More “gun hysteria” from the Toronto Star

Original Story Via:  Matt Gurney, National Post · Jan. 31, 2012

In an “exclusive” report that ran over the weekend, the Toronto Star breathlessly reported on its front page that, according to information available through the federal gun registries, residents of the Greater Toronto Area own … guns. Why, people on your own street might have one! Readers were reminded of newspaper articles from the height of the Cold War, with titles like, “Is your neighbour a communist?” Everyone, please … remain calm.

In the Toronto area, there apparently are 263,000 privately held non-restricted guns (shotguns and rifles), 62,818 restricted guns (most handguns and some rifles) and 26,315 prohibited guns (snub-nosed pistols and military-grade weapons). That’s at least 352,000 icky firearms, right in the Star’s backyard. For a paper still trying to wrap its mind around a Harper majority and a Rob Ford mayoralty, it’s gotta be a tough pill to swallow.

The article, of course, hinges on the imminent scrapping of the longgun registry, after which the 263,000 non-restricted guns will no longer be tracked by the government, even though the 53,000 holders of nonrestricted licences will still require those licences to purchase and possess firearms and ammunition. Experts are trotted out by the Star to tut-tut about public safety, including former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant, now working with the Coalition for Gun Control, who says the number of gun owners in and around Toronto prove firearms ownership “isn’t a rural-urban issue,” but instead about “safety, and suicide prevention.”

Wrong on every count.

Firearms ownership has always been an urban vs. suburban-rural issue, and that’s especially true in Toronto. In 2010, the Star itself released a colourcoded map of the GTA showing the percentage of the population that had a firearms licence, and the results were what you’d expect – the figures were very low in downtown Toronto, much higher in the outer suburbs at the fringes of the GTA, and somewhere in the middle at all points in between.

Nor is there any truth that the gun registry, or rates of gun ownership, has any statistical connection to the suicide rate, which has been generally flat for decades, far longer than the registry has been around. There has been a gradual decline, but it 20 years before the registry was put in place. Any success that gun control has achieved in getting Canadians to stop shooting themselves is an empty victory – they’re still committing suicide, they’re just using pills, a bridge or subway car instead. Not exactly a triumph for gun control.

Then, of course, there is the safety issue. The Star’s own earlier reporting has found that the rate of Torontonians with firearms licences over the last several years has been generally stable in and around Toronto – some minor drop in the rate of gun ownership inside the city of Toronto generally has been offset by a rise in the number of guns in the suburbs. And yet, all the same, it was just last November that the Star was reporting that the rate of homicide in Toronto had dropped 50% in only a few short years. Indeed, they noted that, “Toronto is on its way to becoming the safest it has been in a quarter of a century.”

That’s great news. But isn’t it worth noting that that victory for safety was against a backdrop of steady gun ownership in a city with hundreds of thousands of firearms? They might also note that Toronto’s suburbs, despite their higher rate of gun ownership, have much lower murder rates – per capita rates, note, not just the total number of individual homicides – than Toronto itself.

But that isn’t the issue the Star is really delving into. The statistics about gun ownership and suicide trends and murder rates are just background noise to the main issue – the belief of many, particularly in urban areas, that gun ownership is itself asocial, dangerous and indicative of a deranged mind.

If not for the social stigma of gun ownership, no one would care how many of their neighbours might have an old rifle or two locked up in their basement somewhere. They’d only care that they lived in a safe neighbourhood – and almost everywhere in the Toronto area is safe.

It’s certainly true that with the registry scrapped, there will still be murders and suicides committed with firearms. But that was true even with the registry. If this is the best defenders of the status quo have to offer, the registry can’t be scrapped quickly enough.