Humans have survived and become the dominant species on Earth as they are living, intelligent beings who apply their ingenuity in making and using tools. From the Stone Age on, humans fashioned an array of tools, of which blades were and are a primary implement. In the Stone Age, there were individuals who mastered the craft of knapping flint to form knives, spears and arrowheads for hunting and butchering game. In time, humans mastered metallurgy, fashioning knives, swords, spears and arrowheads first from bronze and finally iron. In ancient Mesoamerica, Mayans, Aztecs, Incas, fashioned blades from obsidian. In the present day, knives are mostly made from a blend of carbon steel and stainless steel. Knives are a common household item found in the kitchens in every home. Together with their use as common household items, knives are still used for hunting and warfare. With a sharp edge and pointed tip, the knife has to be handled with care. It can inflict a nasty wound if handled carelessly or with malice.
That knives are sometimes used with malicious intent manifested itself this past week in Calgary where five young people, University of Calgary students, were stabbed to death by a classmate wielding a kitchen knife. I work in a university library and see young students every day at work. I interact with young students on occasion, I was cast in the Sock ‘n’ Buskin Theatre Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet in 2011. I remember the party for the cast and crew that followed the completion of the run of the show. It took me back to my student days at Queen’s University in the 1980s. I am long past the point where getting shitfaced was a priority at parties, as still seems to be the case with young people these days. Chances are at the party in Calgary this past week, the young students were there having a good time getting shitfaced and the farthest thing from their minds was suffering a violent death at the hands of a classmate armed with a kitchen knife. This tragedy resonates with me to a greater degree than other recent mass stabbings, like the one in Edmonton, as the fact that five young people enjoying student life (just like the students I see every day), with their whole lives ahead of them, were cut down, quite literally, in an instant.
Violence is an unhappy part of the human condition. Data collected by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics show that of the 543 homicides committed in 2013 there were 172 deaths by gunshot wound, 164 by stabbing, 112 by beating, 40 by strangulation, 17 by fire (burns/suffocation), 20 by other methods (poisoning, exposure, shaken baby syndrome, deaths caused by vehicles and heart attacks) and 20 by unknown means. Firearms and knives top the list of methods used in committing homicide in Canada, but the common denominator in these deaths is violence. While death by gunshot and stabbing tops the list, it is worth noting that the majority (371 out of the 543) of these homicides committed involved means other than a firearm, with death by stabbing being the second most common method used. I raise this point, because so often I hear people complain about what they call “gun violence.” Firearm and knife ownership is commonplace in Canadian society, with data generated by the Small Arms Survey, located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland in 2007 showing a rate of gun ownership of 30.8 per hundred people and approximately 9,950,000 guns in civilian hands. (as cited in the Guardian)
Canadians own and use firearms and knives for legitimate and peaceful purposes on a daily basis. Canada’s hunters and sport shooters enjoy tens of millions of hours in the field and on shooting ranges every year without incident. Their firearms are kept under lock and key, when not in use, safely out of reach of those who have no business accessing them. Similarly, Canadians keep knives in their kitchens, taking care to see they are out of reach of children, and use them without incident. Firearm and knife skills continue to have a place in Canadian society as useful life skills. Over and against these legitimate and peaceful purposes the fact remains there will be a number of homicides every year, but for some reason, homicide by firearm, “gun violence,” as it is called by gun prohibitionists, generates sensationalized news reports and a hue and cry over the alleged evils of gun ownership in a way that does not happen when stabbing is the means by which people suffer a violent death.
I have yet to hear cries of alarm and demands for the reduction in the number of knives in Canadian society, that Canadians be discouraged from keeping knives in their homes due to the heightened risk of death and injury by keeping knives at home. The reality is with keeping knives at home, just as it is with keeping firearms at home, is the overwhelming majority of people do so safely, without incident. It is an unhappy fact of life that there are homicides, people suffering a violent death, every year in Canada and regardless of the means it is equally tragic. Having examined this phenomenon, the fixation on “gun violence” by gun prohibitionists, I have concluded they are not really concerned about violence per se, but are driven by an irrational fear of firearms and paranoia concerning firearms owners. This would be entirely their problem and not concern me as an owner of firearms, save for the fact that I find myself the butt of a good deal of prejudice for owning and using firearms because of their efforts to demonize firearms ownership.
The knife attack in Calgary is noted as the worst case of mass murder the city has ever seen. The fact that the five young people who were murdered died from knife wounds, as opposed to gunshot wounds, will go largely unnoticed by gun prohibitionists. I do not expect much public hand wringing, pithy and emotional press releases blaming knives and the people who own them for this tragedy. It is shocking and generates heartfelt sympathy for the friends and families of the victims, but will not be exploited, labelled “knife violence,” and lead to demands for prohibitions and restrictions on knife ownership and use. What is it about death from a gunshot wound that is so much more catastrophic than death from any other means? Unfortunately, for Canadian firearms owners, a succession of Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments saw fit to impose onerous restrictions on firearm ownership and use, culminating in the Canadian Firearms Act.
The uselessness of the Canadian Firearms Act in preventing the misuse of firearms or reducing the number of homicides by firearm is a topic for another article. The fact remains that violence is an unhappy part of the human condition and the prejudice against firearms and those who own and use them for legitimate and peaceful sporting purposes, just as Canadians use knives for legitimate and peaceful purposes, is unwarranted and must be overcome. I expect it will be a long and difficult effort as this prejudice is deeply ingrained, but I am not giving up. I am confident Canada’s firearms owners will prevail. Maybe I am overly optimistic, but is it unreasonable to expect that evidence and logic will triumph over hysteria, misinformation and prejudice? Time will tell.
Posted by Geoffrey
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Dear G & M:
(Too) many people suppose that if a thing might be used for a malign purpose, then that thing should be banned. If this notion were applied even-handedly, then boats, rope, gasoline and–as you allude–knives, would be banned.
Anti-firearms enthusiasts claim that guns, “…are just for killing…”. Canada has well over 20 million firearms in the hands of some 8 million owners, and the firearms death rate per year is only about a hundred and seventy? If guns are just for killing, they are damned poor return on investment.
Thanks for your continued opposition to governmental stupidity, and your support of personal liberty.