Guns are not the answer when protecting property

If there is one lesson from the tragic death of young Colten Boushie, it is this: introducing a gun into a volatile situation is a perilous mistake.

The events surrounding the 22-year-old indigenous man’s death after being shot by Gerald Stanley on his farm in the Rural Municipality of Glenside in west-central Saskatchewan on Aug. 9, 2016, have been widely reported. Stanley was recently found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter after convincing the jury that he did not intend to kill Boushie.

The terrifying ordeal on Feb. 18 of a farmer near Battleford, Sask., adds to the gravity of issue. After a 79-year-old farmer tapped on his window to gain the attention of an intruder on his deck, the intruder fired a bullet through the window, narrowly missing the man.

For the purposes of this editorial, we are discussing property crime, not an instance in which an intruder bursts into someone’s home and threatens its occupants.

Rural residents, including farmers, are becoming increasingly frustrated with property break-ins and thefts. Although statistics show that rural crime rates (per 100,000 people) are roughly constant, the actual number of property thefts are up, so farmers are seeing more crime. Expensive equipment — trucks, all-terrain vehicles, fuel and even GPS systems — are all targeted. Livestock is stolen, too.

But, as Stanley’s action showed, guns are not the answer. Whatever his actions, Colten Boushie should not have been killed.

There are innumerable studies on the usefulness of guns as security, but we will cite the reputable New England Journal of Medicine’s 1993 study: “Although firearms are often kept in homes for personal protection, this study shows that the practice is counterproductive. Our data indicate that keeping a gun in the home is independently associated with an increase in the risk of homicide in the home.”

To that we add comments from assistant RCMP commissioner Curtis Zablocki about what happens when guns are used in dangerous situations: “We know that with that type of a response, that can often up the potential for violence in those types of situations.”

The frustration with property theft resulted in the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities passing a resolution last March that calls for expanded “rights and justification for an individual to defend or protect” himself, his family and his property.

To say it doesn’t suggest the use of guns for property protection would be a specious reading of the motion.

Some have even called for U.S.-style stand-your-ground laws.

Good grief, no. Nothing about the horrid gun environment in the United States is an example to Canada. We must find our own solutions.

Decades ago farms were smaller, neighbours were closer and there were more of them. Farmers looked after each other.

Current realities are different. Larger farms, with their requirement for large amounts of fuel and expensive equipment, are increasingly becoming targets. Very few farmers haven’t had something stolen.

Security, not confrontation, is the best response. Driveway alert systems, cameras, motion detector lights, even sirens are viable measures. Some can be adopted for grain bins and shop doors. Systems can be linked to smartphones for live viewing.

And farmers must be sure to lock away tempting items such as tools, batteries, fuel, trucks, and ATVs.

Rural dwellers lament that it has come to this — their way of life is being affected. It’s lamentable, yes, but much less lamentable than killing someone.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.


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