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This gun amnesty business

Sat Jan 7, 2006 Miss Vicky 

With all the talk about gun crimes lately, you'd think we were living in LA or Detroit or New York. The incidents these last couple of weeks have been disturbing, to be sure - particularly the tragic murders of two foreign students at a Karaoke bar nearby. But politicians and police seem anxious to be seen to taking swift and decisive action on this issue, as if bullets were flying right and left.

I think it's important to put this gun business into perspective. So I went to the Ottawa Police Service’s own website, where they handily publish reports and statistics. According to their last annual actvity report, crimes of violence went down by 8% between 2000 and 2004:

Crimes of violence reported to Ottawa Police have dropped by 8% after remaining above 6,000 offences for the previous three years. The number of homicides remained stable, and the number of abductions rose from 9 in 2003 to 15 in 2004, but most other crimes of violence decreases. Assaults and robberies constitute the majority of the offences that were reported years.

Subsequently, the per 100,000 population crime rate has decreased for crimes of violence well — down from 752.7 occurrences per 100,000 residents in 2003 to 672.7 per 100,000 residents in 2004. This represents a drop of about 11% in the violent crime rate for 2004.

There were 10 homicides in 2004, and 90% of homicides between 2000 and 2004 were solved. Assault, including sexual assault, accounts for most violent crimes, followed by robbery. Property crimes were also down in 2004, by 12%.

There are no statistics in the 2004 activity report on gun crimes specifically - which leads me to assume that the numbers are so peripheral, they are not worth reporting. Indeed, the word "gun" appears twice in last year's annual report, both in reference to the service's own weapons. "Firearm" appears four times, in reference to 2 weapons seizures and three complaints against police officers for discharging their firearms.

I also did a search on "gang", since gangs and guns are so often associated, and since this week's announcement by the mayor and police chief focused on anti-gang initiatives as well as the gun amnesty, creating the impression that gang activity is rampant in our city. There are four references to "gang" in the 2004 report, all in one paragraph referring to charges laid against members of the Ledbury-Banff Crips (charges resulting from a botched investigation, as we later found out).

My next step was to check out the monthly stats for the Central West District, which includes my neighbourhood. I went through each month from the last year - December 2004 to November 2005 - and counted 32 calls regarding weapons. It's impossible to tell how many of these are gun-related. They average about 3 a month, the highest was May (7) and lowest was February (0). It's a cumbersome process, so I didn't do the same with the other districts, but I checked out a few months from the West and Central East districts. There were more calls citing weapons in the months I checked - in the 12-15 range. I'm not sure this qualifies as an epidemic, though.

The police have the statistics, even though they're not on the website, and in this CBC story they admit that gun crime is down - there were only 149 calls regarding firearms last year.

Of course, this does not deter Mayor Chiarelli and Police Chief Bevan, who announced this week a three-week amnesty period so folks can turn in guns without fear of being charged with weapons offences. Great for folks who are cleaning out their attics, cottages and basements, or who have always wondered what to do with uncle Joe's varmint-shooting rifle that they never bothered to register after inheriting it. Not so great for getting weapons that may have been involved in committing actual crimes, since there's no amnesty where they are concerned. Since the announcement, the police have admitted that the amnesty is more or less ongoing, making the big revelation even less meaningful.

So the amnesty is not really effective in combatting gun violence. The two other parts of the city's plan encourages folks to call into Crime Stoppers and sets up a Firearms Task Force. Meh.

Seems to me this week's announcement is more about managing fear than addressing gun violence. I'm not sure it's really worth spending money to address an imaginary problem. Wouldn't having real police officers on the street, maybe out of their cars and working in the community, help us feel more safe?

Some people were moved to reply

amckay Jan 7, 2006 12:56 PM said:

I don't think it's about managing fear so much as creating it - great way to get elected. The type of fear that whips people into a frenzy and makes them think nothing of schlecking away 2 billion dollars on a gun registry that won't help prevent a single crime.

The CBC reported yesterday that firearms are the 3rd weapon of choice in Canada, with knives being #1 and blunt objects #2. And they also reported a steady decrease in gun crime over some decade or more now.

And while I agree the gun amnesty won't get weapons off the streets that have been involved in crimes, it will at least get some off the streets that might otherwise get stolen and used. In the same CBC report I heard, chief Bevin said that in November last year (not sure if that was 2005 or 2004) an officer did end up with a gun "stuck in his face" that had been stolen during a home break-in.

I do think there is potential in the Crime Stoppers program if it is advertised the right way. Afterall, criminals are low-life and would not think twice about turning in a friend with an illegal weapon in exchange for a bit of quick cash. But again, since guns are only the #3 weapon used to murder people, let's not go too crazy whipping ourselves up into a frenzy about it. Evidently we are already doing a good job of reducing gun crime, so let's not allow a few sensational events that are over-reported by the media to sell more papers make us lose all sense of reason.

Miss Vicky Jan 7, 2006 02:24 PM said:

Oh, I think it's a good idea to encourage folks to hand in their guns - I just have some issues with announcing a special "program" when really it's an ongoing practice. And I have even more issues with playing on people's fears for political gain.

amckay Jan 7, 2006 02:50 PM said:

I just hope that where knives are the #1 weapon, we never see a campaign like the one I heard about a few months ago on the CBC that is ongoing now in the UK. Perhaps some of our UK readers can comment on how big this campaign really is, but it was a group of people lobbying to outlaw kitchen knives any bigger than a 5" paring knife.

peabody Jan 7, 2006 11:53 PM said:

I find it interesting how statistics show that violent crime in general is in a downward trend but the media (especially from the US) has us feeling like it's worse than ever.

liss76 Jan 9, 2006 03:38 PM said:

After turning my back on network television in the summer of 2003, I feel that my exposure to current events has suddenly become much more varied, less-biased, and (unless I'm seeking it out) significantly lower in sensationalism. Combined with the 2.5yr gag on televised commercials in our house (side-benefit), I feel a lot happier and content with the world in general.

That being said, statistics or not, it's hard to say that Toronto is enjoying the same downward trend in gun violence--at least, as far as I have gathered in the media I choose to access. There seems to be a definate trend taking hold there and as scary as it may be to consider it is entirely possible that it could spread to other urban centers in Canada. Perhaps violent crime, in general, is on a downward trend but it does appear that select forms of violent crime may not be experiencing that movement.

FWIW, a couple months ago I read about a home robbery in Cape Breton (or Port Hawkesbury?) in the Chronicle Herald that nabbed criminals a significant number of handguns and other firearms--some of which were registered, some of which were not. Chances are good that they weren't going to be used for a non-violent purpose..

[Edited By liss76 Jan 09, 2006 03:38 PM]

amckay Jan 9, 2006 04:01 PM said:

I think what you may be seeing is just increased media sensationalism

In 2004, Toronto ranked as one of Canada's safest places to live when compared to other major cities, according to a Statistics Canada report released in July.

The per capita murder rate was 1.8 per 100,000 people. Montreal's per capita rate is 1.7 per 100,000, while the prairie city of Winnipeg comes in at almost five per 100,000.

Nationally, the average is 1.95 per 100,000. Manitoba had the highest provincial rate at 4.3 per 100,000, while Ontario's was 1.51 per 100,000.

That's all a quick google search brought up, but some more googling might uncover actual stats for Toronto with some meat.

liss76 Jan 10, 2006 08:13 AM said:

My understanding is that while violent crime in TO has decreased, the gang related violent crime has increased.

liss76 Feb 4, 2006 06:10 PM said:

Seemed somewhat relevant:

cbc link

[Edited By Miss Vicky Feb 04, 2006 07:46 PM]

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