I am an Emergency Physician and Associate Professor at an academic centre caring for both adult and paediatric populations for over 30 years. I have worked in 2 provinces, overseas and in many emergency departments in Ontario. I was forwarded our Trauma Program Director’s call to sign a petition in support of the National Day of Action. I would like to pass on my response to your organizations to give you a somewhat different perspective from a physician regarding the topic of gun violence and a firearms ban.
Thank you for your time.
Gregory J. Mosdossy MD FRCP(C)
April 2, 2019
I had your call to sign a petition forwarded to me and I would like to comment.
Firstly, it goes without saying that I am in full support of curbing violent crime and suicide, as are, I am positive, all law-abiding citizens of this country. That includes the health care workers, support and admin staff at LHSC.
In order to give you an idea of my stake in this, I would like to fill you in on some of my past and present personal involvement with firearms and gun crime.
I was the attending on duty in the early 1990’s in Sudbury, ON, when an 8 year old boy was brought in with a shotgun wound to his midsection. He had been playing with the teen next door, who had pointed his father’s improperly stored and loaded gun at the child and pulled the trigger, in what he thought was a jest. I performed an ED thoracotomy and he regained his vital signs, only to die soon after from massive liver and splenic trauma. This case, and the boy’s mother’s advocacy were part of the stimulus for the 1995 Canadian Firearms Act that put into law our current method of storage, transport, categorization and licensure of firearms.
I was also present at the Montreal Polytechnique massacre in 1989 where 14 promising, young, high achieving women were killed and 13 others were injured by a deranged misogynist. I entered the premises with an EMS crew and pronounced a number of victims dead on scene and helped to extricate and transport some to the Royal Victoria Hospital. I wrote an abstract in the JEM in collaboration with one of the other residents involved regarding the disaster response. I had a 2 year old daughter and a 7 month old son at the time and I slept on the floor of their room for 6 months afterward.
I have since cared for countless trauma victims of violent crime in my over 30 year career as an Emergentologist, but being in Canada, a small proportion were gunshot wounds and many more were stabbings, beatings, etc.
I have had 2 relatives (one distant, one non-blood relative) commit suicide, one by handgun and one by overdose.
I have also owned rifles since I was 12 and have in the past decade become an avid hunter and competitive pistol, rifle and shotgun enthusiast. My wife and 2 of our 3 grown kids attend competitions in Canada and the USA where we shoot on the run at various target arrays and are scored and timed. I am also a qualified Range Officer with two pistol shooting disciplines (IPSC and ICORE) as well as with the Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CSSA).
With that, I have a few thoughts on the creation and propagation of a petition, especially when the premise and the items it purports to ban are ill defined and, it seems, poorly understood. Let me elaborate.
The term “assault weapon” is bandied about by media and those in the public domain, who seem to have a less than clear understanding of its meaning. In general, an assault weapon is any weapon that can or has been used to assault someone or a group, including a chair, box cutter, baseball bat, kitchen knife, switchblade, musket, Lee Enfield rifle, van, car or truck, etc. The way in which people are using the term in current dialogue seems to be in reference to a common rifle platform utilized by most of the world’s armed forces. The characteristics that make a military assault rifle different from the many and varied semi automatic sport and hunting rifles are the fully automatic fire and high capacity magazines that are banned/illegal and unavailable in Canada (Canada has a 5 round limit). No Canadian citizen is allowed to own or possess a military assault rifle, with stiff jail sentences for those who are found to possess them illegally. In the military and policing domain, where these firearms are used for training and deployment, they are kept under lock and key on the military or police premises and the military and police personnel are not allowed to store them off premises. To clarify by example, the much maligned AR 15 (Armalite Rifle 15 after the founding company/designer, not “Assault Rifle”) is one of many rifle platforms, designed in the 1950’s and is just one among many other semi auto sporting and hunting rifle designs. It is not available/legal in its military assault rifle configuration in Canada.
The long and short of it is that there are no military assault weapons in the legal possession of any Canadian citizen and thus a petition to ban such firearms is redundant and misleading.
As for semi-automatic long guns, they are a staple of the hunting and shooting sports and of collectors in Canada and have been since the country was founded and the firearms existed. Handguns, similarly, are an integral feature of the shooting sports and they are also acquired by collectors. Anyone wishing to participate in these activities must undergo safety training and testing in 2 stages, one for non-restricted, (most long guns; Possession and Acquisition Licence – PAL) and the other for restricted (handguns and some long guns; rPAL), with references, a background check and licensure if successful. The process can take several months, sometimes more. Once licensed, the individual is subjected to a background check by the RCMP automatically every 24 hours on an ongoing basis. With the restricted licence (rPAL), the licensed firearms owner must join a range/club if they wish to shoot a restricted firearm. If they are collectors, they must consent to an on site inspection. If they do not, then they are in violation of the law. Most ranges also require separate supervised safety courses before allowing a new member to shoot.
The purchase of all ammunition or firearms requires the presentation and in many cases the verification of a valid firearms licence (PAL or rPAL).
The PAL and rPAL must be renewed every 5 years and if not renewed then any firearms in the possession of the individual will constitute a serious crime.
As far as the transport of restricted firearms, they can only be transported legally to a range, a gun store, a gun show or the border with an Authorization to Transport (ATT), that is currently electronically attached to the rPAL and with Bill C-71, if passed, will revert to having to make a phone call and have the paper ATT issued and attached to such transport with each excursion. Special ATT’s are required for transport out of province. Transporting a restricted firearm to any other location and without proper authorization constitutes a serious breech of the law.
I know this has been a long and detailed account to make a simple point. However, there is much conjecture and misinformation circulating regarding this topic and I feel it is important to know the facts when debating the issue of firearm regulations. Firearms laws in Canada are some of the most stringent and comprehensive in the world. Crime statistics show that we are a very safe country with low baseline crime and suicide rates that have been steadily dropping, with peaks and ebbs, over the past 4 decades. The recent statistics that some have used to counter those data are parsed from specific geographical areas and interval timelines with biased manipulation to suit the purposes of interest groups.
Banning certain classes of firearms does not decrease violence. This is shown in the UK where handguns and many long guns have been banned since 1996 and yet London, England has seen a significant increase in the number of homicides and assaults with guns, knives, vehicles and acid attacks over the past decade. Evil will perpetrate a massacre or cause violent injury and death in spite of the laws of the land.
Prohibition was an example of the futility of banning a substance when the black market could easily, by violent and illegal means, overcome the legal restrictions. Firearms can be acquired illegally with relative ease. Any ban would simply turn law abiding citizens who own firearms into instant criminals with the true criminal element untouched and even more motivated to smuggle in firearms.
Firearms owners are not evil. They are manual workers, office workers, factory workers, trades people, union members, hospital workers, security personnel, police officers, military members, ESW’s, nurses, doctors, lawyers, accountants, judges, politicians, media personalities, etc., etc. In fact there are over 2 million firearms owners in Canada, many of them women and youth. A significant number of the people I work with in the Emergency Department and throughout LHSC are firearms owners and enthusiasts. This pastime is a passion for most. We have a great respect for the sport, the safety requirements, the rules and the great country we live in that has allowed us this wonderful opportunity.
The issue of gun violence is a complex one that cannot be addressed by media sound bites and simple sweeping pronouncements. It is also woefully unfair to blame and punish large numbers of law abiding citizens, who are in complete support of curbing gun violence, by confiscating hundreds of thousands of their firearms. Perhaps instead, those of us who are faced with the products of violence and suicide could have discussions on how to find some reasonable ways to help curb these scourges with effective and fair measures. Addressing access to underfunded and underserviced mental health care is one example. Educating firearms owners regarding the signs of depression and providing resources to seek help without stigmatizing or legally limiting their future in firearms related sports is another area that needs addressing. Another is supporting our police services in tracking and prosecuting criminals distributing and using firearms. Surely the academic and health provider community can come up with something smarter and more effective than a blanket ban.
I understand that some trauma caregivers have reacted with horror at the violence they have witnessed on the job. I have witnessed more than my share. I have seen the horror and touched the horror. I have felt the abyss of sorrow at the senseless loss of young, productive life. But this movement to ban certain firearms is an emotional response that stems from a lack of information and a view of firearms that is distorted by multiple sources, including some media, interest groups, the entertainment industry, etc. The lawful use of firearms is a safe, mature sport that requires focus, discipline and a profound respect for safety and the law. When firearms are used for violent purposes, someone has broken the law. When firearms are used for suicidal intent, someone has not received the care they need and the support to distance themselves from the firearm. These are the issues that need to be addressed, not an ineffective blanket ban that targets innocent law abiding individuals.
As an avid practitioner of the shooting sports, I am committed to preserving its legacy for coming generations. As a physician, I have made a lifetime commitment to saving lives. I have personally and professionally experienced the effects of the illegal and suicidal use of firearms. I only support reasonable and thoughtful approaches to curbing injury and death due to firearms. This petition and the call for a ban are neither.
Gregory J Mosdossy MD FRCPC