Criminal Law

Politicizing gun violence issue 'won’t get us anywhere:' Dale

By Staff

There are no simple answers to the problem of gun violence, Toronto criminal and civil litigator Laurelly Dale tells

Dale, principal of Dale Legal Firm, says a recent spate of mass shootings has put gun violence at the top of political agendas in Canada and the U.S., noting a Time magazine documentary that collates various perspectives on the issue.

“This is obviously a very heated issue, and everyone has an opinion. But because of that, it tends to be over-simplified,” she says. “All we get are cobbled together solutions where the main aim is to win votes, rather than effectively deal with gun violence.

“Politicizing the issue won’t get us anywhere.”

Dale says the federal government is a key culprit in this regard, with its introduction of Bill C-71 earlier this year.

“It’s frustrating to read this kind of slapdash legislation put together just so that ministers can say they are responding to the need to ‘do something,’ when the next election comes around,” Dale says. “When you examine the bill none of the measures are going to be effective because it doesn’t target the actual causes of gun violence.”

If passed, the bill, now under consideration in the Senate, would overhaul the system of background checks by allowing police to look into a person’s entire life history for red flags, rather than assessing their previous five years. It would also create new record-keeping requirements for retailers, as well as impose further restrictions on transporting firearms.

“Restricting lawful gun owners will do nothing to stop guns getting into the hands of criminals, and in fact, may increase the potential for that to happen,” Dale says.

Any workable solution to the problem of gun crime must contain two central planks: a gun buyback program and a comprehensive study of the causes of gun violence, she says.

“They would each require an enormous amount of time and resources, but I think that’s better than reactionary bills that do nothing and waste what resources we do have,” Dale says.

She points to the mandatory buyback program run by the Australian government in the mid-1990s following the mass shooting at Port Arthur, which killed 35 people and shocked the country.

The program, which resulted in the confiscation of 650,000 weapons, was cited as a major factor in a Harvard University study that found the country’s firearm suicide rate dropped by 57 per cent in the seven years following its implementation, compared with the seven years prior. The average firearm homicide rate also plummeted by 42 per cent.

“Ours could be optional rather than mandatory, but it would still be effective because criminals are motivated by money,” Dale says.

She says in-depth research into the causes of gun crime would be an essential complement to any gun buyback program.

“It’s not going to be popular because people don’t like to get into questions about the roots of criminality that touch on biology, sociology, economics, parenting, education and genetics. But gun violence is a behaviour for criminals, and we need to determine the cause of that criminality,” Dale says.

“A study of this nature will take a lot of work and money because you’re ultimately talking about government funding for future research and mental health programs.”

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