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LETTER: Risk, reason and the handgun issue

Numerous handguns and long guns have been seized during Project Renner, an eight month multi-jurisdictional investigation into the illegal manufacturing and trafficking of restricted firearms in Ontario. OPP have so far charged 23 people with 156 offences.
- Postmedia News

I read Russell Wangersky’s two columns on handguns and would like to offer the following comments.

When considering complex issues, it is often useful to look at them from a risk perspective.

Risk is comprised of two components. The first is the probability of an incident happening and the second is the degree of harm that can result if the incident does indeed occur. The higher the probability and the bigger the harm, the higher the risk.

It stands to reason that, the more handguns in circulation, the more likely it is that an incident will occur. And the more handguns in circulation, the more likely it is that they will be in the possession of people who should not have them: children, persons with suicidal thoughts, persons with grievances, etc.

And so the proliferation of handguns raises the probability that they will be used in ways that even gun supporters would object.

When it comes to the degree of harm, it’s useful to recall that handguns are designed, manufactured, tested and used to kill, or at least to harm or maim. This is different from other things that may kill us, like alcohol or cars; these things are not designed to kill, although they may do so under certain circumstances.

As we have witnessed too often in the past, a gunman using a handgun can inflict a great deal of harm to victims, their friends and families, and to society’s well-being.

And so, using the formula for risk, a higher probability of incidence combined with a high level of harm makes the proliferation of guns a very high-risk proposition for society.

It’s ironic that the high degree of risk posed by handguns makes people think that they need more handguns to defend themselves when, in fact, reducing the number of handguns actually reduces the risk.

In a modern, mostly urbanized society, where human beings interact with each other in myriads of ways – many positive but some negative – the handguns that are in circulation should be limited and regulated. People who need handguns should be prepared to justify this need, should be prepared to use the guns only for the purposes for which they have been acquired (including recreational purposes) and should take all appropriate measures to ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands. All sales of handguns, including their private resale, should be regulated. Society needs to know who owns the handguns.

I served in the Canadian infantry and have fired handguns, high-calibre rifles, heavy machine guns and other weapons. I can attest to the joy that firing a weapon can bring. But I can also attest to the damage that a handgun can do in the wrong hands.

Any reasonable person who knows anything about guns will be very respectful of the impact a handgun can have on a human being (“never point a gun at anything that you don’t intend to kill”) and would want to ensure that their gun doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

So, I would assume that a reasonable person would agree to the conditions in the previous paragraph.

To the argument that restricting handguns wouldn’t prevent illegal weapons from entering the country, the solution isn’t to arm everyone. It is to better empower the police and the courts to deal with the issue.

Provide more funding to the police for undercover operations to stop gunrunners and for community policing to reduce the incentive for entering into criminal activity. Make the laws for illegally importing guns more stringent.

I would rather have highly-trained personnel dealing with the issue of illegal handguns than a nervous, armed neighbour.

Mike Clair,
St. John’s


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