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Gun Talk

26 Nov 2005

By now everyone has heard and talked about the gun violence going on in the greater Toronto area. Some in my circle of friends take it to the extreme and avoid places where violence might break out. On the news, the gunmen are presented as vile, heartless people with no respect for themselves or others. The questions for us black people are: what can we do about it? Why guns? Why now? Why so many?

In Toronto this year, as of August 31st, there were 49 homicides, with 33 of them caused by guns. In 2004 there were 64 homicides with 27 of them involving guns.

The killing is not only done at night, but in broad daylight with people around and in some cases it is done execution style. That means the gunmen really want the person flat out dead and are prepared to kill regardless of the presence of witnesses. Makes one wonder what kind of problem could have warranted someone’s death in such a public way? Since when is killing someone in cold blood with no thought of the family of the deceased left behind acceptable? Malcolm X said: "we black men have a hard enough time in our own struggle for justice, and already have enough enemies as it is, to make the drastic mistake of attacking each other and adding more weight to an already unbearable load."

A friend of mine who is a bouncer in Toronto area night clubs claims that the gun problem has been a major issue for a long time. He has turned away a lot of gun-carrying patrons. According to him, in some areas a lot of people carry knives, handguns and even mini Uzi’s as if they were as innocent as a wallet. I’ve heard people say that guns are an integral part of the gunmen; they are always on them and it’s not recommended to get them mad by taking their guns away because they will get another and be less inclined to give it up next time. Guns in the streets are apparently a status symbol, being compared to a nice car, something to be shown off, a badge of honor. I’m not sure where the glamour comes from, but if you’re carrying a gun there must be a reason other than style. I can only guess, but guns solve problems, since either the person shooting or the victim will be immobilized and the warning or harm to them and everyone else will be heard loud and clear.

A major reason for gun use that may fit in the status symbol theory seems to be their association with the distribution of drugs. According to a document called “The Relationship between Illegal Drugs and Firearms” by lawyer Eugene Oscapella,

“Firearms are in fact a major means for regulating the illegal trade in drugs, including
protective shipments of drugs, intimidating customers or competitors, enforcing debts,
resolving disputes, eliminating competition and killing or injuring informants.”

So it’s simple economics it seems: gang versus gang, a big fight over territory since the objective is to move as much product as possible to make the most money. If the demand is high and the supply is low, drug dealers don’t want a competitor who will drive down prices and also take a piece of their business. The obvious solution therefore is to limit competition. And that’s where guns come in. It works both ways. All of the various competitors need guns to protect themselves and also to be able to put pressure on others. Guns therefore have many uses, it seems: they can protect, they can threaten and hey can kill if necessary. Eugene Oscappela also states that “the illegal drug trade increases the demand for illegal and legal firearms, and these firearms may be used in ways that threaten even those who are not connected to the trade.” If drugs are a major reason for gun crimes, shouldn’t we be looking at how drugs are getting in, since the drugs don’t just end up in the black communities randomly? We know they come from many parts of the world and end up in the hands of Black youth. We should be looking into how drugs get in Canada, who brings them in, how they wind up in the communities and that may hopefully lead us to why guns are needed in the first place.

The government has a plan to put more police officers in “gun plagued areas” to curb gun violence along with pushing for legislation for longer sentences for gun crimes. This may solve part of the problem. According to Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, “there needs to be an integrated approach by all levels of government and police to stopping crime, such as offering pre-trial diversion for youth and more social and job programs for people in low-income and violent areas”. This may also address part of the problem, but more is needed by first admitting that there is big problem with gun violence and discussing it in schools.

The Government has introduced a Healthy Living strand within the Health and Physical Education Curriculum for the youth in schools from grades 1, through to the end of high school. This program introduces illegal drugs and violence from grade 3 when kids should be able to“define the term drug and identify a variety of legal and illegal drugs”, this then leads to education on violence and drug use prevention. I myself don’t remember talking about guns, drugs and violence in an open forum through all my years of education in Ontario, so this seems to be a good start. I know some people will say the parents are the ones responsible for this education, but in many instances they don’t do it and so why shouldn’t the state do it? Along with these types of programs, economic thinking is also needed since statistics indicate that high unemployment rates for the youth in the black communities usually leads to high crime rates as well. So there should be programs that actually place youth in jobs along with ways of keeping them in high school since “without education, you''re not going anywhere in this world.” as Malcolm X says.

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