Ottawa Citizen: “Gunning for easy answers”

Courtesy of The Ottawa Citizen
A mayor, reacting to killings on his city’s streets, can choose to adopt one of two attitudes. There’s the path of outrage and the simple idea; or there’s the more difficult path of circumspection and wisdom.
Toronto Mayor David Miller has chosen to take the first course, over and over again. Whenever someone is shot in Toronto, Mr. Miller expresses outrage, and demands that the federal government ban handguns. Every crime, to him, comes down to the same cause. Every story is the same story.
When bystander Hou Chang Mao was shot and killed this month, Mr. Miller said publicly, “The reason I keep going back to the guns is because these tragedies happen simply because of the easy availability of handguns. That’s what causes this.”
There’s no doubting the sincerity of his grief and anger. Indeed, outrage is an appropriate response when people kill, especially when they kill people they’ve never met out of indifference to human life. But outrage isn’t a solution. It’s an emotion that leads people to assign blame, as quickly and loudly as possible. Outraged people need rallying cries, and rallying cries must be short and simple.

But the social factors that create crime are not simple. A ban on all handguns would certainly not end gun crime. It wouldn’t root out violence, or alter gang behaviour, or topple the markets in illegal drugs and weapons.
Mr. Miller is wrong to oversimplify the problem. Tragedies happen for many reasons. If all guns were “banned” in the sense that it was against the law to own any kind of firearm, there would still be shootings. We need politicians who are willing to keep asking why that’s so.
Sam Sullivan, the mayor of Vancouver, also had to respond to a very public fatal shooting, this one occurring Saturday. Two men were killed in what looked like an organized hit, in a busy, commercial area.
Ontario and federal politicians have tended to treat every shooting in Toronto as the harbinger of armageddon. In contrast, Mr. Sullivan has put the shooting in Vancouver in a reasonable context, saying that the police have done a good job of fighting gang activity, but that they can’t prevent every crime. And while he’s no fan of easy access to handguns, he’s suggested that more useful efforts to reduce gun violence will entail reducing the trade in illegal drugs.
The difference between Mr. Miller’s approach and Mr. Sullivan’s is subtle, but important. Politicians have a lot to gain by making problems look both simple and huge. They can get a lot of people on their side that way. But that does a disservice to citizens, who deserve to know the subtle, complicated truth.
Canada has a lot to learn from Vancouver. It has the misfortune of having a long history with drug-related crime, and has learned that there aren’t easy answers. The country also has something to learn from Mr. Sullivan. He wants help from the federal government for his city’s problems, but he’s not resorting to rhetorical tricks to get it.