Nova Scotia

3 views as Canadian doctors advocate for stricter gun control

Doctors in 13 cities across Canada sought signatures Wednesday on petitions encouraging the federal government to pass stricter gun-control measures. In Halifax, two doctors and a gun owner held an in-depth discussion at one petition-signing event.

A pediatrician, a family doctor and a gun owner discuss the issue in Halifax

Amanda Schreiber, left, Dr. Fred Archibald, centre, and Dr. Kirstin Weerdenburg discuss the merits of gun control at a petition-signing event in Halifax. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Doctors in 13 cities across Canada sought signatures Wednesday on petitions encouraging the federal government to pass stricter gun-control measures.

They called for the implementation of Bill C-71, which would make changes to the background check system for gun owners, introduce new record-keeping requirements for retailers, and put further restrictions on transporting a firearm.

The "national day of action" was organized by Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, a coalition formed in the wake of last year's mass shooting in Toronto's Danforth neighbourhood.

In a separate move, the Liberals are also studying the implications of banning handguns and "assault weapons." 

In Halifax, two doctors and a gun owner held an in-depth discussion at one petition-signing event at the IWK Health Centre. CBC was there and asked all three for their thoughts.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Dr. Kirstin Weerdenburg, pediatric emergency physician at the IWK Health Centre

What is the overall goal of the day of action?

We've written a letter to our prime minister and we would like the House to pass Bill C-71, and so today we're just getting signatures in support of our letter to the prime minister.

What is the problem that the group has specifically with firearms?

Gun violence is increasing and it's a very important public health issue and the safety of Canadians is very important to us and should be to everybody else as well.

As a pediatric doctor what is your experience with children and firearms?

Intentional and non-intentional injury as well as suicide in adolescents ... across the country we've been seeing it, so not just here, but in other places across the country as well.

What is the effect on families who have had this happen?

It's devastating. As one can imagine, it doesn't affect just the family — it's obviously devastating for them but also the health-care providers that are caring for them as well. So it's kind of a ripple effect on how many people it actually does affect and, like I said, it's very devastating.

You heard from gun owners who have concerns about this bill and about the effort from your group. What's happened there?

It's not specific to myself but to the group in general. There's been a lot of pushback from them and that we recognize their concerns. Everybody has a right to their opinion, but our opinion is that our public safety of Canadians is a priority and that given the amount of gun violence, it's increasing, we need to make this a priority as well.

There is a lot of literature out there already showing the rates of gun violence are increasing. And there are countries in the world where they've actually had legislation to improve gun control, where we they've actually seen decreased rates of injury and harm due to guns. So I'd say that that's good evidence for this.

Amanda Schreiber, legal owner of a handgun and long guns

Tell me about yourself.

I am a legal handgun owner. And it's very calming, very almost meditative. With the safety issues I have to be 100 per cent present in the moment when I'm at the range, because if anything goes wrong because I wasn't paying attention that could potentially mean something very, very bad.

For your own personal life, what worries you about the bill should it pass?

The hobby is great. Legal gun owners aren't the issue. And unfortunately a lot of the public and people are lumping illegal guns and illegal gun owners with legal gun owners. For me to take my guns out to the range there are a lot of rules and I follow every last one of them.

But people are saying that, "Oh, the guy who has a handgun loaded in the front seat of his car and he's going to have road rage." People are lumping me in with that same person. And making guns more illegal isn't going to change that guy. It's already illegal for him to have that gun in the car loaded. So I don't see how making it more illegal is going to change what he's doing.

What did you think of the doctors' points that guns may be used in accidents in the home, or suicides, or those kinds of things? What came out of that conversation?

I did have a great conversation. These guys seemed to be open, at least here in Halifax, they seem to be open to the discussion. And apparently they were not aware of some things that were out there as far as the current laws. As far as the suicides and accidents and everything else, most especially in Halifax most of what you hear is already illegal guns. There was one two days ago from Gottingen Street. He was charged with illegal guns. He was charged with possession without a licence. You know, again, that's not going to change.

If you're on slightly different angles at this, what's the way that you see going forward?

I think just open and honest discussion. You know, finding some common ground. Obviously banning guns isn't going to fix everything. It's not going to stop suicide. It's not going to stop accidents from happening from illegal gun owners. There needs to be a little bit more give and take. There needs to be more mental health. There needs to be more money to other issues, crime, gang rates, gang violence.

They talk about violence going up. But it's all gang-related. So maybe fixing whatever it is that creates gangs. Put more money into public housing or public events that keep people out of gangs, I feel would be a better-suited use of money.

Dr. Fred Archibald, family doctor in north-end Halifax

It sounded like a good discussion going on today. What did you take away from that?

We in health-care professions have a real concern about the increase in gun-related violence and mortality. And we feel it is the responsibility of health-care professions to advocate for restrictions on guns so that we can have an impact on the amount of gun violence there is. It is my view, and I can't speak for all health professionals, but in my view there is no place in this country for semi-automatic weapons of any kind. And they are restricted but they're not banned, and they should be.

There are responsible gun owners in Canada and they have a point of view. But I feel that when public safety is the issue, when public safety is at risk — which clearly it is by gun violence — that people have to make sacrifices sometimes in order to advance the public good.

When you say that people sometimes need to make sacrifices, what did you have in mind?

Legal gun owners, I think, enjoy target practice. But oftentimes legally owned guns are stolen … I think in all public safety issues there are sacrifices that need to be made.

You know, if you look at people who like to smoke. We know that smoking is a health hazard, as is gun violence. Smoking is restricted. It's not allowed, smoking in public spaces and that sort of thing. So smokers have to make a sacrifice. Seatbelts are a public safety issue. It's inconvenient to put seatbelts on sometimes. And some people would object to that. Many people did object to it when seatbelt laws first came out, but the statistics are very clear: lives are saved in motor vehicle accidents when people wear seatbelts and I think that is analogous to what we're facing now. There are sacrifices that need to be made in the interest of the public good.

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca