Gun Bans - Pro and Con - On The Sunday Edition.

The complainant, Robert Sciuk, is a strong opponent on the restriction of firearm ownership. He had a concern with a segment with an academic who specializes in this issue. He considered everything he said incorrect and that host Michael Enright’s bias made the programme unbalanced. This was the second of two programmes - the first being with a spokesperson for the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights. The second programme actually included a range of views and provided a nuanced look at the issue. The two segments were a model of presenting varying perspectives and facts for citizens to use to draw their own conclusions.

COMPLAINT

You objected to an interview on the Sunday Edition involving host Michael Enright and an academic expert on gun control. The programme was the second one on the topic - the first having been an interview with Tracey Wilson, the Vice-President of Public Relations for the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights. You thought Mr. Enright’s stated bias on the subject and his “reflexive statist leftism” disqualified him for leading any such discussion. You said the interviewee himself stated that banning legal firearms would not address gang violence and agreed that the majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens. You believe that gun ownership is a right “emanating from the Magna Carta.” You think that the proposed ban on handguns would rescind the rights of people who legally own firearms.

You were disturbed by the fact that Mr. Enright asked about data that indicated that 61% of guns in Canada used in crimes could be traced to legitimate gun owners and straw purchasers - characterizing this as a damn lie. You also objected to Mr. Enright’s questions about the AR-15 and how it should be classified:

The AR-15 is entirely a sporting firearm, and the military variant has a different trigger group and a different receiver to accept that trigger group, without which the sporting variant cannot be made to select (full auto) fire. It would take significant machining skills, the availability of a select fire trigger group (a prohibited device) and most succinctly, the will to break criminal law, the last component is notably lacking among responsible owners.

At the level of machining experience required to convert an AR-15 to full auto the interested criminal would be able to make any firearm they wanted from scratch. They would also be able to make a very good living as a legitimate machinist, and would therefore eschew a life of crime. This is a spurious and fallacious argument.

In the course of the programme, Mr. Enright put questions from listeners who had heard the programme the week before to his guest Jooyoung Lee, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. You took issue with specific ideas those listeners had, as well as their inclusion at all:

Your repeated use of anecdotal reader opinion, equally as uninformed as your own, is also duplicitous, as there appears to be no balance whatsoever in your presentation.

You told Mr. Enright that not one of the arguments for gun bans holds up under scrutiny and asserted that the “unintended consequences” of doing so will lead to even more guns on the streets because of the “massive non-compliance which will result in such a stupid measure.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Although you addressed your letter directly to Mr. Enright, Susan Mahoney, the Executive Producer of Sunday Edition, replied to you, which is normal procedure. She pointed out to you that a range of views on the subject was presented to listeners. She explained that the week before the programme you heard, Tracey Wilson of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights was featured. She put the case that banning firearms would not end gun violence and addressed some of the points you raised. Ms. Mahoney pointed out that the minister responsible for border security and organized crime reduction, Bill Blair, is looking into the ban within the context of a mandate letter from the Prime Minister which includes the statement that he should examine “a full ban on handguns and assault weapons, while not impeding the lawful use of firearms by Canadians.”

She explained that Ms. Wilson had raised objections to the 61% figure, and that Mr. Lee noted that there was not adequate data to back up that number. She noted that many of the points you made were presented by Ms. Wilson in her interview the week before, providing balance to the two programmes, and added that both Ms. Wilson and Mr. Lee believed that “banning guns alone is not the only solution.”

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for the presentation of a range of views over a reasonable period of time in order to achieve balance. As Ms. Mahoney pointed out, one week before the programme in question a strong opponent of firearm bans made the case "that banning firearms won't stop gun violence." Ms. Wilson stated the view that there was no evidence to indicate that law-abiding gun owners contribute to crime:

I am absolutely opposed to them and I guess the major reason is as a mother, grandmother and a Canadian I want to have a credible conversation about crime in this country. And the evidence does not support the fact that it’s a problem for private citizens to own firearms. In fact there is no evidence that gun owners pose a disproportionate risk to public safety.

The programme with Mr. Lee was more nuanced than a simple pro-and-con framework. Mr. Lee is an academic expert with knowledge of the evidence-based research regarding the use of bans or restrictions to reduce gun crime. The interview with Ms. Wilson generated a significant response from listeners, pro and con, who had questions on the issue. He also presented evidence that restrictions around firearm purchases do have a positive impact. Rather than showing bias, the use of this technique aligns with the CBC journalistic policy to provide Canadians with a range of views - as well as information they need to form their own opinion on matters of public importance. The range of questions used came from a former police officer - as well as those who want controls and those that don’t - providing further internal balance. This was not “anecdotal reader opinion.” For example, a listener from Red Deer, Alberta, was quoted. Here were his questions:

  • Did the incidence of other categories of violent crime increase?
  • Did perpetrators simply resort to other kinds of weapons?
  • Did other kinds of crime go up as well, in circumstances where perpetrators no longer feared serious resistance from their victims?

You may reject the answers provided by the expert, but the data was based on peer reviewed studies from multiple countries. Mr. Lee explained:

My response is twofold. One, we see in a case like Australia that overall homicide rates also went down in the aftermath of this pretty landmarked decision by the government to ban rifles. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone because firearms in general are a very efficient means of killing a person. That’s what they’re designed to do. And so in addition to seeing reductions in things like homicides and assaults with firearms we also see reductions with suicides in countries that implement bans or that tighten restrictions around civilians purchasing firearms. There are a lot of different reasons why this stuff works and I think that when people say it’s political posturing they’re not looking at the evidence.

Ms. Mahoney agreed with you that Mr. Lee did not take a position that firearms ban will solve the problem. He presented a much more nuanced picture than that. Based on the data, it would likely make a difference. He noted there were other issues to be addressed about the underlying causes of gun crimes and gangs. Much of the discussion was an attempt to understand the bigger picture, based on academic research. In some instances - like the origins of the guns used in crime - he pointed out that there is not sufficient data to draw definite conclusions. You do not accept his analysis and that is entirely your choice. A journalist’s job is to reflect the views you reject and those you hold. The interview with Ms. Wilson was able to explain her view of what the national conversation should be when dealing with gun crime. She made a strong and cogent case. The programme with Mr. Lee provided alternate perspectives and more depth to the public policy issue. There was no violation of CBC policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman