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andré picard

Much has already been written about the attack at a Quebec City mosque: Chilling descriptions of the sheer horror of the rampage, touching tributes to the victims, earnest reflections on the disturbing Islamophobia and xenophobia that seem to have inspired the attack, disgust at the role of talk radio and ambitious politicians in fuelling and exploiting the hate, and the relief at the outpouring of grief and solidarity.

But there are two words that have been painfully absent from the public discourse: gun control.

We don't have official confirmation yet of the weapons used in the killings, but the Journal de Quebec says the suspect had a 9 mm pistol and a CZ 858 rifle, both of which are legal in Canada. (The mosque shooter's weapon has been described in numerous media reports as an AK-47 assault rifle, a weapon that is illegal in Canada; however, the CZ 858 rifle looks almost identical to the untrained eye.)

Read more: Mourners pay tribute to Quebec mosque attack victims with calls for solidarity

Read more: After mosque attack, Quebec begins painful reckoning over treatment of Muslim community

Read more: Can Peterborough stand as an inspiration to Quebec after mosque attack?

The precise details are not that important.

What matters is that every hate-inspired rampage in recent years – whether the target is Muslims, women, gay men, blacks, children – has two common traits: young men and guns.

Of all the U.S. mass shootings in the past three decades, only one has been carried out by a woman. This type of despicable violence is the province of young men.

Why? It's not clear. We know young men are the biggest consumers of violent video games, they are among the hardest hit by the economic downturn, they seem to be disproportionately drawn to extremist views, and far too many are still reluctant to seek help for their mental health problems.

But we have no way of knowing who will be the next Adam Lanza (who slaughtered 20 first-graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary), Omar Mateen (who killed 49 patrons at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando), or Marc Lépine (who gunned down 14 women at École Polytechnique.)

Nor do we have a way to make every school, every mosque, every gay nightclub, every public place, bulletproof, or inaccessible to a determined killer.

But we can make it more difficult to get guns.

From a public-health and public-safety perspective, easy access to guns is the weak link in the chain, and the one that is easiest to strengthen.

In Canada, we often react to gun crimes with as much self-righteousness as compassion. We console ourselves with the belief that foolish Americans don't have gun laws like we do.

But the truth is our gun laws are limp at best.

And, just as importantly, why have we not learned from previous tragedies?

Justin Bourque, who murdered three RCMP officers in cold blood in Moncton, had five firearms in his possession during his rampage, including a M305 semi-automatic rifle, a .308 Winchester with two prohibited 20-round magazines, and a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun.

Richard Bain, who set out to kill Quebec Premier Pauline Marois on election night 2012, but ended up killing a lighting technician when he was confronted, was carrying a CZ 858 that he had modified so it had a 30-bullet magazine, along with a pistol. At his home, police found 20 more weapons, all registered in his name.

After the 1989 Polytechnique massacre, a misogynist hate crime of unparalleled proportion, there was much soul-searching. The survivors and family members of the victims waged a relentless campaign for better gun control, and they were fairly successful.

Canada got a gun registry, and laws that restricted and prohibited many weapons. But, over the years – and the 10 years Stephen Harper was in power, in particular – the gun lobby managed to persuade politicians to steadily erode the protections.

Bill C-42 weakened the provisions related to firearms acquisition and possession licences. For example, stores don't need to register gun sales any more, only the owner does. (And gun registration was not universal to start with; for example, we have no idea where Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the 2014 Parliament Hill shooter, got his gun.) The legislation also made it a lot easier to purchase high-powered weapons.

The Liberals have promised to restore some of the old rules, but they seem to be in no hurry to revisit this hot-button issue.

In Canada, it's easy to acquire and stockpile a virtually unlimited number of guns, restricted or otherwise. All you have to do is be a member of a gun club or shooting range, or be a "collector." (The alleged Quebec City mosque shooter was a regular at a shooting range.) Prohibited guns seem easy enough to acquire too.

But as weak as our regulations are, what is worse is the silence around the issue.

When a heinous crime like the Quebec City mosque attack happens, we are served up bromides like "guns don't kill, people do."

We are told it's "too soon" to talk about such things.

It's not too soon. It's long overdue.