No, not a problem with guns per se, but a problem with the image of guns. Jonathan Kay tries to do a quick psycho-analysis of Toronto’s issue here:
The primary tragedy of urban gun violence is, of course, that it kills people — including 14-year-old Shyanne Charles and 23-year-old Joshua Yasay, who were slain in Scarborough this week. A secondary ill effect is that it produces paralyzing anxiety in millions of otherwise unaffected people, largely thanks to sensationalistic media reporting that encourages the idea we are all inhabiting some kind of anything-goes “war zone.” As I’ve written before, gun violence in Toronto is largely confined to a small set of areas, and a small set of social and criminal contexts. For the average citizen, the chance of suicide or death-by-domestic-battery is much, much higher than the chance of becoming collateral damage in a gang killing.
But it’s not hard to figure out why scared housewives are canceling their zoo trips when the Toronto Star is blaring out headlines like “Mass shooting on Danzig puts the lie to Toronto’s ‘safe city’ mantra.”
Combine that headline with the lurid, disturbingly blood-fixated Rosie DiManno column that sits under those words, and a clear message emerges: Torontonians have been living in a dream world, going about their parenting and work lives in blissful ignorance of the warring gangs who are probably just around the corner, ready to march up the street, spraying the whole area with machine gun fire. Even the lemur isn’t safe: They’ll probably shoot him, too.
As I’ve noted, Chicago — a city with a population close to Toronto’s 2.6-million — witnesses about 10 times as many murders every year as Hogtown. And as Marni Soupcoff wrote earlier this week, tiny Detroit has had 184 murders this year, compared to Toronto’s 28. To repeat what’s been written: Among the American cities that witnessed more murders than Toronto in 2011 were Nashville (pop. 616,000), Tulsa, Okla (pop. 393,000), and Stockton, Cal. (292,000). In per-capita terms, Toronto has a substantially smaller homicide problem than Winnipeg and Edmonton.
And one must remember that Toronto has a unique view of itself and its role in the world:
Another factor is Toronto’s bizarrely inflated view of itself as a civic nirvana, to which the rest of the world is constantly gazing as a sort of Light Unto Cities. When anything bad happens, we naturally assume that the entire planet is gasping in horror and disappointment. In 2010, for instance, when a few dozen windows got broken at the G20 Summit here, Canadian journalists truly believed that the news would make banner headlines on other continents — and that we would have a “black eye” that would last for generations.
Regarding the shootings in Scarborough, this Reddit item is worth reading.
Update: Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail:
… In certain neighbourhoods, a war is on. It’s a war against peace and order waged by the forces of social disintegration. It’s the same war that killed Jane Creba in 2005, two people at the Eaton Centre last month and dozens of other victims who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The single most significant root cause is not guns or crummy housing or racism or inadequate policing or lenient sentencing or lack of jobs or insufficient social programs. It is family and community breakdown. Most especially, it’s absent fathers.
Social programs are essential. But all the social programs in the world can’t make up for family disintegration.
[. . .]
Family disintegration is not a racial problem. It is an underclass problem. The evidence is plain that children born to unmarried women – of whatever race – do much worse than children with two married parents. They’re less likely to succeed in school and more likely to turn to violence (boys) and promiscuity (girls). The easiest way for them to feel like someone is to grab a gun or have a baby.
So by all means, let’s redevelop public housing, strengthen our policing, hire more youth workers, launch more employment programs, start more basketball programs, help young mothers finish school and teach them how to read to their kids. It makes us feel good to focus on these things because they are things we can actually do something about, and maybe they will make a difference. But let’s not kid ourselves: They’re Band-Aid solutions.
We have a million euphemisms for what’s gone wrong in our so-called “priority” neighbourhoods, a splendidly euphemistic term that has replaced “at-risk,” “disadvantaged,” “underprivileged” and “poor.” By now, it should be obvious that material poverty is not the problem – not when every kid in a priority neighbourhood has a cellphone and a flat-screen TV. Their poverty is of a different, more corrosive kind: a poverty of expectations, role models, structure, consistency, discipline and support.
Even our euphemisms have euphemisms these days. They do nothing to solve the problem, but they allow the problem to be discussed at such a distance from reality that the lack of solution is generally hidden from view.
Until the next shooting.