I want to like Toronto Mayor David Miller. He seems like a smart guy who cares about the right things. Trouble is, his mayorship has been troubled by long periods of total inaction. I realize this isn't entirely his fault. The lunatic way we organize municipal government in Ontario means ol' Dave has his hands tied on a lot of important issues. But the other, and far more serious, problem with Miller seems to be when he actually does something, it is often the wrong thing.
Like today, for instance. Miller has announced he will be seeking changes to zoning laws which will make gun clubs illegal in Toronto. This strikes me as a bad idea.
Now, before any of the more hysterical gun opponents jump all over me (as they do), let me make a few things clear: I do not own guns. I am not pro-gun. I think guns are responsible for a lot of pain and suffering in our communities. But at the same time, I recognize that in Canada many people still require guns (long rifles, shotguns, etc.) to make their living. I also recognize that some people really like guns. They like owning them, they like looking at them, and they like shooting them. Much like people who really, really like cars. I would argue that both are equally deadly, so it's fascinating that legal gun owners get so much grief. These people have made a choice to collect guns. It's not a choice I necessarily agree with, but in a free and open society you often need to take the crunchy with the smooth. And if their weapons are securely stored and registered, then I find it hard to agree with the idea that these people shouldn't have guns at all.
For me, the issue of gun control comes down to balancing the very important and very urgent need to control firearms with the equally important question of individual liberty. Like most things in our society, there's no perfect solution to this contradiction. But we've got to keep muddling towards some workable compromise. Unfortunately, I don't think the "no gun clubs" law is a meaningful move in that direction.
For starters, I think Miller's announcement is mostly flash, with very little fire. There are three gun clubs in the GTA. One is a small bore rifle range (.22 calibre and below). Another is located in Union Station, and you need to be invited by a current member to join. I can't imagine that eliminating these three clubs will have a dramatic effect on the number of guns in Toronto, as their membership is actually very small.
Mayor Miller is also employing a rather disingenuous twist of logic when he suggests the majority of weapons used in violent street crime are stolen from private residences. He seems to believe that if you close down gun clubs, this will somehow stop. This is wrong for two reasons. First, a large proportion of guns on Toronto streets are smuggled in from the United States (granted, many of those were stolen from American gun-owning households, but that's hardly an actionable public policy concern in Toronto). Second, gun clubs are actually secure gun storage facilities for many of their members, therefore keeping guns out of private residences where they can be easily stolen. The only GTA gun club that specializes in handguns- the one above Union Station- is also unknown to most Torontonians, criminals included (although one suspects all of the media attention around Miller's crusade has had the unfortunate side effect of alerting many to the club's location}. So, while an attractive PR event, I have a hard time believing closing gun clubs will have any real impact on the number of guns on Toronto's streets.
More importantly, these new laws seem to be targeting the wrong gun owners. Gang members don't pop over to the local shooting range for some quick practice before shooting each other and knocking over liquor stores. To be a member at a gun club, you need to have an Firearms Acquisition Cerificate. You usually need to complete the club's safety training courses. And above all, your weapon must be registered. In short, these are responsible gun owners, people we should be encouraging rather than punishing.
Given the above, it seems that Miller's anti-gun club laws are an extension of a philosophical objection to guns, in any form, for any use, anywhere. That's a valid viewpoint. But you can't impose that viewpoint on others unless it is reasonably justifiable in a free and open society. That's in the constitution, Mr. Mayor. Miller's case seems heavy on rhetoric, and terribly light on evidence. For that reason, its just not an intelligent piece of public policy, or even one that can pass constitutional muster.
From a larger perspective, closing gun clubs is a case of attacking the symptom of a larger problem, rather than the problem itself. People commit crimes and kill each other for primarily social reasons- poverty, desperation, alienation. True, guns provide a spectacularly efficient means for people to do violent things. But even if Canada were to ban all guns, there would still be gun violence. Take the UK- despite their blanket ban on handguns, the incidence of gun violence is increasing. To end crime, you need to address the circumstances that produce criminals. Attacking the hobby of middle-class gun owners does not address the problem of systemic poverty. Sure, it's cheap and makes for great copy, but it won't end violence around Jane & Finch.
Really, Miller's new crusade is just a distraction from the real issues plaguing Toronto's streets. It's unfair to the city, its citizens, and the members of gun clubs who had the bad luck of getting caught in the crosshairs of an ineffectual mayor desperate to do something- anything- that makes him look competent.