Canada risks brutal NRA-style gun policy

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We are deeply concerned that important gun laws in Canada – which make our communities safer – are under threat.

Gun injuries and death are a preventable public health problem, requiring an evidence-based solution. While political discussion often follows media reports of a public shooting, these tragic events reflect only a small fraction of gun incidents. Deaths and injuries involving suicides, feminicides and unintentional shootings are underreported.

To address this public health crisis, policymakers must take a multidimensional approach to address social determinants such as poverty and racism, end arms smuggling and invest in mental health supports. . On this point, there is a broad public and political consensus. Where the consensus begins to break down is on the issue of restricting access to firearms.

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After the largest mass shooting in Canadian history last year in Nova Scotia, the federal Liberal government banned more than 1,500 types of semi-automatic assault weapons. These are weapons that have the capacity to kill and injure scores of people in a short period of time, leaving devastated communities in their wake. As physicians, we see the devastation firsthand.

Evidence from several countries shows that withdrawing assault weapons from societal use saves lives. Australia, to use an example, saw mass shootings end after its ban was enacted.

The Canadian ban has long been called for by survivors of mass shootings and is supported by 17 healthcare organizations, including the Canadian Medical Association. Opinion polls regularly show public support for a ban on these weapons at 80% or more.

Gun lobby groups oppose this ban, as well as other recent measures such as lifetime background checks on potential gun buyers. Gun control is now an electoral issue. Notably, the Conservative Party and its leader, Erin O’Toole, have taken political positions, including banning assault weapons, which align closely with the gun lobby.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, focusing on evidence-based preventive measures and prioritizing public welfare is the only approach to minimize damage. A similar approach is needed if Canadians are to reduce gun violence in our communities.

Elections matter. We fear the consequences of weakening gun laws. Consider, a study released earlier this year found that 30 mass shootings could have been prevented in the United States had that country maintained its ban on assault weapons. This ban was in place from 1994 to 2004, then expired by the Bush administration backed by the NRA.

Canadians have seen with horror that the United States has failed to bring its gun violence crisis under control, a direct result of an overly influential gun lobby. We must be aware of the same potential in this country.

Reducing gun violence should not be a political issue. Our actions must be guided by science and what is in the public interest.

Dr. Najma Ahmed is a Toronto-based trauma surgeon. Dr Philip Berger is Associate Professor in the Temerty School of Medicine at the University of Toronto. Both are founding members of the executive of Canadian Physicians for Firearms Protection.


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