|Handguns in Canada
The Canada eZine - Gun Laws
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ONE GUN IS LEGAL IN CANADA, THE OTHER IS BANNED.
CRITICS SAY THIS IS PROOF THE LAW IS A FARCE
Duel over handgun ban raging
August 4th 2007.
Handguns are effectively banned in Canada, the federal government insists.
Yet there are 582,000 of them in existence and legally registered, nearly 220,000 of them in Ontario.
Thousands more are purchased each year. Toronto police say about 30 per cent of the firearms they seize may have been stolen from legitimate owners. The other 70 per cent have been smuggled from the U.S.
Welcome to the Alice in Wonderland world where politicians are, once again, debating handgun control during a summer of deadly gun violence on Toronto streets.
In 1995, the federal government declared small handguns that could be easily concealed were "prohibited" and banned, apart from those already in collector's hands.
Guns with slightly longer barrels, often just another 5 millimetres – about the width of a paper clip – remained "restricted," but still available for target shooters and collectors to keep buying.
Federal and provincial Conservatives point to the law, and previous restrictions dating back to the 1930s, and say handguns are "effectively banned."
The Ontario Liberals say the law is a farce and Attorney General Michael Bryant and Toronto Mayor David Miller are calling for a full handgun ban.
Bryant has even taken to walking around with a pocketful of buttons emblazoned with his newly minted slogan: No Gun. No Funeral.
It's all part of his attempt to form a coalition to force the federal government to act.
"Quebec and Ontario, the two largest provinces in the country want a handgun ban. That's a pretty good place to start," Bryant said.
Gun dealers are pretty frustrated to hear their law-abiding customers blamed every time a gangster shoots up a Toronto street with a handgun but, so far, they're not worried about future sales.
"The more that the government talks about banning them, the better sales are. It's always been that way. I'm sure it's something they don't intend," said Wes Winkel, an owner of Elwood Epps Sporting Goods in Orillia.
"The best I've ever seen in handgun sales was last winter when we had our federal election and Paul Martin came on TV and said he was going to ban handguns if elected. Wow – you should have seen the phone ring the next morning and for a month after that," said Winkel who sells about 2,500 new and used handguns a year.
The last government attempt to restrict handguns by deciding those with barrel lengths of 105 millimetres or shorter were prohibited didn't have much effect, he said.
"Most guns have (101-millimetre) barrels, which is why the government made that rule. Now, they have all the Canadian-designed guns which are 106 millimetres.
"So there's a 5-millimetre difference between being restricted and prohibited. It's kind of funny when you work here because you can't even tell by eye, you have to get out the tape measure," Winkel said.
"The laws are so ludicrous they don't make any sense or logic but they do get politicians votes and that's what they're after."
These sentiments come as no surprise to Bryant.
"I don't expect to convert them to the cause of a handgun ban but the public interest has to prevail," he said.
"Nobody needs a handgun. While I have no doubt it is an important activity and hobby for people who collect guns, weighed against the harm that they can cause, the balance is that these are just too dangerous."
And as for people like Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory, who say handguns are already effectively banned, they are "either misinformed or misleading" the public, Bryant said.
"Handguns are banned in Canada like prostitution is banned in Amsterdam."
But the real crux of the argument of those who say they're effectively banned is that gangsters and criminals can't jump through all the regulatory hoops necessary to buy legal ones. That means politicians wanting to halt handgun violence should focus on reducing the number of handguns illegally smuggled from the U.S. and harsher sentences for criminals who use guns.
Bryant agrees those steps are needed, too, but maintains a ban is necessary because legal handguns, stored in the homes of collectors and target shooters, can be stolen and wind up with gangsters who kill their rivals and innocent bystanders. Fewer handguns in Canada means fewer on the streets, he believes.
"The risk that a legal handgun becomes an illegal handgun is not a hypothetical risk. It's established," Bryant said, pointing to the Toronto police figure that 30 per cent of crime guns are stolen from legal owners and 70 per cent are smuggled.
To Bryant and company, it means that getting rid of legally owned handguns in Canada would reduce a significant number of handguns from getting into the hands of criminals.
A stolen gun was involved in the 2005 Boxing Day shooting on Yonge St. that killed 15-year-old Jane Creba.
Just this past week, Durham police announced they were trying to recover five guns stolen from a home. They were legal and locked – the thieves took the whole gun safe.
Not all owners are careful. This week, Toronto police discovered a cache of weapons, including 10 handguns, lying around the basement of a dead man's home.
To people who oppose a handgun ban, it's the 70 per cent smuggled number that's key.
"When ... people say have a handgun ban it's a case of mistaken priorities and a kind of solution that will superficially make people perhaps feel better but won't really address the issue," Tory says.
Real solutions include reducing smuggling and fixing the justice system, he said.
"I don't want to say the guns are pouring across the border but I'm not sure that's much of an exaggeration."
He recently talked to a Windsor border guard who told him sniffer dogs were the best way to catch gun smugglers, but they only had two – far fewer than they needed.
Last month, a 25-year-old Toronto man admitted in a Pittsburgh court that he illegally acquired 12 handguns that were sent to Canada.
So far, four of the guns have been recovered, including one that was used in a gang shooting in downtown Toronto.
The justice system also needs fixes to keep violent criminals behind bars and deter future ones, Tory said.
"Why do we read, over and over again, of people who are being arrested, and in some cases convicted, of these gun crimes who were ... already out on bail and in violation of their bail conditions for a previous gun matter, or had been convicted several times previously?"
This is a particularly sore point for many handgun owners.
"Get these (criminals) off the street," said Patricia Interdonato, who has owned Giovannis Gun Shop in Toronto for 45 years.
"If you are banning the guns that I'm carrying, that I have bought legally and have licensed, what's that going to accomplish? It's going to accomplish squat, excuse my language," she said.
"There's still going to be shootings on the street."
Bryant calls this the classic American NRA – National Rifle Association – argument.
"If it's not a panacea, don't do it," Bryant said.
"Will (a ban) solve all of our handgun problems? No." But it will help, he said.
Gun enthusiasts say Bryant's argument is little more than a cop-out.
"You're not able to actually get the criminals, so you say we have to stop the legal people from owning them," Winkel said.
With the Oct. 10 provincial election quickly approaching, Winkel expects to hear a lot more about handgun bans but doesn't think it will go further than talk.
"With the risk of sounding a little arrogant, Mr. Michael Bryant has been spouting off for years and I've learned not to take him too seriously.
"He talks without thinking. I call him the Don Cherry of anti-gun.
"I don't think I'll see (a handgun ban) in my lifetime."