Opinion: How to fight gun crime in Montreal and win

Opinion: How to fight gun crime in Montreal and win

For a start, violence interruption models have shown great promise in several U.S. cities. But there are longer-term solutions, too.

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Gun control and policing are necessary for controlling crime in society, but like any solution, they can hit a point of diminishing returns. Politicians need to get creative, and look for solutions that invest in at-risk communities, provide opportunities for all, and create a more equal society.

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A spate of shootings in Montreal has left many residents concerned about gun crime, and pushed the issue to the top of the policy agenda in the city’s mayoral election. Denis Coderre has used the issue to attack incumbent mayor Valérie Plante, who has herself announced large investments in policing and called for a national handgun ban.

Calls for gun bans and more policing are typical responses in Canada to rises in gun crime, as they are visible measures that capture the public’s attention. They are similar to knee-jerk “tough on crime” policies imported from the U.S. into Canadian politics, most notably by former prime minister Stephen Harper. While these policies give candidates an appearance of strength, they are not the best long-term solutions to issues of crime and violence in big cities. They also drain precious resources that can be better invested in long-term solutions to crime and violence in Canada.

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The reality is that Canada’s strong federal gun control laws have hit a point of diminishing returns. Canadian gun owners are licensed, vetted and heavily regulated. In fact, our gun control laws are so strong that they have forced criminals, and especially criminal gangs, to look south of the border for access to firearms where there is no shortage of supply.

Canada shares the world’s longest undefended border with the country with the largest civilian stock of firearms in the world. There are roughly 120 guns per 100 residents in the United States — more guns than people. With the growing threat of 3D-printed ghost guns, attempts to control the supply of illegal firearms to criminals are going to get a lot more complicated.

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Similarly, research on the relationship between levels of police and crime rates is mixed. Increases in policing may not be the most effective solution to the problem. What the Black Lives Matter movement showed society is that the communities most impacted by crime often have mixed relationships with law enforcement. Increases in policing, even when well-intentioned, can have negative impacts on marginalized or racialized communities.

So what is the answer?

In the short term, cities should invest in violence interruption models that have shown great promise in several U.S. cities. The Cure Violence model, for example, involves outreach workers and community members intervening directly in at-risk communities to disrupt the tit-for-tat cycle of violence between gang members.

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Research on gun violence has found that it is often concentrated in specific neighbourhoods and around a small core group of individuals. Violence interruption programs target these groups, using outreach workers to de-escalate conflicts between rival gangs.

This public health-based approach has been used successfully in several cities. For example, New York neighbourhoods that used the model between 2010-2013 saw an 18 per cent reduction in homicides, compared to other neighbourhoods that did not use the program, which saw a 69 per cent increase. This is a win-win proposal, reducing the workload for our overworked and overburdened police officers while bringing members of the community into the fight against crime.

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Over the long term, Montreal politicians need to address the root causes of crime and violence: poverty, inequality and systemic racism. This can involve interventions as diverse as investing more money in community-building, addressing the housing crisis, and increasing funding for addiction and mental health treatment. These are not short-term projects, but they will pay much greater dividends to society.

Noah S. Schwartz is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Concordia University

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