Iqaluit council pushes for better firearm safety
“It affects every individual in Nunavut, whether they like it or not”
Guns that are not safely stored threaten public safety across Nunavut and the City of Iqaluit should take the initiative to help people in the community learn to use and store guns in a responsible manner, councillor Glenn Williams told council in a member’s statement on Tuesday.
There have been 11 incidents involving firearms in Iqaluit over the last two years. “That is unacceptable,” Williams said.
In a lot of cases people commit offenses or hurt themselves not with their own firearms, but with guns that they can easily access, Williams said.
The controversy over the national firearms registry is part of the problem.
A legal dispute between Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the federal government has delayed the implementation of a gun registry, or clear laws exempting Nunavut Inuit from federal laws. As a result, gun owners are in limbo, and public firearm safety training is lacking.
Many people simply aren’t aware that they need to store guns safely, Williams said, and don’t realize that they can be held responsible if their gun is used in a criminal act.
To fix the problem, Williams suggested that council start a process with the territorial department of justice, the RCMP, the Nunavut Association of Municipalities and NTI to improve public awareness of safety and storage issues.
Specifically, he suggested gun lock programs, where gun owners are given safe boxes where they can lock up ammunition as well as parts of their weapons when they’re not in use.
Williams also suggested that an awareness campaign be followed up with something more tangible – consequences for firearms owners whose guns are used to commit crimes.
“That’s the only way that people are going to be responsible,” Williams said.
Williams emphasized that in bringing up the issue of public safety, he was not talking about registration or licensing.
“There is no hunting that takes place inside this community. The issue is one of storage and handling,” Williams said.
Councillor Simon Nattaq agreed that the situation was dire.
“I think it affects every individual in Nunavut, whether they like it or not,” Nattaq said.
“I know people over 30 who don’t know any aspects of firearm safety whatsoever,” councillor Simanuk Kilabuk said. “We do need to provide some education and awareness.”
Council unanimously passed a motion asking Williams to spearhead further discussion with mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik and chief administrative officer Ian Fremantle.
The current situation, Williams said, “is not helping any case we put forward to say that we don’t need a gun registry.
“I am a gun owner, my sons are gun owners, there are numerous guns in my house,” Williams said. “This is the norm in our community… Firearms in our community are tools.
“We should be able to show that we can do these kinds of things on our own.”
Deputy mayor Chris Wilson agreed, and suggested that Nunavut’s department of culture, language, elders and youth may also have an interest in a firearm safety campaign.
“My biggest concern is the use of firearms in criminal acts,” said deputy mayor Chris Wilson. “It’s increasing, and that undermines the values that we claim we have here.”
Kilabuk added that the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association should also be involved, and said in Inuktitut that “if non-native people approach [the hunters], there is going to be confrontation.”