Guns, Gangs And Steel

Crime scene photograph by Pascal Marchand, Vancouver Sun
[First published in Vancouver Observer]

Last Saturday night, just two weeks before Christmas, ten young people were gunned down on the streets of Vancouver just one block from where our Mayor and his family slept. Eight of the victims remain hospitalized with two in critical condition.

While the retorts from the angry shots that rang out that cold, dark night have long since died away, aftershocks from that horrifying assault continue to reverberate throughout the city.

Several years ago, Jared Diamond published Guns, Germs, and Steel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of the environmental advantages that allowed Eurasian civilizations to dominate, and in many cases decimate, other cultures across the globe. He attributed that dominance to three natural advantages he summed up as Guns, Germs and Steel.

I would argue that much the same kind of struggle is being played out on the streets of Vancouver today, but in this case the invaders are Gangs pouring over our southern border from the U.S.; their Guns — AK47s, machine guns and assault rifles — the weaponry of war; and the Germs they are spreading — violence and corruption — are infecting our youth and destroying the very fabric of the city we grew up in.

I am unable to recognize my own city when ten young people are gunned down on its streets.

I was born in Vancouver General Hospital in the 50s and grew up in rural south Surrey. Like most of our neighbours, we kept a .22 gauge rifle in the garage. Now, you can hunt small game with a .22, and I suppose you could wound someone, but a .22 would be littel use in a gun battle.

That’s why the illegal guns flooding into our peaceful province aren’t 22’s – they are illegal submachine guns, assault rifles and unlicensed handguns. And the gangs in Canada so eager to use them are aided and abetted by lax federal and state laws in the U.S. allowing anyone to walk into a gun show in Washington state (or any other state) and walk out loaded with assault weapons, machine guns and ammunition.

Representing 500 American cities, Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that states with the weakest gun laws are also the top suppliers of guns recovered in out-of-state crimes and the source of a greater proportion of trafficked weapons.

In cooperation with police departments across the country, the Mayors’ group identified ten laws proven effective in combating the scourge of illegal weapons. Washington state, our nearest neighbour, has only two of those laws enacted, Montana just one and Idaho none.

And sure enough, the states of Washington, Idaho and Montana, all of which share a common border with us, are net exporters of guns used in crimes, with an average 20% of the guns sold in those states used in crimes within two years of sale. Oregon, California and Nevada are even greater exporters of guns used in crimes.

Guess where the illegal AK47s sold at Idaho’s unregulated gun shows end up?

Mass arrest after gang shootout in Mexico

Canadians have watched in horror as one of our favourite holiday destinations, Mexico, has endured repeated paroxysms of gun violence. In a report released this past September, the Mayor’s group found that 75% of the weapons used in crimes in Mexico originated in four bordering American states. More concerning, the time lapsed between the original sale in the U.S. and the recovery of those guns at Mexican crime scenes is decreasing, a sign of ever-more sophisticated gun trafficking.

The same catastrophe is now playing out along our southern border, infecting Canadian cities with a growing plague of violence that is fast eroding our way of life.

I lived in the U.S. for twenty years, married an American, and have many relatives and close personal friends there. But it’s time that we face up to the ramifications of living next to the largest arms dealer in the world, a more violent country that tolerates the shooting deaths of 35,000 of its own citizens annually.

Unfortunately, Thomas Friedman’s flatter world may mean more markets for Canadian goods, but it also means Vancouver’s tony West Side has become a destination for Idaho’s unregulated sale of illegal assault weapons.

The simple truth is that American weapons are fuelling gun battles in Vancouver, leaving our streets less safe, families more fearful, communities more isolated and our entire city reeling in shock.

As I write these words, a Canadian citizen, Marc Emery, guilty of no crime in Canada, sits in an American penitentiary in Georgia because he so angered the U.S. with his sales of pot seeds that our federal government was willing to subvert the Canadian rule of law to extradite him to serve time for an American crime.

Now that this precedent of extra-territorial legality has been set, we should have the right to insist on reciprocity, demanding that the U.S. and neighbouring states extradite rogue gun merchants to serve time in Canadian jails for the far worse violence they are wreaking on our streets.

This overwhelming flood of Guns, Gangs and Steel across our southern border is a clear and present danger — not some imagined mullah in a faraway Afghanistan cave — but very real, domestic terrorists wielding assault weapons right here on our streets.

There should be no higher priority of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP or the Vancouver Police Department than eliminating what must be recognized as an existential threat to the Canadian way of life.

If government is defined as the actor that enjoys a monopoly on the use of force within any jurisdiction, these gangs and their guns represent a direct threat not just to public safety but to Canadian sovereignty itself.

What Can Be Done?

Just one of many unregulated gun shows taking place across America

Authorities should focus first on eliminating illegal gun sales at source by targeting rogue American gun dealers through undercover stings, lawsuits and demanding better laws and enforcement from American states so quick to demand security concessions from us. Those found guilty of sending illegal weapons to criminal gangs in Canada should be extradited to serve time in maximum-security Canadian jails as the enemies of our peaceful nation that they are.

Second, the VPD and RCMP should start tracking data on every weapon used in the commission of a crime. If we know the manufacturer, seller and purchaser of every weapon used in a crime in our city, we can start interdicting those weapons in transit and at the border through intensified weapons inspection protocols, and tracking those that find their way into the arms of local criminals so they can be arrested on weapons charges the moment they take possession of illegal arms.

A smart prosecutor could easily use those weapons charges to mount an up-the-chain prosecution that would eventually bring down the kingpins behind this carnage on our streets.

Third, police in BC can now seize a citizen’s vehicle without charge or appeal for having one glass of wine too many. So why are we allowing known gangsters to live among us? Why can’t we enact laws that make commission of a crime using a weapon subject to much harsher penalties? And do the same for possession of any illegal weapon? One of the victims was charged with 27 firearm offenses just last month, yet was walking around free in our city.

In New York, Mayor Bloomberg has led the way in launching undercover stings and lawsuits against rogue gun dealers in Virginia funnelling illegal arms to gangs in NYC. And 500 Mayors in the U.S. have banded together to fight this illegal scourge.

In Vancouver, our Mayor was reduced to calling 911 in response to the automatic gunfire that broke out just one block from his home. If ever there was a more chilling metaphor for helplessness in the face of violent gangs, I cannot imagine it.

“There were no innocent people struck by bullets,” we’re told by police, as if a shootout on our public streets is no danger.

But with that logic we surrender our streets to gangs seeking to destroy our way of life. It is time to take our streets back and eliminate this flood of illegal weapons into our city.

Calling 911 is no longer enough.