In Toronto guns are on the brain. Oh let’s face it, in Toronto everything’s on the brain. The chattering classes maunder on about every goddamned thing; Barry Blitt, the American election, Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac. Babble is the curse of the chattering classes. Still guns are on the brain—see the cover of the most recent issue of Toronto Life—and guns have for a while been on my brain.
To wit: Every few weeks or so the Wall Street Journal on their Legal Notices page publishes the U.S. Department of Justice Seized Property Notices. There, in miniscule type comprising thousands of words, we find a sort of running archive—catalogued state by state—of American crime and the material trappings of Homo Americanus Felonus. The property in question, broadly speaking, falls into two familiar categories: cash and prizes. The amounts of currency range from pocket money to third world GNP. The ill-gotten prizes take the expected form of vehicles, jewelry, stereos and Rolex watches. A random troll through last Thursday’s listings reveals that on May 5th the U.S. Secret Service seized from Wallid and Yasmin Turk of Denver Colorado US$63,600 in cash and a 2006 Land Rover Range Rover. On April 22nd Michael Scott of Rancho Cucamonga California forfeited $35,000 to the United States Postal Inspection Service and on May 9th Mike Burns of Maple Valley Washington, in addition to losing $191,114, handed over the keys to his beloved 2008 Harley Davidson Fat Boy (complete with “Fat 200mm rear tire; 17-in. front wheel; fat 1-1/4″ internally wired handlebar with giant bare knuckle risers; Silver, Bullet Hole Disc Cast Aluminum wheels; two-tone seat and bullet laced valance; custom graphics package on front fender, fuel tank and rear fender”).
But far and away the most prevalent item in this list was revealed in a notice submitted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Comprising 5 columns covering half a page in the paper, were lists of over a thousand seized firearms. The first 20-odd lines of 144 in the first of the five columns (each 144 lines) reveals seizures for one section of Florida alone and included a Stag Arms machine gun with silencer, Glock pistol, Baretta pistol, a Ruger rifle, a Norinco shotgun, a Winchester shotgun, a Smith & Wesson revolver, an Amscor of the Philippines revolver and two more machine guns makes unknown.
And here’s the thing: these guns were seized by a government whose underlying constitution includes a provision—recently further ratified by the Supreme Court of the United States—that states: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Moreover, in articulating that ratification the court stated that “the ‘militia’ reference in the first part of the amendment simply announces the purpose for which the right was codified: to prevent elimination of the militia … this ‘prefatory statement of purpose’ should not be interpreted to limit the meaning of what is called the operative clause — ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. The operative clause ‘codified a pre-existing right’ of individual gun ownership for private use.”
All of which suggests that for the Government of the United States to seize as many guns as they do only reinforces the fact of a vast, oceanic, barely regulated market in every conceivable firearm known to man.
The United States, the most powerful and successful society in human history, was born of and bred in violence and the instrument of choice in that regard is the gun. This is a fact. To bemoan the availability of guns in that context is rather like bitching about the weather or complaining that gravity seems to limit your performance in the high jump.
This in turn brings me back to the cover story in the current edition of Toronto Life magazine. In the sort of “trend” piece so beloved of that publication the magazine suggests that Toronto’s recent, much publicized spate of gun violence indicates that somehow the denizens are growing insensate to guns and their attendant violence. The promo copy for the story reads in part:
“Violent crime is migrating downtown, and innocent bystanders are getting caught in the crossfire. The most alarming thing is our slow but certain acclimatization to it all. How Toronto learned to live with the gun”
Written by the reliable John Lorinc, the piece does a good job of reporting the facts on the ground but fails in even one instance to place this “trend” in any sort of context. The issue is violence, not guns. By conflating the two Toronto Life gets to leverage its readership by way of the oldest most reliable editorial draw there is: fear.
Hence it is both thoroughly understandable and thoroughly reprehensible that nowhere does Toronto Life report the following statistics:
Homicide rates per 100,000 according to Statistics Canada (as reported by CTV News):
* Regina, 4.5
* Saskatchewan, 4.1
* Edmonton, 3.7
* Saskatoon, 3.3
* Toronto, 2.6
* Ottawa, 2.1
Some homicide rates in U.S. cities with a similar population are three to eight times higher:
* Philadelphia, 28 (406 homicides in 2006)
* Houston, 17.2 (376 homicides)
* Chicago, 15.5 (466 homicides)
* Dallas, 15 (187 homicides)
Smaller U.S. cities near Toronto also have significantly higher murder rates. Last year, Detroit’s homicide rate was 47.1 and the city had 414 murders, while Buffalo’s murder rate was 26.4 and recorded 73 killings.
In short, the entire premise of the Toronto Life piece is (as defined by professor Harry G. Frankfurt is his estimable book On Bullshit) bilge. And if I may borrow from the great man’s thesis: the piece is “grounded neither in belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth this indifference to how things really are-that I regard as the essence of bullshit.”
Read the full-text of John Lorinc’s Toronto Life cover story “Stray Bullets.”
Douglas Bell is a Toronto journalist, writer and actor. He is a regular contributor to Toronto Life and wrote the magazine’s Spectator blog until it, along with four other TL blogs, were recently shut down.