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Gun violence is oftentimes couched in medical terms; we hear of the epidemic of gun violence, or a rash of shootings. But here’s the reality: gun violence is not the disease. Gun violence is a symptom.

No gun has ever inspired one to commit violent acts. No one has ever merely held a gun, or gazed upon one, and spontaneously decided to go on an unbidden murderous rampage. In fact, oftentimes the opposite is true; the fact that even well-armed humans are naturally predisposed to avoid murdering one another was well documented during the First World War, as it was discovered many troops would shoot into the ground ahead of an enemy to dissuade their advance, rather than shoot the enemy. Most humans are simply hardwired for nonviolence.

So if guns don’t inspire violence why do we keep blaming the gun?

Simple: it’s the easiest reaction. To refer back to our medical analogy, it’s often far easier to identify the symptoms, putting the issue into the realm of the layman’s understanding. Just ask Nyquil, “The nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, aching, coughing, stuffy-head, fever, so you can rest medicine.” What actual disease does it address? Who knows, and arguably who cares because when you feel those things, Nyquil will help. Except sometimes Nyquil doesn’t help. Because the symptoms belie a more serious issue.

Gun control is the Nyquil of the mass shooting. We don’t know what the cause is, but in the emotional turmoil of any such tragedy, the notion of simply deleting firearms from society feels like a swell panacea. In reality, it’s simply a band-aid over the proverbial bullet wound, successful only at currying political favour and pumping the desired voting blocks. For example, even with our existing gun control regime having been in place for decades, MP Bill Blair, former chief of the Toronto Police was quoted as saying, “I am familiar with the way in which people intent on criminal and violent criminal activities can at times obtain handguns both legally and illegally, and overwhelmingly they do it in an illegal fashion.”

In other words, to use Bill Blair’s language, when criminals obtain their firearms they overwhelmingly do so in an illegal fashion. In other words, the passage of any additional laws to prevent criminals from obtaining firearms will simply be adding to the compendium of laws they are already circumventing on a daily basis. Arguing that criminals obtaining guns illegally can be solved by banning more guns is analogous to saying the solution to the fentanyl crisis is simple as banning opioids… and we all know how well that’s worked (2,117 people died from fentanyl overdoses last year, roughly ten times the number of people murdered with a firearm).

A complex picture

It is one thing to state that guns are a symptom. It’s another to identify the root cause. As in most things in life, there’s no conclusive, black-and-white answer, and in many situations the root cause may be entirely different. But while each individual scenario is unique unto itself, there are recognizable trends, and it is within these recognizable trends that solutions to the majority of Canada’s gun crime can begin to be discussed.

According to the RCMP, 66% of all gun violence can be directly tied to organized crime. And yet, the RCMP Criminal Intelligence budget is roughly half that of the RCMP-run Canadian Firearms Program. The latter is charged with the oversight of a licensed population utterly devoid of violent criminals by definition, the former is charged with the interdiction of organized crime. Perhaps that’s a good place to start.