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Tighter rules on firearms needed, say widows of officers

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Members of the group SOLE, Survivors of Law Enforcement, are asking for change following the recent rise in gun violence against police officers.

Shelley Atkinson has now spent more years as a widow than she did as a married woman.

On May 5, 2006 her husband, Sr. Const. John Atkinson, who was working undercover, approached two young men in Windsor. He had noticed a bulge under one of their shirts that he suspected was drugs.

One of the suspects pulled out a handgun and shot Atkinson in the face, killing him instantly.

He was just 37 years old.

”He was so wonderful. I lost my best friend,” Atkinson said. “He was a good cop, but an even better husband.”

His death is just part of the rise in gun violence in Canada, and the federal government is now taking steps to curb that trend.

Criminal use of firearms in Canada increased 42 per cent since 2013, according to Statistics Canada. In 2020, there were more than 8,000 incidents involving gun violence.

The federal government has recently tabled a number of bills regarding the sale of guns in response to this rise in gun violence.

On May 18 2022, the federal government introduced additional regulations to Bill C-71, An Act to Amend Certain Acts and Regulations in Relation to Firearms. This bill expands background checks to applicants' entire lifetimes, and requires an application for Authorization to Transport.

“We are taking action to keep Canadians safe from gun violence,” said Marco Mendicino, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety. “To that end, we are bringing into force common sense regulations that strengthen public safety through validated ownership, transparent business records keeping, and license verification prior to purchasing a firearm.”

In addition to the amendments to Bill C-71, the Trudeau government also recently proposed multiple changes to Bill C-21.

Those changes took effect on Oct. 21, 2022 and placed a freeze on the sale and transfer of all handguns within Canada.

Since then, still more measures have been proposed but not yet implemented, that would restrict ownership of certain shotguns, hunting rifles, and even some antique cannons.

Existing gun laws in Canada also include the Criminal Law Amendment Act which was put in place in 1977. This law banned many guns, including automatic weapons, as well as sawed-off shotguns and rifles.

Anyone who owns a gun must possess a firearms acquisition certificate.

However not everyone thinks these steps are going to keep Canadians safe or get illegal firearms off the street.

Tony Sotera, owner of the gun store Guns N Ammo in Barrie, Ontario feels these new regulations were motivated more by political aspirations than reducing gun violence.

“It’s a farce that the government is using to perpetrate legal gun owners,” Sotera said. “These crimes are not being committed by people who legally own and register guns.”

Owning a gun is a privilege in Canada, not a right. And gun owners want to hold onto that privilege.”

Sotera says that ultimately these laws affect his bottom line more than doing anything to get guns out of the hands of criminals. His solution would be to stop guns from crossing the border.

In 2020, 70 per cent of all traceable guns used in Ontario gun crimes were originally from the United States, according to data from Ontario Police’s Firearms Analysis and Tracing Enforcement Program.

Former OPP officer Barbara Orr agrees that Canada needs to stop the flow of guns coming across the border from the United States.

“A lot of these firearms that are killing police officers as well as regular individuals are illegal firearms,” Orr said. “I know it’s not the gun that kills people, but without the gun, they can’t shoot somebody”

Orr agrees the better background checks will make it more difficult for people with criminal backgrounds to obtain guns. However she’d like to see even tougher gun laws.

Like Shelley Atkinson, Barbara Orr is a member of a group called SOLE: Survivors of Law Enforcement.

The group is made up of Canadians who have lost a spouse in the line of duty. Orr’s husband OPP Const. Dave Mounsey died in the line of duty in 2006.

From 2019 to 2021, there were a total of six police officer deaths in Canada. In the past four months alone, there have been five names added to police memorials across Canada.

Four of those officers were shot and killed.

Members of SOLE feel they have a unique perspective and a unique responsibility to speak out about gun violence in Canada.

More than 16 years after her husband died on duty, Shelley Atkinson continues to fight for stricter gun control in Canada.

“This is Canada. People have to realize we can't just make this acceptable,” said Atikinson. “We can't just turn the TV on and say oh it's another death. Something has to change.”

The members of SOLE are hoping their personal stories will add emotional weight to the numbers on gun violence, and perhaps lead to still more government action.


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