can dispute.
Suicides. Suicides dropped dramatically in Canada thanks to the federal gun registry. Not only do statistics prove as much, it stands to reason that with improved gun safety comes decreased gun fatalities; with fewer tools-of-choice for suicides available, fewer suicides occur. It just makes sense.
Here are the stats. A home where there are firearms is five times more likely to be the scene of a suicide than a home without a gun: Canada Safety Council. The Institut national de sante publique du Québec has assessed that the coming into force of the Firearms Act is associated, on average, with a reduction of 250 suicides (and 50 homicides) each year in Canada. That’s nearly one life saved per day. StatsCan figures are stark: firearm suicides have dropped 48 per cent since the enactment of the very law that the Conservatives seek to repeal.
But repeal it they will. Allan Rock’s 1995 Firearms Act faces a parliamentary execution, with a Conservative majority in the House of Commons. The only outstanding questions are (a) will the Conservative Gun Rights bill be upheld by the courts? (Recent case law suggests that governments can’t willy nilly eliminate proven safety measures when lives are at risk); and (b) will the federal government work with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to preserve some public safety components of the existing gun control laws?
It’s hard to imagine that the Prime Minister is willing to risk higher suicide rates in Canada. To be sure, suicide is not about good guys and bad guys. Suicide is a mortal moment of final escape from pain beyond reason. With a gun, a suicide attempt is almost always a suicide. Here’s hoping the upcoming debate on the gun registry comes to recognize that it’s actually about suicide, not bad guys and good guys. Suicide.
Michael Bryant was attorney-general of Ontario from 2003-2007, and has authored books and articles on criminal law and constitutional law.
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