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Old Posted Apr 16, 2006, 5:03 PM
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Destroying Babylon's arsenal
Apr. 16, 2006. 01:00 AM

Rodrigo Bascunan has been thinking, talking and writing about guns for three years now. The 30-year-old founder and publisher of Pound, a Toronto-based hip-hop magazine, and Christian Pearce, a senior editor at the publication, have just completed a book on guns called: Enter the Babylon System, Unpacking Gun Culture from Samuel Colt to 50 Cent.
Babylon, in reggae and hip-hop slang, is a term for a corrupt place — it is sometimes used to refer to white society. Bascunan and Pearce interviewed more than 100 rappers worldwide for the book, to be published by Random House of Canada, talking about the role guns played in their lives.
"How many rappers have been shot, lost a brother, lost a friend?" asks Bascunan. "How much gun violence have we heard of? It seemed pretty obvious what the problem was. Guns escalate violence."
When asked how to end the blight of guns, one of the first things that comes to Bascunan's mind is buying out gun factories and their stockpiles.
There's a precedent for this.
In August 2004, California teenager Brandon Maxfield tried to buy a gun company to shut it down. Maxfield was paralyzed from the neck down at age 7 when his babysitter unloaded a gun in his presence and accidentally pulled the trigger.
Maxfield failed. Bryco Arms, one of the nation's leading makers of small, cheap guns known as Saturday night specials, was bought by a foreman who once worked there for $510,000 (the company had been bankrupted by a successful suit launched by Maxfield). He outbid Maxfield by $5,000.
Maxfield had created a foundation to raise money to bid on the firm. He wanted to melt down the company's stockpile of 75,600 unassembled guns to create a metal sculpture.
While Bascunan is all for buying out gun companies, he also concedes that that would not have a long-term effect — new manufacturers would spring up in their place.
What Bascunan does think could make a difference is setting up a lobby group to offset the anti-gun control propaganda generated by groups like the NRA. As long as guns are readily available in the U.S., stolen firearms will be smuggled into Canada: Customs seizes roughly 1,500 smuggled guns every year, but only about 3 per cent of Canada-U.S. border traffic is inspected, so likely many more firearms make it into the country. To deal with existing weapons, Bascunan would fund massive trade-in programs that turned weapons into art. He would create job alternatives so people who live by the gun could choose a different life.
British rapper Ms. Dynamite is one of the few women proposing novel solutions to the problem of gun violence. When Bascunan asked her what women could do to curb violence, she had one of the most interesting proposals of all.
"We can stop, number one, chasing bad men," she said in an interview published in the December 2005 edition of Pound. "We, if all women on the face of the Earth said, `You know what? I want a man that has a degree, I want a man that has, if not a job, then is looking for a job.'"
Some women, she said, get caught up in chasing men who can give them the nice car, the nice clothes, when a million other things are more important, including whether he has a goal in life.
"I think women can set the standards and stick to them and trust me, if we do that, I promise you, you'll see an instant change ... they can't live without us, trust me," said Ms. Dynamite.
Meanwhile, some look to the schools for a solution to the gangs and guns problem. A program already in place, Second Chance, offers scholarships to young Ontarians who have been involved in the criminal justice system and want to change their lives.
Rick Gosling, founder of the Second Chance Scholarship Foundation, says we need to set up a system in which some teachers spend more time with some kids — after school and even on weekends.
He likes the idea of a corps of teachers who work from noon to 8 p.m. instead of standard school hours. That would make them available after school hours, when some students need them the most.
Teachers need to be paid more, he says, and differently. Raises shouldn't go to the teachers who put in the hours or take extra courses. They should go to those who show the greatest commitment and passion, the greatest dedication to youth.
Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, who supports Second Chance and who chairs Mayor David Miller's advisory panel on community safety, agrees schools are key.
"The hours of 4 to 6 or 4 to 7 (p.m.) are critical hours. There are thousands of young people with nothing to do or nowhere to go other than the local mall," he says.
He envisions a huge expansion of recreational resources — more homework clubs, for example.
"I would like to see an army of volunteers from the universities and the community colleges," says McMurtry, "to identify the young people who will most benefit and want to benefit, to be involved in mentoring and tutoring as volunteers, because there are thousands of young people who don't have much positive contact with older people."
Ryerson assistant professor Grace-Edward Galabuzi is the author of Canada's Economic Apartheid, which explores the growing racialization of the gap between rich and poor in Canada. He believes the problem calls for a shift from reaction to prevention, and for everything from life-skills centres, peer dispute resolution initiatives and raising the minimum wage to job-creation and business-development programs that target youth.
"There is significant anti-social behaviour that leads to violence," he says, "and a lot of anger that needs to be addressed along with the structural socio-economic issues that are the root causes of the behaviour, anger and alienation."
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