Hamilton

Hamilton doctors join call to ban handguns, assault weapons in new firearms bill

A group of Hamilton doctors is participating in a campaign to push the federal government to enact stronger gun laws.

Doctors for Protection from Guns rally in support of Bill C-71

A group of doctors from Hamilton are writing letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week as part of Doctors for Protection from Gun's campaign to enact more stringent gun laws. (CBC)

Dr. David Koff has a message for anyone who thinks doctors shouldn't be weighing in on the debate over stronger gun laws in Canada.

"I would invite those people who say it's not our place to come to the operating rooms and talk to the families when people die," he said. "We're the ones who have to announce to a mother and father that their son is dead. So they're welcome to do that.

"We are the front line. We see these people dying."

Koff, a radiologist and chair of the department of radiology at McMaster University, is part of Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, a Canada-wide organization made up of family doctors, emergency room physicians, trauma surgeons, psychiatrists, medical residents and students.

On Thursday, the group is holding a national day of action to call for "swift passage" of Bill C-71, which is firearms legislation that's currently before the Senate, as well as a ban on handguns and assault weapons.

I'm not opposed to the recreational use of guns, personally I enjoy that.- Dr. David Koff

In some cities public rallies are taking place — but in Hamilton, doctors are writing letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to urge action on the issue.

"The main thing is to create awareness … so people know there is a movement," Koff said.

The group has received pushback. One of its founding members is Dr. Najma Ahmed, a trauma surgeon who treated victims of a fatal mass shooting in Toronto last summer. The Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights had urged its supporters to file official complaints to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario about Ahmed's advocacy work.

The coalition argues doctors are not experts on firearms policy and should not be taking political positions.

Bill C-71 to overhaul background checks

Koff is adamant that he's not anti-gun — in fact, he says he was the best shooter in his unit in the French military when he served a year of mandatory service some 30 years ago.

"I'm not opposed to the recreational use of guns, personally I enjoy that," he said. "But I would never have guns at home."

If passed, Bill C-71 would overhaul the background check system for firearms, create new record-keeping requirements for retailers and place further restrictions on transporting a gun.

Dr. David Koff is a radiologist and chair of the department of radiology at McMaster University. (David Koff)

The Conservatives have railed against the bill, claiming it will impose onerous regulations on lawful gun owners while doing little to crack down on gang-related crime largely carried out with illegal firearms sourced from the U.S. And at least 86,000 Canadians agree the bill should be killed, having signed one of the largest e-petitions in Parliament's history.

The Liberal government, meanwhile, says a troubling spike in gun crime demands some sort of legislative response.

Bill currently in the hands of the Senate

The bill will likely go for a clause-by-clause review in the Senate next week, in which senators go through and either amend or pass each line.

Then it's back to The House of Commons. If MPs find any proposed amendments acceptable, the bill would then be sent for Royal Assent — something that seems likely, considering the federal Liberal majority.

Even so, Koff said the group can't take anything for granted, and is making sure to voice its support.

"We have surprises too often in government," he said.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from John Paul Tasker

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