Canada's Changing Gun Culture on Full Automatic Display
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Canada’s Changing Gun Culture on Full Automatic Display

A new documentary sets out to create understanding of a growing Canadian subculture.

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Tony Bernardo (left), National Director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, checking out a handgun at a Las Vegas convention. Image courtesy

Trying to reach across a gulf with empathy, humanity and reason is just about the last thing to expect in Canada’s gun control debates. But the idea that understanding and accommodation is out there for warriors of ideology and victims of violence is part of what drives Nadine Pequeneza in her documentary Up in Arms: How the Gun Lobby is Changing Canada.

“Their paths don’t cross, but there’s a significant impact on each other,” said Pequeneza. A great deal of Up in Arms shows a distinction between the gun culture of lobbyists, hobbyists, the security-minded and sportsmen, and the experiences of Canada’s urban areas with armed violence. Those differences come to the fore in wealth, opportunity and race.

Pequeneza said that the predominantly white makeup of the gun shows she attended stood out to her as a contrast to the black communities she filmed in, like those in Regent Park and Weston-Mount Dennis. The perceived need for guns among at-risk youth, and the bloody impact of their increasing availability, legal or otherwise, are an entire world away from ideals of personal freedom and rights to bear arms. The documentary presents chilling statistics; Guns have been used in half of all murders in Toronto since 2000, an increase of 25 percent since the 1970s, with 90 percent of gun murders in the city occurring in low income neighbourhoods. A course is charted between the spread of more powerful, high capacity firearms through Canada, the means through which they become available, and the deadly consequences for cities like Toronto.

Up in Arms takes the viewer into youth outreach meetings and beyond them to the lives of those who have been part of a atmosphere of violence and crime, but work to build lives outside of it. The documentary offers a measure of growth and hope in the face of bleak events. Pequeneza hopes that personalized experience will encourage those in Canada’s pro-gun culture to move past calls for stronger deterrence and examples made as their default response to dealing with violence in vulnerable communities.

“They don’t see a relationship between what they do and crime in other parts of the country,” she said. Pequeneza added that she does not view herself as pro or anti gun control, believing that the labels pigeonhole people and stifle honest discussion. She does acknowledge a belief in a need for some level of regulation. “When regulation drops, access becomes easier in communities,” said Pequenza. “Guns don’t cause crime, that statement is absolutely true, but access to guns is a factor.”

“Gun owners are for the most part responsible gun owners, the problem is how do we accommodate these people while maintaining public safety,” she said. Pequeneza’s hope is that Up in Arms will show multiple facets of an issue without fostering the sort of polarized, strident cultural warring found all too often in Canada and south of the border. “I was quite alarmed by the complete inability for rational discussion and didn’t want to see Canada going in the same direction,” she said. She added that, from her experiences, a sense of defensiveness at perceived condemnation often pushed members of pro gun culture out willingness to discourse.

“People were always coming up to us and saying ‘we’re good people’,” said Pequeneza on her months spent filming at gun shows, stores and sporting events. Pequeneza aims for Up in Arms to encourage substantial discussion, research, and growing awareness where she sees little currently existing. “People aren’t even informed about the legislation,” she said.

Pequeneza believes that it is mutual awareness that could help accommodation between all parties invested in Canada’s shifting gun culture, even if the state of the comments on the documentary’s Facebook page look discouraging to the idea.

“The first step towards understanding is to know each other,” she said.

Up in Arms premieres Wednesday, September 23 at 9 p.m. on TVO.