Criminal Law

Restrictive, reactionary laws won't stop gun violence

By Staff

In order to deter people from using guns for violent purposes, the underpinnings of criminal behaviour need to be fully identified and understood, Toronto criminal lawyer Laurelly Dale writes in The Lawyer’s Daily.

Dale, principal of Dale Law Professional Corporation, writes that for every tragedy involving gun violence there begins a cycle of public fear and disgust, politicians introducing reactionary and restrictive gun laws, more resources committed to gun control, and then the attention shifts to something else.

“Gun laws will not deter criminals from using guns for violent purposes. Legal gun ownership is conflated with gun violence. It is an easy scapegoat; however, the only meaningful answer to ‘how did this happen?’ comes from an understanding of what creates a criminal,” Dale notes.

The reality is that guns exist in every society, she says.

“In countries like Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, gun ownership is particularly threatening because it is a privilege, not a right as in the U.S. It is easy for reactionary gun restrictions to be used as a quick fix in response to violence in urban areas. The purpose of gun laws is to provide an immediate appearance of doing something in the wake of tragedies,” Dale writes.

In the 1990s, Canada created several gun laws, including the controversial long-gun registry — at a cost of $2 billion. The mandatory registration failed to disarm criminals, and restricting legal access to firearms has not reduced gun violence in Canada or other Commonwealth nations, she says.

The recently passed Bill C-71 will expand background checks from five years to an entire lifetime. Dale says a major concern with the bill is the stigma it assigns to those with mental health issues.

“It reinforces the misconception that those with mental health issues are also criminals,” she says. “Through enforcement, an assumption is made that those with mental health issues are predisposed to violence and criminality in general.”

Under the bill, physicians may be required to breach doctor-patient confidentiality by reporting mental health issues to the Chief Firearms Officer, which may deter those seeking treatment from doing so. As well, there’s an assumption made that a person applying for a licence is telling the truth about his or her mental health.

“While I agree that those with existing suicidal/homicidal ideation should not have a gun, how is this to be to effectively regulated? Bill C-71 misses the mark of its intended target. Gun laws do not address the impulse to commit violence,” she writes in the legal publication.

“At some point, gun control reduces the availability of guns to law-abiding citizens more than it does for bad actors. In fact, the number of illegally obtained guns has increased in Canada despite steadily increasing restrictions on legal ownership,” Dale adds.

She notes that despite media reports, violent crime has been decreasing since 2013 and of the total reports of violent crime, only three per cent involved the use of a firearm.

“So, how do we deter criminals? Mandatory minimum sentences do not work. Reactionary gun laws are popular but fruitless. We prevent crime by identifying the biological, sociological and psychological underpinnings of criminal behaviour and then addressing that behaviour,” Dale writes.

“Until we acknowledge this difficult truth, we will continue to bang our collective heads against the wall at each stage of the gun tragedy cycle ineffectually looking solely to the symptoms of violence,” she says.

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