The Current

No 'silver bullet' solution to urban-rural divide on gun ownership, says expert

We hear from listeners moved by our One Bullet series, and talk to advocates, activists and policy-makers about how to combat gun violence.

Approach to addressing gun violence should be multi-pronged, says Peter Sloly

Following One Bullet, The Current's series on gun violence last week, many rural listeners got in touch to emphasize the important role firearms play in their lives. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
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This story is part of CBC's One Bullet series. Each instalment takes a close look at a shooting from somewhere in Canada — who was hurt or killed; who was held accountable; and how did the fallout impact friends, family and first responders.

In the early 1990s, a truck drove on to Delano Tolley's farm in the hamlet of Cherry Grove, Alta., where his wife was home alone.

"A man got out of his pickup truck, and she called out: 'What do you want?'" Tolley told The Current.

"He replied: 'I heard there was a party here.' She told him there was no party and to leave."

Tolley said the man responded: "Well, we can make our own party."

At the time, Tolley's job required him to be away in Winnipeg for long periods of time. That day, his wife picked up their rifle, went to the front door, and again ordered the man to leave.

This time he did.

When Tolley returned, he said he found "piles of cigarette butts around the house, where it appeared someone had been watching her."

"Had she not had that rifle readily accessible, the situation may have ended much differently," he said.

With Bill C-71, the federal government is proposing an overhaul of background checks, and new record-keeping requirements for those selling guns. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Tolley wrote to The Current with his story after hearing the One Bullet series, which examined gun violence in Canada.

"Many urban dwellers have absolutely no concept of life in rural areas of this country," he said.

"Firearms are a tool similar to a hammer or wrench, and are a necessity to rural living, as long as they are used with care."

A gun 'only has one purpose, which is to kill'

Guns are an important tool for a farming household, said Amanda Dale, the executive director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, which supports women who have experienced violence.

Dale grew up on a farm where her father kept a gun, but "it's not the same as other tools on the farm," she said, "because it only has one purpose, which is to kill."

That distinguishes it from other tools, she said, and requires us to balance gun ownership with the safety of the owner, their family, and the community as a whole.

There may be instances where access to firearms should be restricted, says Kathleen Buddle, cultural anthropologist at the University of Manitoba. 0:59

According to Statistics Canada, the rate of firearm-related violent crime was higher or similar in the northern and rural areas of most provinces and territories. Handgun-related violence in urban areas was more than double what was reported by police services serving rural areas. However, the rate of violent crime involving a rifle or shotgun was four times higher in rural areas when compared to urban areas.

"Certainly there is a difference between urban centres and rural centres, and not in a way that most listeners will really understand," said Peter Sloly, a former deputy chief of police in Toronto, who is now a partner at Deloitte, leading the company's national security and justice practice.

"In fact, there's higher levels of crime, higher levels of violence, and in some cases higher [levels] of gun-related violence in our rural communities as opposed to our urban communities," he said.

"Except that's where the media attention is focused on: the Vancouvers, the Surreys, the Montreals and the Torontos."

I personally don't believe in any silver bullet ... solutions to complex issues like gun violence in urban or rural settings.- Peter Sloly, former deputy chief of police in Toronto

The federal government introduced Bill C-71 in March, which proposes an overhaul of background checks, introducing new record-keeping requirements for those selling guns, and putting more restrictions on the transport of firearms.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale introduced the bill, which is currently before the Senate.

Speaking in the House of Commons in September, Goodale said the proposal was "in support of public safety and the ability of law enforcement to investigate gun crimes, while at the same time being reasonable and respectful toward law-abiding firearms owners and businesses."

In the same week, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer argued the bill targets lawful gun owners, but "does nothing to keep Canadians safe."

"It does nothing to address gang violence or target gang criminals," he said.

An e-petition urging the government to abandon the bill gathered more than 86,000 signatures.

Peter Sloly said media coverage on levels of crime and violence tends to focus on urban, rather than rural, centres. (CBC)

Both gun owners and people victimized by guns have a voice in the debate, said Sloly.

"I personally don't believe in any silver bullet — no pun intended — solutions to complex issues like gun violence in urban or rural settings," he told Tremonti.

Addressing gun violence should be multi-pronged, taking "legislation, operational, technology and philosophical approaches," he said.

"Bans on certain types of weapons and certain types of firearms and ammunition should be explored, but simply looking at it as a one-type solution — and having an argument based on that — is going to take us nowhere."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by John Chipman, Jessica Linzey and Joan Webber as part of The Current's One Bullet series.

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