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Canada’s charged debate over gun control has largely focused on assault-style rifles. But a year-long investigation shows that won’t solve the problem. Patrick White and Tom Cardoso report

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A man tries out one of the handguns for sale at TACCOM Canada, a Sept. 6 gun show in Mississauga. Canada's gun laws have been hotly debated since last summer's deadly shooting in Toronto's Danforth neighbourhood and other acts of mass violence in Canada and around the world.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail


The little gun shop’s alarm pinged around 3 a.m. on Sept. 14, 2016. By the time a Mountie arrived at Prairie Gun Traders, tucked on the sleepy main street of Avonlea, Sask., the burglar was gone, along with at least five handguns destined for bloodier crimes in bigger cities.

It was a risky heist. Prairie Gun Traders features five concrete barriers and two security cameras out front. A few blocks northeast, just past the credit union and the village office, sits the local RCMP detachment. Even if the getaway were well executed, a pair of brake lights is not easily hidden in the Prairie dark. A single sharp-eyed Mountie with a lead foot makes for a highly effective tracker.

Nonetheless, the case soon went cold and would have remained a forgotten entry in a rural crime blotter if not for an explosion of gunfire 2,000 kilometres east, in Canada’s largest city.

On July 22, 2018, a gunman with a history of mental illness and a .40-calibre Smith & Wesson M&P handgun killed two people – 18-year-old Reese Fallon and 10-year-old Julianna Kozis – and injured 13 others along Toronto’s Danforth Ave., before shooting himself.

The bloodshed ignited a caustic debate over gun control. In the days after the shooting, city councils in Toronto and Montreal voted in favour of a handgun prohibition.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directed former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, his minister of organized crime reduction, to explore the idea of a ban at the national level. The appointment gave the families of Danforth victims hope that their loved ones had not been killed or wounded in vain.

Since then, the conversation has shifted away from handguns and toward military-style assault rifles.

On Friday, Mr. Trudeau finally unveiled his party’s new gun-control plan, a controversial pledge to ban and buy back assault-style rifles, including the notorious AR-15, which has been used in numerous U.S. mass shootings but has had little role in Canadian gun violence. The plan would also grant municipalities unspecified powers to ban handguns – an approach that has largely failed elsewhere since no city can secure its borders against the illegal flow of guns.

“Thoughts and prayer won’t cut it,” Mr. Trudeau said. “You don’t need a military-grade assault weapon, one designed to take down the most amount of people in the shortest time, to take down a deer."

So, more than a year since the shooting – and with the federal election just a month away – the families of the Danforth victims are still waiting for the Liberals to clamp down on handguns.

Methodology: How The Globe tried – and failed – to find the source of Canada’s crime guns

Meanwhile, the number of gun homicides across Canada continues to climb: By the end of 2018, they hit 249 (up 60 per cent since 2014). Shootings in Toronto notched a record high of 428. Just last weekend, multiple gunmen unleashed 100 bullets in Mississauga, leaving an innocent Grade 12 student dead and five others injured.

In June, the Liberals did pass Bill C-71, tweaking Canada’s existing gun laws to expand background checks for gun licensees, require gun sellers to keep detailed transaction records and place further restrictions on firearm transportation.

But the bill had been in the works for years, delivering on promises the Liberals made in the previous election. (Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has vowed to repeal C-71 as part of his party’s tough-on-crime gun platform.)

What makes this issue all the more complicated, according to advocates on both sides, is the fact that no agency tracks on a national scale where the guns used in crime come from.

Broadly speaking, we know there are two main sources: cross-border smuggling and theft or diversion of legally purchased Canadian guns. But attempts to estimate the ratio vary wildly.

The Globe and Mail has obtained dozens of federal, provincial and municipal databases on guns over the past year, and while the databases revealed much about the types of guns being seized by police, they proved too uneven and incomplete to create any kind of national picture of where they actually came from.

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On July 15, former police officer Patrick McLeod stands at the parkette on Toronto's Danforth Avenue where his daughter's friend, Reese Fallon, was shot a year earlier.Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

For Patrick McLeod, whose daughter narrowly escaped the Danforth shooter, data is merely a distraction. In his mind, the gun-control debate won’t be solved by math, but by morals.

Mr. McLeod is a retired Toronto Police officer who spent three decades with a gun on his hip. He’s also a life-long Conservative supporter, whose backing wavered slightly when the government under Stephen Harper scrapped the long-gun registry, a measure he felt had become a vital investigative tool.

But that all changed in July, 2018. For years, Mr. McLeod lived by the gun. Now, he’d rather live without.

“My personal opinion? We should have no civilian handguns in Canada,” he says. For the past year, he and his wife have been campaigning for a full ban, and they thought the Liberals were going to come through. Now, he says, “they’re kind of wussing out on us.”

He knows a ban is a tough sell to gun owners. “But their desire to shoot paper targets is not a good enough reason to put the rest of the population in peril,” he says.

“Those people on the Danforth weren’t shot with a gun smuggled from the States or a 3D-printed gun or anything else they think law enforcement should be focusing on. They were shot with a Canadian gun. It’s time to do something about Canadian guns.”

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At TACCOM Canada, a gun-store employee shows off a WK180-C, an assault weapon made in Canada by Kodiak Defence Inc. Semi-automatic weapons such as these have dominated Canadian governments' discussions about dangerous firearms, but according to data obtained by The Globe, they play little part in Canadian gun violence.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

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Handguns play a much bigger role in Canadian violent crime. Last year, Toronto and Montreal's city councils voted in favour of a handgun prohibition, prompting the Trudeau government to explore the idea of a national ban.J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail


In the wake of the Danforth shooting, the question of exactly how a 29-year-old man with a history of mental illness got himself a handgun became a crucial point of contention.

Initial reports stated that the gun originated from a shop in Saskatoon. Another report suggested it had been smuggled across the border from the United States, a detail gun enthusiasts used to argue that any response to the tragedy should leave lawful gun owners alone.

The truth remained murky for nearly a year, until the Toronto Police confirmed the gun had, indeed, been stolen from a store in Saskatchewan.

Law enforcement sources have since elaborated, telling The Globe that the weapon was manufactured in Springfield, Mass., before being shipped to Toronto’s North Sylva Co., one of the country’s largest firearms importers, in July, 2013. Eight months later, it was transferred to Prairie Gun Traders in Avonlea.

It’s hard to imagine a more fully realized example of small-town Canadiana than Avonlea, about 80 kilometres southwest of Regina. An ice rink dominates the village centre. Twenty minutes down the road lies the fading set of CTV’s hit show Corner Gas. Signs abound signalling Avonlea’s devotion to the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders; the town’s welcome sign proclaims it to be the “Official home of Riderville.” An abandoned storefront painted Roughrider green has been labelled “The Roughrider Store.”

Directly across the street sits Prairie Gun Traders, a squat box of a building with no identifying features aside from a sign the size of a folded newspaper leaning in the corner of its single window. From the inside, it’s clear hunters make up the chief clientele: Camouflage garments hang from racks, and dozens of bolt-action hunting rifles stand in a long row behind the counter.

The shop’s owner, Darren Treble – by all accounts a well-regarded firearms vendor – refused to talk about his stolen merchandise with a reporter this past summer and insisted police had identified the wrong shop. “That actually wasn’t my gun,” he said. “You guys have false information. That’s why I’m not going to comment.”

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The .40-calibre Smith & Wesson M&P handgun, with two full magazines and a magazine holder, that were located against the wall of a church after the Danforth shooting.SIU photo

There’s no suggestion that Mr. Treble did anything wrong. But according to police, there’s also no question that the break-in at his shop, in which he lost a few thousand dollars of inventory, eventually helped arm a mass shooter.

The Avonlea theft came amid a surge in demand for both handguns and certain rifles. The RCMP-maintained Canadian Firearms Registry tracks ownership of all restricted and prohibited firearms in the country, classifications that include most handguns and a variety of semi-automatic rifles. A version of the registry obtained through access-to-information legislation shows Canadians registered roughly 3,000 restricted and prohibited firearms a month in 2010. In the first full month following the Liberal election victory, November 2015, monthly registrations surged to 10,837.

By 2017, monthly registrations topped 17,000, for a total count of 943,785 handguns and 83,100 rifles. The latter figure seems low because the vast majority of rifles – including many semi-automatics – have gone untracked since 2012, when records of 7.1 million rifles in the long-gun registry were expunged by the Harper Conservatives, who said it was ineffective at reducing crime. (Quebec successfully sued to preserve records for the province and has since launched its own long-gun registry.)

As for the legally registered guns stolen from Prairie Gun Traders three years ago, they travelled both east and west. At least two were seized by police in the Edmonton area, according to Saskatchewan RCMP.

The exact path that brought the Danforth gun to Toronto remains a mystery, even to police. But it’s hardly an unusual route. In general, stolen guns used in Toronto crimes originate from beyond the city limits. A 2018 Toronto police report on gun seizures obtained by access-to-information legislation states the force recovered 61 guns used to commit crimes last year that had previously been reported stolen. Of those, 58 had gone missing from somewhere outside Toronto.

It’s hard to say when the Smith & Wesson first fell into the hands of the Danforth shooter. He had a fascination with guns. Though he had researched how to get a possession-and-acquisition licence that would allow him to buy firearms, he never went through with the application process, which involves hours of instruction, a background check and personal references.

But on April 12, 2018, he bought seven 10-round magazines for a handgun, a purchase that requires no permit. A little more than three months later, he would pull the gun from his bag and fire dozens of shots during an 11-minute shooting spree that began at a local parkette, where a group of teenagers was eating ice cream.

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On the Danforth, Mr. McLeod leans against a tree with a message in tribute to Reese Fallon. 'Always Remembered. Never Forgotten. Loved Beyond Measure,' the message reads.Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail


Around the time the first shots rang out on Danforth Ave., Mr. McLeod and his wife, Jane, were settling in to watch the murder-mystery series Sharp Objects at their home five kilometres away.

In the month and a half since retiring from the Toronto Police Service, Mr. McLeod had felt the psychological armour accumulated over 32 years as a cop fall away. After a career spent facing down bad guys, he was ready for the good life. He and Jane had booked a celebratory European vacation later that summer.

Then everything changed.

Around 10 p.m., his phone rang, and his daughter’s number flashed on his call display.

Skye McLeod had graduated from Malvern Collegiate Institute a month earlier. On this night, she’d headed downtown to celebrate a friend’s 18th birthday. On their way home, a group of eight close friends – including Reese Fallon, who grew up directly across the street from the McLeods – had stopped for ice cream, then wandered over to the Alexander the Great parkette to eat it.

When Mr. McLeod answered his phone, he couldn’t make out what Skye was saying.

“What? What? Slow down. I can’t understand you,” he recalls saying.

“Someone’s trying to kill us,” his daughter replied.

Skye painted a desperate scene: She and five others had locked themselves in the downstairs bathroom of a Danforth eatery after someone had opened fire on them.

“Keep the door locked,” her dad told her. “I’m on the way.”

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July 22, 2018: Tactical police officers patrol the scene on the night of the Danforth shooting.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Mr. McLeod kept Skye on the line as he and Jane grabbed the keys to their Honda minivan. As they pulled out of the driveway for the 10-minute trip west, their headlights splashed across the street to the Fallon residence. Ms. McLeod called to tell them they’d better hurry over to the Danforth.

As they drove, Mr. McLeod went over the scenario in his head. Shootings had been a relatively rare occurrence when he joined the force in the 1980s. By 2004, the city was recording about 200 shootings a year. In his final years of service, they were topping 400 annually.

Gang members with handguns were behind much of the recent shooting trend, and a big share of those guns originated from within Canada, despite strict federal controls on where handgun owners can store, transport and shoot their weapons.

The portion of so-called crime handguns (meaning any handgun “illegally possessed, used in a crime or suspected to have been used in a crime”) seized by Toronto Police and tracked to a domestic source rose from 26 per cent to 44 per cent between 2013 and 2016, before declining to 32 per cent in 2017 and 22 per cent in 2018, according to internal reports obtained by The Globe.

The split between domestic and U.S.-sourced crime guns is far more hazy. A decade ago, a unit of the Canadian Firearms Program, the RCMP division responsible for gun licensing and regulation, was capable of generating crime gun sourcing numbers, but it has since abandoned that responsibility.

For Mr. McLeod, the overall toll of gun crime had sickened him. Upon his retirement in June, 2018, he’d handed in his service weapon and, unlike many colleagues, never thought twice about acquiring a civilian replacement. He’d learned his way around a rifle at an early age, shooting small game around his hometown of Bath, Ont. He’d also owned two handguns as an adult, but sold them when his kids were born. It was a safety thing. Handguns were for killing people. Why have one at home?

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July 22, 2018: A man is cared for by emergency responders after the shooting.Victor Biro/The Globe and Mail

When he stepped out of the minivan on the Danforth that night, he realized this was no gang shooting. It was unlike any crime scene he’d ever seen.

There was carnage everywhere. Countless ambulance attendants and firefighters were bent over bloodied victims.

Police were beginning to secure the scene, putting up tape and blocking traffic, but no one bothered to stop Mr. McLeod. With his shaved head, stocky build and a cellphone plastered to one ear, he looked every bit a cop.

On the other end of the phone, Skye couldn’t tell him where she was hiding. When the violence broke out, she and her friends had left the parkette to take refuge in a nearby restaurant – they hadn’t noted the name. Mr. McLeod triangulated the scene and settled on Lukumum, a dessert eatery two storefronts east.

Inside, he spotted someone he took to be the owner hiding behind the counter.

“Is there anyone in your basement?” he asked.

“Yeah, there’s a bunch of people hiding down there.”

Mr. McLeod ran down the stairs. At the bottom, he could see blood smears across the door of the men’s washroom.

“Skye, are you in there?” he yelled. “It’s your dad. Open the door. It’s safe.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, open the door.”

The locked door clicked and six people tumbled from the one-person bathroom – Skye and three friends, along with two other bystanders. Many of them were scraped and bleeding from the scramble to flee the gunshots.

Upstairs, Mr. McLeod sat everyone down and asked restaurant staff for water and napkins to treat the cuts. After a time, the rest of Skye’s group floated in from various hiding spots – all except one.

“Skye, where’s Reese?” said Mr. McLeod.

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Reese Fallon, shown in a handout photo.Handout

The McLeods had known Ms. Fallon since she was born. Just a few weeks earlier, she had been sitting at their kitchen table with Skye, studying for final exams. At a graduation party for the girls and their classmates, Ms. Fallon – wearing a black dress and with long black hair – had approached the McLeods and asked to take a photo with them. She smiled into the camera.

Skye’s friend had been dialling Ms. Fallon’s phone, but she wasn’t picking up. Mr. McLeod found a police officer and gave a description of the missing member of the party. The officer asked Mr. McLeod to step outside the restaurant. There was a girl under a blanket at the west side of the parkette who fit that description, he said. She’d been killed.

There’s no way, Mr. McLeod thought to himself.

“Where?” he said. He’d seen his share of bodies. It was up to him to ensure this wasn’t Reese, to make everything right.

The officer led him to the parkette, where a body lay draped with an ambulance blanket. The officer pulled the blanket back. Mr. McLeod saw the long black hair and the black dress.

His legs buckled. He fell to his haunches. Everything was spinning. The Fallons were on their way.

Someone needed to tell them about their daughter.

Mr. McLeod gathered himself and tracked down two detectives. Together, they decided they would find Ms. Fallon’s parents, Doug Fallon and Claudine deBeaumont, so the detectives could break the news. As they moved toward the boundary of the scene, Mr. McLeod spotted the Fallons and waved. When he looked behind him, the detectives had disappeared. It was up to him.

“I’ve got news, but the news is not good,” Mr. McLeod told the couple.

A scene of abject devastation played out. And that’s all he’ll say about that.

Later that night, the McLeod family joined the Fallons at home. The grief was raw. At some point in the night, Reese’s parents asked about the shooter: Who was he? How’d he get a gun?

Mr. McLeod didn’t know much. He didn’t want to. The guy had killed himself. Case closed.

The next morning, Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, had his own question, one he would use to frame his call for a handgun ban: “Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?”

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A model shows off a handgun at TACCOM Canada. Unlike most Canadian gun shows focused on hunting rifles and related items, TACCOM caters to sports shooters who use handguns and semi-automatic rifles.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

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The show attracted some 15,000 people over three days in September.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail


On a Friday morning in September, more than a hundred gun enthusiasts were lined up waiting to get into TACCOM Canada, an extravaganza of handguns, semi-automatic rifles and related gear. Billed as Canada’s largest firearms show, TACCOM (more formally known as the Tactical and Competitive Shooting Sports Show) attracts upwards of 15,000 people over three days. The show presents a rare opportunity for Canadian sports shooters to admire and caress the latest firepower from several of the country’s biggest gun shops, each of which dropped $6,000 for the privilege of exhibiting their wares.

“It’s amazing – way more like a U.S. show,” says one attendee, Kareem, 35, clutching a sheet of show deals (“Buy any IWI Masada 9mm get a FREE Holster”). “We don’t usually get this kind of thing up here.” Like most of the people at TACCOM, Kareem wouldn’t give his last name. There’s a common and understandable fear of theft and online attacks among Canadian gun-owners, and most of them don’t invite additional scrutiny.

While most Canadian gun shows feature a large contingent of hunting rifles and related paraphernalia, TACCOM is focused squarely on sports shooters and their guns of choice: handguns and magazine-fed semi-automatic rifles, often referred to as assault-style rifles.

Once a quaint hobby, the sports-shooting industry now employs 14,500 people and generates $2.5-billion in business, according to the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association. Those figures have grown steadily. RCMP numbers show that the number of restricted weapons has increased by a stunning 70 per cent since 2012.

With the Liberals now pitching a ban on assault-style rifles, rather than on handguns, the new government prohibition would be aimed squarely at sports shooters.

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Cabinet minister Bill Blair was tasked by the Prime Minister with looking into a nationwide handgun ban.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

When mulling a ban in June, Mr. Blair said there are roughly 200,000 “assault-style” firearms in the country that represent an “unacceptable risk.” To understand that risk, one need only look south of the border. Assault-style rifles might not play a major role in everyday gun crime in America, but their terrifying lethality has made them the weapon of choice for mass shooters at Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Aurora, Orlando, El Paso and others.

If the Liberals do form the next government and proceed with a ban, what might it look like?

There are a few options, starting with an effort under way in New Zealand. Following a massacre at two mosques in March in which 51 died, the government of Jacinda Ardern launched a $141-million ban-and-buyback program for semi-automatics. But so far, the results have been mixed.

Before launching the program, New Zealand hadn’t been tracking the number of semi-automatic guns within its borders. Estimates have put the number of newly banned semi-automatics as high as 175,000. But as of August, the government had collected just 15,000 weapons, dispersing $27-million. That puts the compliance rate at lower than 10 per cent, with a Dec. 20 deadline for buybacks looming.

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Aug. 31, 2019: At a temporary gun-collection point in Porirua, New Zealand,, Senior Sergeant Braydon Lenihan holds a banned gun that has been bent by a hydraulic machine as part of the nation's amnesty program.Nick Perry/The Associated Press

Australia is the only other country to pursue such an ambitious buyback program, collecting 650,000 guns after a mass shooter killed 35 people in 1996. The average annual number of firearm homicides subsequently dropped by 42 per cent. (Rates had already been declining, but researchers say the buyback contributed greatly to the trend.) In the 23 years since the buyback, Australia has endured three mass shootings (defined as at least four deaths, aside from the shooter), compared with 13 in the 18 years before the ban on semi-automatic rifles, pump-action rifles and pump-action shotguns came into effect.

The United Kingdom banned semi-automatic rifles in 1987, in a direct response to the Hungerford Massacre, in which a shooter killed 16 people using a handgun and two semi-automatic rifles. Nearly a decade later, a man bearing four legal handguns killed 16 children and a teacher at Dunblane Primary school. Once again, the country acted swiftly and firmly, banning handguns. In the two decades after ban, annual gun homicides plummeted from 84 to 26.

The broadest attempt to stamp out assault-style rifles came in 1994, when the United States issued a ban on new assault weapons. It defined an assault rifle as any magazine-fed semi-automatic rifle with characteristics designed for military and criminal applications – but seemingly unnecessary for sports shooting – such as a telescoping stock, pistol grip, bayonet mount, flash suppressor or grenade launcher. But there was no buyback component, and the rigid definition of which guns were banned allowed manufacturers to create legal workarounds. When the ban expired a decade later, several studies found it had no discernible effect on gun crimes or mass shootings.

Here in Canada, semi-automatic rifles have been used in a number of notorious shootings, including at École Polytechnique, Dawson College and in Moncton. But their overall prevalence in Canadian homicides is nominal, according to a Globe analysis of the RCMP’s Canadian Integrated Ballistics Identification Network (CIBIN), a national database of information on guns, bullets and casings recovered from crime scenes across the country. If criminals are favouring a particular type of gun, it’ll show up here.

The Globe obtained a version of CIBIN earlier this year through access-to-information legislation and found that of 6,354 entries linked to homicides or attempted homicides, a total of just 42 bullets and casings derive from AR-15-type rifles, for a rate of roughly 0.66 per cent.

(The analysis has limitations. There doesn’t seem to be a standardized style for CIBIN entries, so a single model of bullet casing might be entered under several names, complicating attempts to search the database. Furthermore, there are dozens of rifles that are similar to the AR-15; the Globe searched for the most popular models, but some uncommon brands may have been missed.)

One unintended consequence of musing about a ban on assault-style rifles was a huge spike in sales.

“When the scare of a ban came down a few months ago, we sold 500 restricteds in two days,” says Fred Pellegrino, an organizer of TACCOM and owner of Firearms Outlet Canada, a store based in Ajax, Ont. “It was a huge surge in business.”

Mr. Blair also floated the idea of the federal government granting municipalities such as Toronto jurisdiction to enact further gun regulations (a measure Mr. Trudeau reiterated on Friday), which could satisfy Mayor Tory’s desire for a gun ban in the city. That’s another unpopular idea among the TACCOM crowd.

“I’d have to move,” says Ricky, who wears a “Make Trudeau a Drama Teacher Again” ball cap, lives in the city and owns 23 firearms. “I know in the city it’s kind of taboo to own guns unless they’re for hunting. There’s not much love.”

Ricky and other gun-enthusiasts are quick to point out that city handgun bans in U.S. cities such as Chicago have had no discernible effect on runaway gun violence – city limits are simply far too porous.

“I’d say Tory isn’t looking at the real problem,” says Ricky. “It’s not legal gun-owners like me; it’s criminals.”

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Fred Pellegrino, owner of Firearms Outlet Canada, holds a Canadian-made WK180-C at his booth at TACCOM, which he organizes. He says that the prospect of a ban on assault-style rifles gave him a boost in business.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail


The thing is, legal gun-owners and criminals are sometimes one and the same. Every few months, police somewhere in the country bust someone for what’s called “straw purchasing,” where licensed gun-owners divert their legally purchased firearms to criminal markets.

The RCMP can’t provide figures on just how prevalent this practice is, prompting pro-gun groups to argue that it would be unfair to punish 2.2 million gun licence-holders for the sins of a few bad apples. But the effect of a single straw purchaser can be devastating. In a 2006 B.C. case, police found that a single firearms business in Burnaby, Royal Sportsman, illegally distributed 2,079 guns, some of which are still turning up in crimes, according to law enforcement sources. Five years ago, a man was sentenced to eight years in custody for selling 43 handguns to a Toronto-area gun trafficker.

In his years as a cop, Patrick McLeod had seen his fair share of questionable activity among legal gun-owners. Once, he seized scores of vintage automatic rifles from an unlocked closet after the owner left the house empty and the front door wide open. On another occasion, he confiscated hundreds of unsecured guns from a legal owner who clearly had a mental illness.

In the 1990s, when Jean Chrétien’s governments spent gobs of political capital and billions of dollars establishing the long-gun registry, Mr. McLeod supported it. It was useful. But he felt the Liberal predilection for overspending ruined the program’s chances of success. When the Harper government dismantled the registry in 2012, he still voted Conservative.

He knew this issue of gun control was particularly fraught, and in the weeks following the Danforth shooting, he mostly avoided it. Besides, he had other things to worry about – namely, a traumatized daughter and close friends in deep mourning.

The McLeods had cancelled the first half of their European vacation, but managed a shortened trip to France, where he and Jane had time to take stock of the whole bloody episode. Upon their return, they began talking with other victims’ families about what they could do.

During one meeting, Claudine deBeaumont, Reese Fallon’s mother, said she wanted to make it her life’s work to enhance the country’s gun-control measures.

Jane McLeod ran with the request. As both a nurse and a friend of the Fallons, she knew the darkness and sorrow that could come of gun violence. One of the people she befriended was Louis March, the founder of Zero Gun Violence Movement, an advocacy group working to end gun violence in the Toronto area.

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Louis March, shown in 2015, is the founder of Toronto's Zero Gun Violence Movement.Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Mr. March has a universal message for grieving families and other Canadians touched by gun violence. “We need your help,” he tells them. “We have to organize ourselves to end the violence and stop waiting for political leaders to save us.”

His advocacy also focuses less on gun control and more on the root causes of violence. “If there is a demand for something, supply will be created,” says Mr. March. “There is a demand for guns because so many people in this city feel left behind, and a gun represents quick, easy money. A gun ban would not change that. Instead of banning guns, ban poverty.”

Mr. McLeod agreed with Mr. March, but he wasn’t so sure gun control could be easily dismissed. He was beginning to feel it was vital piece of fighting gun violence that included choking off cross-border smuggling, reforming bail and sentencing for gun offences, and investing in programs for people at risk of being dragged into gun violence.

But he largely worked behind the scenes until a Feb. 16 town hall on gun violence featuring Mr. Blair, his former unit commander. Mr. McLeod filed into the Spring Garden Church that night with no intention of speaking up. He stuck to that plan until a gun enthusiast rose from the pews to accuse Mr. Blair of persecuting lawful gun owners.

“I blew my gasket,” Mr. McLeod recalls. “There was no way I was sitting down anymore.”

Mr. McLeod stood, his face red with emotion, and told a brief version of the night he had to speed to the Danforth, free his daughter from a bloody bathroom, identify the body of a girl he’d seen grow up, and break the worst possible news to two dear friends.

“Now tell me what kind of gun was she shot with,” he said, his voice quavering with emotion. “A gun that was legally brought into Canada for sale and was stolen from a gun shop … . It’s time for Canada to get rid of handguns and assault rifles. We don’t need them.”

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Feb. 22, 2019: Survivors and loved ones affected by the Danforth shooting hug after their first public statement as a group.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

The impassioned speech made news broadcasts. The following week, families of the victims held a news conference at the Danforth Music Hall to call on the Trudeau government to ban both handguns and military-style assault rifles.

As the months passed, Mr. McLeod grew increasingly skeptical that their voices were being heard in Ottawa. Sure enough, in June, Mr. Blair told The Globe and Mail he had rejected the possibility of a full ban on handguns, saying it would be overly expensive and ineffective, given the easy flow of illegal handguns across the border.

The families were crest-fallen. It wasn’t good enough. What about the Danforth handgun?

On Friday, the Liberals put Mr. Blair’s pledge in writing. Mr. McLeod agrees with an assault-style rifle ban, but doesn’t think the party’s commitment to allow municipalities to ban handguns will solve anything. Besides, such a ban would require the co-operation of provincial governments, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said he’s opposed to any gun ban.

With a wide-open election race, however, it’s too early to say how Canada’s gun laws will change in the coming years.

In the meantime, the McLeods and others have established a group called Danforth Families for Safe Communities to advocate for gun-policy reform. In co-ordination with other pro-gun-control groups, they’ve drafted a pledge that, if signed, would commit aspiring MPs to support a handgun and assault-style rifle ban, limits on ammunition, new resources to curtail cross-border smuggling, reforms on bail and sentencing for gun crimes, and spending to address the root causes of gun crime.

On a recent summer day, Mr. McLeod walked down his street, past the Fallon home, to Malvern Collegiate Institute, the school from which both Reese and Skye graduated in 2018. There was a memorial to Reese out front, piled high with fresh flowers, candles and photographs. Surrounding the memorial were chalk messages in her honour.

No amount of missing data could change his feelings about what needs to happen next. A burgeoning Canadian hobby cannot justify this life lost.

“When I look across the street to the Fallons or walk my dog by this memorial a couple times a day, I realize we’ll never be done with this,” says Mr. McLeod. “We’ll never move on. People still need our help. I had to get up off my couch and take action that night. It’s time for Canadians to get off their couches and do something.”

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J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article referenced the number of gun deaths. It was referring to gun homicides and does not include gun suicides.

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