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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gun violence has a supply side

I don't like the idea of increasing sentences for conviction of a crime in which a gun was used, in part because it has come into vogue as some sort of answer to the problem of increased violence using guns in Toronto. 

But, I've got to ask - why waste time on the demand side when the supply side is where the action really is?

To me, if an increased sentence is to act as a deterrent, it only gains real teeth after the first landmark case in which a judge has the opportunity to hand down a sentence that is longer than might have been in times past.

A sentence requires a conviction, which requires a charge, which requires that a crime was committed in which a gun was used, which holds the possibility that there was a victim.

In other words, in order for this "solution" to work, we must continue to absorb the possibility of victims being hurt by guns.

A quick illustration will not only show the absurdity in this approach, but will also show where I’m going with this post.

Suppose you find water pooling on your kitchen floor. You mop it up, and tomorrow there’s more water than there was yesterday. You mop it up, and this continues for a few days. Would you, as a reasonable person, say to yourself “Gee, I think I’m going to need a bigger mop”? Or, would you, as a reasonable person, say to yourself “Gee, I need to find the source of the water and fix the leak”?

There are two sides to the gun economy: demand, and supply. All the people who might use a gun in the commission of a crime (or possess one illegally which itself is a crime) would be on the demand side. Their pursuits require that they use guns, and so they seek out supply, whether by stealing guns, or by buying them.

All the people who make guns available for illegal sale are on the supply side. And they are making money.

Any solution to gun violence reasonably must take into consideration the supply of guns. A 15 year old kid in some inner-city project who carries a handgun is not the problem. Sure, you can arrest him and take his single gun off the streets. But, somewhere, out there, is a person who sells guns, and if you arrest him, you take not one but many many guns off the street, guns he would have sold until he was arrested.

Stop and think for a moment. For every ten guns in possession somewhere in Canada, legally or otherwise, how many were made in Canada? Let’s first talk about guns that were not made in Canada. They had to enter the country somehow. How’d they get here?

Guns that are popular amongst “gangsters” include Kel-Tec’s Tec 9, and are primarily built in America. Guns sold illegally in Canada that enter the country, probably also enter the country illegally. That 15 year old kid from the projects has nothing to do with this. Either some border agent is being paid to let vehicles through, or some complex system is in place to get them into the country across uncontrolled border points (say, somewhere along the Manitoba/Saskatchewan area, or up in BC’s northern Pacific hinterland, or along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, perhaps?). Either way, it takes plenty more connections, influence, and money than that 15 year old kid from the projects may have.

As for guns made in Canada, manufacturing guns is not illegal. But there is a legal requirement to register a firearm. As such, any firearm made in Canada should have some form of identification on it, both in terms of how the gun looks and some form of serial number affixed in a manner that is difficult to obscure (cars have VINs in many different locations. Why shouldn’t guns have serial numbers in many locations to make it more difficult to obscure?)

If the supply of guns made in Canada for sale illegally is fueled primarily by theft of gun shops, then law enforcement is doing an extremely poor job of busting theft rings that target gun shops, because we’d be talking about an incredible amount of theft activity to supply the sheer number of guns that are out there illegally. It just doesn’t add up, folks.

Any way you slice it, that 15 year old kid from the projects is merely demand. Follow the money of his purchase transaction to the supply. He paid someone who had the gun to sell. That person had to have bought the gun from somewhere. Follow the money.

Law enforcement regularly releases stories to the media that they’ve busted some “grow op”, some place where people are growing marijuana. Police love to bust these establishments because grow ops are a source of supply for illegal drugs, and they know that it’s far more effective in the “war on drugs” to bust one grow op than it is to bust some pusher on the street corner. And, if they do bother to bust a user who has an inordinate amount of drugs on them, more than what might be expected for use by one person, they can be charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking, which is much more serious a charge.

Why is there no equivalent intelligence on gun sales ops? Or no similar charge called possession of controlled/unregistered firearms for the purpose of trafficking?

If Toronto is really declaring war on guns, some public figure – some police chief, or mayor, or premiere, or whomever – would have, should have mentioned or considered the supply side. But, I'm not hearing this, and that makes no sense. Any honest war on guns must pursue supply as aggressively as it pursues demand - if not moreso.

However, as long as they continue to blame inner city youths, “gang culture” and visible minorities for the problem, they are insulting public intelligence, and discrediting their own.

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