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Walmart Shooter Purchased Gun Just Hours Before Killing, Authorities Say

The gunman who shot and killed six co-workers at a Walmart in Chesapeake, VA, earlier this week legally purchased the gun hours before the massacre. He also left what he titled a “death note” on his phone detailing grievances with various people in his life.

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Gun Violence is On the Rise in Toronto

Canada is well-known for having much lower rates of gun violence than the United States, thanks to tighter gun control laws among other factors. However, in the past several years, the city of Toronto has seen more gun violence than ever before, according to Toronto police. Last year, 760 people were shot in the city, and 44 of these people died from their wounds, which is triple the number of shooting victims in 2014. Understandably, city officials are concerned by these statistics, and are scrambling to determine what caused the massive spike in gun violence and how best to address it. 

Multiple theories have been proposed to explain the recent surge. Canada does not have the equivalent of the American second amendment in its constitution, making it much easier for the government to enact laws restricting access to firearms. Between 2006 and 2015, the country’s Conservative Party controlled the government, and during that time the government dismantled a national gun registry, which until 2012 required gun owners to sign a list indicating that they owned a firearm. After the dismantling of this registry, the country underwent a spike in imports of firearms from the U.S., letting nearly 2 million guns into the country. The Conservative government made it much easier to import restricted weapons, like semi-automatic rifles and handguns, meaning that there are not only many more guns in the country but that they are more dangerous as well.

According to Wendy Cukier, the head of the Toronto-based Coalition for Gun Control, when gun control laws were strengthened in Canada a reduction of incidents of gun violence—particularly suicideoccurred, and when the Conservative government dismantled these restrictions, gun violence rose again. The removal of the national gun registry coincided with a 40% increase in rates of gun violence throughout the country, according to Canada’s government statistics agency.

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Others blame rising economic inequality for the recent violence. Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has blamed the gun violence on gang activity, which he thinks is on the rise due to the city’s growing numbers of poor people, who are most likely to be involved in the illegal drug trade. While Toronto is currently a very economically successful city, much of the city’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of very few, leaving much of the city’s population without the opportunities afforded to middle- and upper-class citizens of the country. People with fewer life opportunities are more likely to resort to drugs or gang activity, creating a drain on the society at large.

While the liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was recently re-elected, the Trudeau government has failed to institute gun control measures for fear of alienating rural citizens who are more likely to be gun owners. However, given the severity of the increase in gun violence across the nation, this is likely to change soon. In fact, the Trudeau government plans to introduce legislation next year for a ban on military-style assault rifles and a plan to buy assault rifles back from cooperating gun owners. As a parliament containing a majority of liberal members was recently elected, such a law is likely to pass fairly quickly.

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American Firearm Ownership Increases to at Least 423 Million

A recent industry report has revealed the number of firearms that were either imported or produced for private ownership in America between 1986 and 2018 has reached nearly 423 million.

However this is only a conservative estimate as firearms produced before 1986 have not been included while the amount of guns that have been removed from circulation have also not been taken into consideration.

However the report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for the firearms industry, has discovered that more than 17.7 million modern sporting rifles – a term meaning any semi-automatic rifle including the AR-15 – were imported or produced between 1990 and 2017.

In a press release relating to the study, President of the foundation Joe Bartozzi commented:

“These figures show the industry that America has a strong desire to continue to purchase firearms for lawful purposes. The Modern Sporting Rifle continues to be the most popular centerfire rifle sold in America today and is clearly a commonly owned firearm with more than 17 million in legal ownership today. The continued popularity of handguns demonstrates a strong interest by Americans to protect themselves and their homes, and to participate in the recreational shooting sports.”

There have been many calls to place a ban on owning guns as well as stopping the sale of these kinds of “assault weapons,” though it is clear from this report that these kinds of guns are common throughout the United States. Only two years ago, over half of all rifles produced in America were modern sporting rifles.

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Yet the production of domestic weapons has gone up and down dramatically in recent years. Although there was a dip in the amount of firearms being produced in 2010 there has been a constant growth in the production of guns since 2005.

However from 2014 the numbers dropped again, this time by 15 percent, before seeing a small increase over the next few years, before seeing a drop of more than 25 percent in 2017.

The interim estimate for 2018 shows that this drop in production is set to continue, with the industry producing around 7.6 million firearms which is slightly lower than the year before.

Cultural and political events, both big and small, have been a major influence in the way the market fluctuates with the amount of gun sales varying depending not only on the mood of the nation, but also whether the country is in an election year.

A report from the Connecticut Post highlighted the fact that the number of handguns that were sold rose slightly during the period directly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School’s 2012 shooting, while sales saw a significant increase just before the 2016 presidential election.

According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 30 percent of American adults now own a gun while 11 percent live in a property where at least one other adult has a firearm. It is also claimed that the biggest group to own guns are white men with nearly 50 percent confirming they own at least one. However only a quarter of non-white men and white women own guns.

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The report could not have come at a better time as Congress has promised to put $25 million towards federal research into the country’s gun violence, the first time that the government has agreed to look in to the problem in over twenty years.

As part of a $1.4 trillion spending spree the research has come at a time when America is still trying to come to terms with the growing number of mass shootings, especially around schools.

The House Appropriations Committee managed to gain the funding and the chair, Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, confirmed in a statement:

“With this investment, the best public health researchers in the country will be put to work to identify ways to reduce injury and death due to firearms.”

However, although the research funding has been agreed by the House it still needs to be approved by the Senate before finally making its way in front of President Trump to be signed off.

The news has brought praise from many sections of America including the American Public Health Association with executive director Dr. Georges C. Benjamin acknowledging the funding, saying:

“We applaud Congress for finally providing the critical funding we have been requesting. This will support public health research that is essential to answering questions about the best ways to reduce the morbidity and mortality from firearms in the United States.”

Meanwhile Dr. Robert McLean, president of the American College of Physicians has also expressed his delight commenting that “the alarming rate of injuries and deaths related to firearms brings to light the glaring lack of research and data. For over twenty years, we’ve desperately needed up-to-date research about firearm violence and intervention and prevention strategies to reduce physical as well as emotional injuries caused by firearms.”

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After String of Vaping-Related Hospitalizations, Walmart Ends E-Cigarette Sales

On Friday, Walmart said that it would stop selling all e-cigarettes after their inventory runs out, citing “the growing federal, state, and local regulatory complexity and uncertainty regarding e-cigarettes.” The announcement comes in the midst of a number of reports linking use of e-cigarettes, or other electronic vapor inhalation devices, to health issues, including hospitalizations and in a few cases death. Walmart joins Rite-Aid, Costco, and Dollar General in retailers who have decided to stop selling electronic nicotine delivery systems. And Target, Walmart’s biggest competitor, has never sold e-cigarettes and stopped selling cigarettes in 1996. That being said, Walmart is the largest retailer in the country, and other retailers tend to follow Walmart’s lead, as Walmart Chief Executive is the chairman of the Business Roundtable, an influential lobbying organization that includes among its members some of the biggest companies in the world.

While the exact causes of the recent string of vaping-related health scares are as of yet unknown, many affected individuals reported vaping THC products, including some which were acquired illegitimately, and some patients reported using nicotine products. Nevertheless, Walmart’s decision reflects a rapidly-rising anti-vaping sentiment, as e-cigarette use among adolescents has skyrocketed, owing in part to the success of Juul, a company that manufacturers nicotine cartridges and diffusers which can easily be mistaken for USB drives. 

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The Trump administration had seriously considered banning all flavored vape products in an effort to curb their appeal among young people, but abruptly changed course. Other ways of fighting the popularity of vaping among youth, such as ultra-sensitive vapor detectors which can be installed in schools and other public places, have been proposed. And while manufacturers like Juul claim their products are intended as smoking cessation aids, to allow nicotine addicts to gradually reduce their intake of the drug, these manufacturers profit tremendously off of the sales of e-cigarettes to people who have no intention of quitting, particularly young people. The National Institute on Drug Abuse this week released survey results indicating that the prevalence of vaping among teenagers has doubled since 2017.

Walmart’s action will likely have little impact, as there’s no end in sight for the resilient and centuries-old tobacco industry, which now has more loyal customers than ever before.

It should be noted that Walmart continues to sell regular cigarettes, which have been found definitively to cause major health problems, including cancer, lung disease, and early death, whereas the long-term negative health effects of vaping are still unknown. Additionally, Walmart continues to sell assault-style weapons even in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings in the United States, though the company has imposed limits on the sale of ammunition and discourages open carry of guns in stores. Three major television stations, CNN, CBS, and Viacom have also said they’d stop airing advertisements from e-cigarette companies on their networks in response to fear about illnesses. Additionally, several politicians have returned donations that they received from e-cigarette companies like Juul, unwilling to be associated with companies that have the potential to become the face of a public health epidemic in this country. 

Some fear that Walmart’s decision will drive people who ordinarily vape to take up smoking cigarettes instead, as the retailer still offers the latter nicotine product. Others criticize the view that flavored e-cigarettes should be banned, noting that adults also enjoy flavored e-cigarettes, and banning flavors would negatively impact those who use e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool. Regardless of Walmart’s decision to no longer sell e-cigarettes, the nicotine products are easy to find and acquire, even for teenagers, as they continue to be featured in gas stations, convenience stores, and smoke shops. As such, Walmart’s action will likely have little impact, as there’s no end in sight for the resilient and centuries-old tobacco industry, which now has more loyal customers than ever before.

Featured image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vaping360/31014695273