Despite an overall decrease in Toronto’s murder rate over the past 12 years, gun homicides are on the rise.
In 2012, 61 per cent of homicides in Toronto were committed with a firearm. This number is up by seven per cent from 2011, according to Toronto Police Service.
Law abiding gun owners are apparently not the problem. Of the guns used in homicides, 70 per cent are smuggled from the United States where firearms are more easily obtained, according to Toronto Police Service spokesman Mark Pugash.
“The other 30 per cent are lost or stolen from legal owners or are purchased illegally from ‘straws’” — individuals without a criminal record who obtain guns legally, and sell them on the black market for profit.
After analyzing the details of homicides in the city, University of Toronto criminologist Scot Wortley identified two emerging trends. First, gun violence is more likely to be committed in public places, thereby putting innocent bystanders at risk.
Second, gun violence more often involves minority males from the most disadvantaged communities. This group makes up a large percentage of both offenders and victims.
Gun violence has deeper roots
Following the May, 2007 shooting of student Jordan Manners at a Toronto high school, the Ontario government commissioned a study to gain insight into the increase of gun violence amongst youth in Toronto.
The culminating report, Review of the Roots of Youth Violence, listed poverty, racism, a white-centric education system and a lack of economic opportunity and jobs as the main factors leading to a deep sense of hopelessness and alienation amongst minority youth.
For marginalized youth, gang culture may offer both a sense of belonging and a potential for profit. The down side is that it promotes gun violence and involvement in other high risk, illegal activities.
Strategies to discourage gang involvement and violence focus on economic and social initiatives. According to the report, youth participation and engagement can be enhanced through improved access to funding, to encourage job training and business initiatives and by providing relevant and meaningful educational, social and recreational programming in the community.