May 23, 2019

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Medical view of gun violence welcome

Editorial

New Zealand has acted promptly to reform its gun laws following recent shootings at two mosques in Christchurch that left 50 people dead and dozens injured. Canada should take note.

Acting only days after the attacks, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday that military-style semi-automatic rifles, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines will be banned in her country.

In Canada, meanwhile, doctors advocating for more restrictions on gun ownership have been told to “stay in your lane” by a national gun lobby.

Dr. Najma Ahmed, a trauma surgeon at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, was on call on July 22, 2018 — the night two people were killed and 13 others injured in a mass shooting on Danforth Avenue.

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New Zealand has acted promptly to reform its gun laws following recent shootings at two mosques in Christchurch that left 50 people dead and dozens injured. Canada should take note.

Acting only days after the attacks, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday that military-style semi-automatic rifles, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines will be banned in her country.

In Canada, meanwhile, doctors advocating for more restrictions on gun ownership have been told to "stay in your lane" by a national gun lobby.

Dr. Najma Ahmed, a trauma surgeon at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, was on call on July 22, 2018 — the night two people were killed and 13 others injured in a mass shooting on Danforth Avenue.

People comfort each other following a vigil remembering the victims of a shooting on Danforth Avenue in Toronto in July.

MARK BLINCH / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

People comfort each other following a vigil remembering the victims of a shooting on Danforth Avenue in Toronto in July.

That experience led her to co-found Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, a group of physicians arguing that guns are a public health issue, and pushing for the passage of Bill C-71, which would strengthen Canada’s gun laws.

It also put her squarely in the sights of a national gun lobby, the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, which bills itself as the voice of Canadian gun owners and argues the issue of gun control is outside the bounds of a doctor’s expertise.

The gun lobby targeted Dr. Ahmed on its website last month, urging members to flood the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario with complaints against the surgeon. The post provided a step-by-step guide on how to do this, complete with a link to the complaint form. "I hate to say it, but stay in your lane, doctor," the post chided.

If the "stay in your lane" mantra sounds familiar, it’s a phrase the National Rifle Association used on Twitter last year after the American College of Physicians published recommendations for reducing gun-related injuries and deaths.

Dr. Ahmed has vowed she will not be bullied into silence. "From our lane we will treat the victims of gun violence and quite literally sew back together the shattered organs, vessels and lives torn apart by bullets fired by guns," she wrote in an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail.

A police officer stands guard in front of the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where one of two mass shootings occurred.

VINCENT YU / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

A police officer stands guard in front of the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where one of two mass shootings occurred.

In trying to silence Dr. Ahmed, the national firearm lobby has clearly forgotten that, in a democracy such as Canada, everyone has the right to voice their opinion on the vital issues of the day.

It’s fine to reject someone’s opinion. But it’s disgraceful to try to prevent someone from voicing their opinion, or to mount a campaign to have them punished by their professional regulator simply for having the temerity to speak out on a controversial issue.

It can be argued that Canada’s doctors not only have the right to speak out about gun control, but thanks to their first-hand knowledge of the bloody effects of gun violence, they have a moral obligation to share their views.

In response to the gun lobby group’s online campaign, Ontario’s physicians’ regulator received more than 70 complaints against Dr. Ahmed. Commendably, the college dismissed those complaints as politically motivated.

It’s time for gun enthusiasts to welcome Canadian doctors into their lane and learn the damage done when bodies are pierced by bullets.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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