As part of an homage to those killed and injured recently in Tuscon, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords still lies in intensive care, I've been re-running some of my previous gun control-related posts. This piece coincides with the tragic anniversary of the murder of Stephanie Hoddinott. This sad event occurred in Canada, a place with relatively stringent gun control, compared to the United States of gunhappy America. Still, our laws are clearly not stringent enough, as her disturbed, estranged boyfriend obtained a handgun for "target practice." Unfortunately, the target was Stephanie. And how much practice is necessary to shoot someone point blank, anyway?
Here is an revamped version of my piece, which originally appeared in The Toronto Star:
It's been just over a year since another senseless handgun-related murder, the case of Stephanie Hoddinott, a 20-year-old woman. Stephanie had a 4.0 GPA in her veterinarian technician program, was smart, beautiful, and well-loved. On January 10th, 2010, she was murdered in her home by an ex-boyfriend who had legally purchased a handgun—supposedly for target-shooting. The crime has understandably devasted her mother, Brenda Passa: “Stephanie wasn’t just my daughter, she was my sister, and my best friend.”
The young man, Jake Ferrier, shot himself in the head almost immediately afterward, lingering several days on life support before succumbing to his self-inflicted injuries.
In a letter to Mr. Harper, Ms. Passa wonders why we permit so many guns in our society, since the vast majority of Canadians are no longer required to hunt for subsistence.
What she finds hardest to understand is why, in her province, an 18-year-old isn’t considered mature enough to legally buy a case of beer, but IS permitted to own a handgun.
It only takes one pull of the trigger to separate the law abiding citizen from the law breaking criminal, she says, pointing out that Canada's handgun restrictions haven't been updated since 1930.
Times have changed, she says: “Being 18 in 1930 is not like being 18 in 2010. Children live with their parents longer; they are younger emotionally and need time to develop before dangerous weapons” are made available.
She wants Canada's Prime Minister to change the age limits for gun ownership. And she wants target shooters to have their weapons confined to shooting ranges.
“I hope no one ever has to endure what I went through,” she says.
On January 10th last year, Jake texted Stephanie repeatedly (he had texted her 40 times the day before). She didn’t respond, so he showed up at Passa's house. Stephanie's mom met him at the door to say her daughter wouldn’t see him.
He said, “Not even for two minutes?” and Ms. Passa told him, “No, not even for two minutes, Jake. I’m sorry, I can’t make her.” She shut the door.
“I liked him,” Ms. Passa says.
She feels nobody who knew him would have predicted what happened next, insisting there had been no warning signs.
But, she notes, he certainly must have lied on the Possession and Acquisition License (PAL), the form that's completed and (supposedly) assessed before a person is permitted to buy a gun.
Ms. Passa says the PAL asks several significant questions. “Guess what?” she says, “the murderer lied on his application.” Jake Ferrier’s parents were in the midst of a divorce, and he had also recently broken up with Stephanie, facts the form asked for but Jake declined to note. “People are lying on these forms,” she says.
Ms. Passa went to her daughter’s room—Stephanie was packing for Toronto where she’d just started working at U of T (the University issued a heartfelt lament of her passing).
Stephanie had plans for her life: she wanted to attend vet school, and her mother supported her ambitions every step of the way.
On that fateful day last January, her mother asked if Jake had made any threats, but Stephanie said the problem was only his incessant texting. The two women finally decided Ms. Passa would call the young man’s mother to discuss the situation. Ms. Passa decided she'd shower first.
And it was while she was in the shower that she heard two loud bangs.
By the time she threw on her pyjamas and ran to her daughter’s room, Stephanie lay face down on the bed and Ms. Passa’s boyfriend was speaking with 911.
She kept calling her daughter's name but there was no response. Turning the girl over revealed she’d been shot in the head. The 911 technician told Ms. Passa to start CPR. “I blew in her mouth--blood was coming out of her neck and the top of her head. My daughter died in my arms, to the sound of my screaming." The 911 crew arrived to find her covered in her daughter’s blood.
Ms. Passa is clearly devastated. She has nightmares, she cries every day. She says she herself would legally be permitted to purchase a handgun immediately, asking, “Do you think I am in any state of mind to own a handgun?”
Ms. Passa intends to do everything in her power to toughen the gun laws. She is convinced keeping guns at shooting ranges would be workable and effective. “Fighting this is the only thing keeping my will to live, that's the only thing I have left now. Stephanie is not dying for nothing.”
Prime Minister Harper, Ms. Passa wants to know, can you help her?
A Facebook page set up by Stephanie’s cousin Tyler Hoddinott, “RIP Stephanie Hoddinott,” has over amassed nearly 4,000 members.