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In gun control debate, Dec. 6 plays a big role

December’s arrival has moved the yuletide season into high gear. The time of happiness and goodwill will be intruded on Saturday, however, for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

It may not be the ideal season for such thoughts – really, when is? – but the timing was dictated by Marc Lépine, who on Dec. 6, 1989 murdered 14 young women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal simply because of their gender.

The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada was established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada. As well as commemorating those women who have died as a result of gender-based violence, the day is seen by the federal government’s Status of Women organization as a time to work on concrete actions to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

Gun-control advocates are using the day to take the Harper government to task for its moves to weaken gun control measures. Instead of going in that direction, gun-control groups are pushing for even more restrictions.

At the École Polytechnique in Montreal, the place where the 14 young women were gunned down and 13 others were injured with a legally acquired firearm, student groups that launched a petition in 1989 instigating a national movement for gun control gathered again 25 years later. Participants, including alumni who witnessed the tragedy, as well as one graduate who survived her gunshot wounds and another who lost his wife, say they still need to fight for tougher gun control, especially at a time when a new bill aimed at further weakening controls (C-42) is being debated in the House of Commons.

They were joined in the call by professional engineering groups in Quebec.

The engineering groups convened at the school cited Statistics Canada figures supporting their case. The year 2011, the last year the gun control law was in effect in its entirety,  was the year with the “lowest rate of firearm homicides in Canada in almost 50 years,” with much of that decline “attributed to a decrease in homicides involving a rifle or shotgun,” the type of firearms that were subject to the new controls adopted in 1991 and in 1995.

Even here in Canada, there have been numerous school shootings since the tragedy in 1989. With every incident, some people call for further restrictions on gun ownership.

On the other side of the argument, gun advocates make excuses (the NRA in the States, the National Firearms Association here) and argue for greater access to guns, saying armed civilians could have gunned down such criminals before their killing sprees continued.

The latter arguments are commonplace in the U.S., where Second Amendment – the right to keep and bear arms – issues abound. In Canada, the notion seems ridiculous: having more guns at hand increases the risk. It would be far more likely for someone to see red, snap and use a readily available gun than it would be for someone to be faced with a murderer on a shooting rampage.

While not immune here, we operate under a different mindset than do those in the States, where politicians must be pro-gun, or at least not come out in favour of gun control. That kind of thinking would not fly here: even the gun registry debate was more about waste, graft and rightwing ideology than about the guns themselves.

Gun-control advocates, arguing that more guns equals more violence, want us all to think about the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in that light.

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