December 30, 2005 THE KINGSTON WHIG-STANDARD PAGE: 7 (FORUM)
The scourge of gun violence
Craig Lewis, Special to The Kingston Whig-Standard
Const. Valerie Gignac of the Laval, Que., police force was shot and killed in the line of duty on Dec. 14. She was 25 years old.
Her alleged killer, 40-year-old Francois Pepin, was a known criminal and had been prohibited from possessing firearms in 1999, except for the purpose of hunting.
This has to be one of the most disturbing facts about the incident. The firearm used by the killer of Gignac was a high-powered rifle that normally brings down moose and other large prey. The bullet travelled through a wall and struck the officer in the abdomen - below the area protected by her bullet-proof vest. However, no vest would have stopped that projectile.
This tragic story is still unfolding. We have learned that the suspect had two rifles in his apartment. Neither are prohibited firearms and are commonly used by hunters.
Our politicians are out and about now, looking for our votes. The Conservatives are taking a law-and-order stance, promising tougher sentences for persons convicted of firearm offences. They are promising to put more money into policing and law enforcement.
The Liberals are promising a ban on handguns to go along with the money pit also known as the federal gun registry. Both these positions do nothing to help the family of Gignac. They have lost her forever.
This has been stated many times before, but our laws need to be upheld by our courts, most notably by the judges we pay handsomely. It boggles the mind that a judge could allow a man like Pepin to possess a firearm for any purpose.
We do not need more laws. We need our courts to lead by example and sentence offenders to appropriate prison terms when convicted of firearm offences. The federal gun registry will not take guns out of the hands of criminals, and a ban on handguns will do nothing to remove them from the criminal element.
Since 1904, the Ontario Provincial Police has lost 92 officers in the line of duty. Some were killed in traffic accidents, but the majority were killed by firearms.
Sgt. Tom Cooper was one of the OPP officers killed by a firearm. It was an honour to know Tom and he was a colleague and a friend. We worked together for three years in Northern Ontario, and he remained in the north after I left. The last time I saw him alive was when he hosted a going-away party for me in August, 1989. On July 25, 1991, he was felled by a gunman's bullet on the Grassy Narrows Indian reserve. His funeral was attended by me and 4,000 other officers. It was a day I will never forget.
Nationally, more than 600 police and peace officers are listed as killed in the line of duty on the Canadian police and peace officers memorial website.
We need to examine the issue of gun control objectively. Guns do not kill people; people kill people. Criminals do not register their firearms. In fact, most handgun crimes are committed with stolen weapons.
The streets of Toronto have become a danger zone in the last year. Numerous murders have been committed by persons with illegal firearms.
We need to have judges appointed who will be tough yet fair when sentencing persons convicted of firearm offences. Our entire parole system needs re-examination. Convicted persons are being paroled after serving as little as one-third of their sentence. Many are living in our city. We have no fewer than six federal institutions in our area.
A disturbing local story in The Whig-Standard recently told of a stolen handgun found in a local tavern. An employee has been charged. This is just one example of how many firearms are on our streets. It is an educated guess to say that for every illegal firearm taken off the street by police, 10 more remain.
The firearm issue for police in Ontario came to the forefront on Oct. 7, 1993. On that day, Const. Joseph MacDonald of the Sudbury Police was shot and killed by two persons. The officer's empty service revolver was found next to him. His murder led to Canadian police officers being issued semi-automatic handguns to replace the outdated six-shot revolvers.
We will never prevent all shootings. However, with proper firearm controls, our society can avoid being known for murder on the streets, as our neighbours to the south are.
- Craig Lewis is a retired OPP officer and a former member of The Whig-Standard's Community Editorial Board.
"You know so little yet you know it so fluently." npd233