The Scarborough shootings: Shyanne Charles, gun control, and the Toronto Star

Where to begin? Let’s start with a plea for facts.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/CP Photo

I get tired of writing about gun control even before I start typing. It is probably the one topic in Canadian public discourse that is most saturated by emotion and bereft of evidence-based arguments. But some contributions to the debate require a response.

This morning we have the Toronto Star weighing in on Monday night’s Danzig Street shooting, in which two people were killed and another 24 were injured when two men opened fire at each other at a neighbourhood barbeque. All the facts are not yet known, but police suspect gang involvement.

The Star’s solution, according to its paper editorial headline, is that it’s “High time to ban guns.” The editorial continues to note that witnesses should come forward. “But society as a whole can do more by banning private ownership of handguns… Indeed it’s hard to imagine how this could have happened at all if the shooters didn’t have access to easily concealed handguns.

“It’s too early to say where the firearms used in the latest bloodshed came from. But there’s no doubt that handguns — legal and otherwise — are all too common and easily obtained. Any reduction in the supply available to criminals would help…

“As of the end of May, there were almost 700,000 legally registered handguns in this country — a sizeable arsenal waiting to be stolen by criminals. While this isn’t the main origin of firepower, private collections represent a significant source that should be shut down.”

Where to begin?  Let’s start with a plea for facts.

The Star claims private collections represent a significant source of handguns used by criminals. What constitutes “significant source”? How many handgun murders in Canada last year involved legally registered handguns that were subsequently stolen? The Star doesn’t say.

But maybe this is because registered handguns — the “sizeable arsenal” — are still “waiting” to be stolen by criminals. Canadians have been required to register handguns since 1934. Exactly how much longer does this sizable arsenal need to wait before criminals will get around to seizing it?

The Star contends the only people who should have access to handguns are police, the military, and “a few top competitive shooters.” Exactly how amateur shooters are supposed to become top shooters without guns is something the Star doesn’t explain. But this is comparatively minor point. The bigger logical chasm is the Star’s argument that banning guns would somehow prevent tragedies like the one that occurred Monday night.

Obtaining a firearm’s licence in Canada today requires a police check, taking a comprehensive course, and passing a written and manual exam. This will give you the right to buy a rifle or shotgun. Getting licenced for a handgun is a lengthier and more complicated process. The Star’s claim that legal handguns are easily obtained is simply untrue. The idea that the gang members or otherwise troubled young men involved in so much of Toronto’s gun violence are also spending their weekends at a gun safety course taking notes on how to properly store and lock up their handguns is ludicrous. Their weapons are illegal. Banning legal guns won’t change that.

The Star’s editorial drives off a cliff towards its conclusion. “Collectors and pistol enthusiasts complain such a ban, under a mandatory federal buyback program, would end their freedom to pursue a hobby. They’re right. But balanced against that is the freedom of innocent people to enjoy life without being cut down by a bullet.

“That’s what killed Shyanne Charles, a generous and happy 14-year-old with a love of sports and music who happened to attend the Scarborough block party Monday night. No one’s pistol collection is worth that.”

The Star actually wrote that. Of course no one’s pistol collection is worth Shyanne’s death. And no one’s pistol collection contributed to it.

I hope the Star’s editorialists believe what they say, that taking away a sport shooter’s pistol collection might save little girls like Shyanne Charles. It’s an inane argument. But the alternative — that they know what they’re saying is illogical but still exploited Shyanne’s death to advance the paper’s position on gun control — is shameful.

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