Better gun laws will prevent some terrorist acts and lower casualties

Before I go any further it is important that I make a confession: I know next to nothing about guns. I have never owned a gun and never fired one – wait, that last bit is not 100% true. My older brother let me fire one in our family basement when I was nine years old or so. I know, I know, shooting a gun in a basement was probably not the best idea, but I did shoot a round – I think it was a .22 calibre (does that make sense?) – and what I remember most is that it was really, really, really loud (perhaps ‘coz it was in our basement!).

Despite this serious lack of knowledge I am a big fan of gun control. In that I am far from alone as many, many Canadians agree with me. There is even a lobby group of doctors – those who have seen the damage and death from guns firsthand – who want the government to bring in stronger gun laws (their action even made The Economist’s daily podcast this week).

The latest movement for saner gun laws stems from any number of events: the attacks in Christchurch, the shootings on the Danforth in Toronto last July, the mosque shootings in Quebec City in January 2017, Justin Bourque’s spree in Moncton in 2014 are all examples where many died because of the guns used. What most advocates seem to want is a ban on two types of guns: hand guns and certain types of automatic and semi-automatic weapons.

Not surprisingly, some gun advocates are pushing back, saying that gun ownership is a right and that the government has no business getting involved. Some have told the aforementioned doctors to ‘stay in their lane’.

For what it is worth, here is where I stand, with an emphasis on what gun control means for terrorism (this is after all a blog on terrorism). I am for the bans called for by the doctors and others for the following reasons:

  • handguns and (semi-)automatic weapons have no use except to kill people. Other types of firearms – shotguns, say – have legitimate uses such as hunting and varmint control. The latter are OK in my books, but not the former.
  • if there are still those that like to shoot (semi-)automatic guns then have these locked up at gun ranges and not anywhere else
  • there is no question that (semi-)automatic weapons and handguns can kill more people than shotguns in the hands of terrorists as the former are easily concealed and can therefore evade detection (not as easy to do with a shotgun) and the latter can fire more bullets more rapidly (again, shotguns cannot do this to my knowledge)
  • to those that counter that we have seen a successful attack with a shotgun (October 22, 2014, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau) I concede that fact but counter: how many would he have killed (only one person died) had he possessed something more lethal?
  • to those that counter that we have seen attacks with other weapons (cars, vans, knives, even a golf club) and we are not talking about banning those items, I concede as well but counter that this has nothing to do with guns. Terrorists will use what they can and if guns are that much harder to acquire death tolls will be lower. If the Christchurch terrorist had only a knife could he have killed 50 people? Unlikely.
  • to those who argue that terrorists will just get a gun illegally I respond that this is besides the point. The government can only do so much and police forces are doing their damnedest to get illegal weapons off our streets. If handguns and (semi-)automatic weapons are illegal those with them are criminals, making it easier to identify and neutralise them
  • Gun laws make sense. No one is arguing for a ban on all guns, just those that have no place other than on the battlefield or in the hands of law enforcement.

I’d like to think that we can have a neutral, objective conversation about this. To my mind, banning certain classes of weapons and preventing them from getting into the hands of terrorists – whether Islamist, far right or whatever – is the right move. If New Zealand can do it in the wake of Christchurch, then so can we Canada. Let’s support this law and make our societies safer, if even just a little bit.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

Leave a Reply