It's the gun, not the registry

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Osprey, Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Dawson College shooting happened in my neighbourhood. Last week, my walk to work was transformed into a crime scene, an infamous crime scene, with four city blocks cordoned off by yellow police tape.

Dawson is the largest English-language community college in Quebec, with a strong reputation in disciplines such as Fine Arts, in which my 16-year-old daughter hopes to enrol next year.

Last week, I was quite relieved she was still in her senior year of high school. And the next time we have a conversation about getting her a cellphone, the answer will be yes.

Within minutes of the shooting, some 400 phone calls were placed to 911. Thousands more were made to anxious relatives. As it happened, police were already on the scene - on another case - at the Dawson campus in midtown Montreal, kitty-corner from the former Montreal Forum at the corner of Atwater and de Maisonneuve.

Dozens of SWAT team members arrived within three minutes and quickly took down the shooter before he could do any more damage than killing 18 year Anastasia de Sousa, and wounding 19 more.

Everyone agrees the cops did an outstanding job, as did the ambulance service, Urgences Sante, as well as the ER at the nearby Montreal General Hospital. No rehearsal is ever sufficient training for such a traumatic event, yet by all accounts, police and public health units did superb work.

When students returned to the Dawson campus Monday, they wore articles of pink clothing in honour of De Sousa. It was her preferred colour.

As the doors to the college were opened, hundreds of bystanders spontaneously broke into applause.

In the House of Commons that afternoon, the requisite moment of silence for the victims of the Dawson shooting was a genuinely moving occasion.

And then came the inevitable questions about the Harper government's intention to scrap, or revise, the long-gun registry.

The Dawson shooting has reinforced the determination of all opposition parties to maintain the gun registry, in spite of an inconvenient truth - the weapons in this incident were all legally registered.

Opposition parties have the votes to maintain the registry, and in a minority House, the government should take note. For Quebec Premier Jean Charest, the defence of the gun registry is a second issue, after his defence of the Kyoto Accord, on which he is able to take some distance from Stephen Harper, with whom he's perceived as being too close.

There is already a significant threshold of difficulty in registering a weapon in Canada. For example, recently separated or divorced husbands can't register weapons on the grounds they might use them to shoot their former wives.

But a more pertinent question might be: How is it that semi- automatic weapons, which fire every time you pull the trigger, are legal in this country?

A semi-automatic is not a sportsman's rifle for deer hunting or duck hunting. A farmer doesn't need a semi-automatic to keep his henhouse safe from the fox.

But a semi-automatic is clearly a weapon of choice for a deranged gunman.

The Dawson shooting is the third such incident in Montreal in the past 17 years. The first shooting, the killing of 14 women at Universite de Montreal in 1989, led to the creation of the gun registry. The second, at Concordia University in 1992, involved a shooter with a grievance against the school.

The motives of the Dawson shooter, Kimveer Gill, are unclear other than that he spent a lot of time in his parents' basement surfing violent websites on the Internet, and posting pictures of himself with his gun collection.

Shouldn't semi-automatics be banned?

And what measures does society take to protect itself against hate being spread on the Internet, without bumping up against privacy considerations?

Why do shooters pick on schools, colleges and universities?

Perhaps because victims are available there in larger numbers. Perhaps because students are achievers, going somewhere in life and shooters are losers, going nowhere.

There are still many bouquets of flowers outside the entrance to Dawson. But the crime scene tape is down, and the satellite television trucks have moved on.

The students have reclaimed ownership of their college, scarred by a terrible event, but getting on with the dream of what they want to be in life.

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