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Canadians are far less likely to own guns than Americans.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Adrienne Tanner is a Vancouver journalist who writes about civic affairs

One of the great benefits of travel is that talking to strangers about how you live helps you identify what you most love about home. I had one such moment in Cuba a few years back while conversing with our bed and breakfast host. She was an elderly daughter of the revolution, a teacher seconded to teach in the mountain villages, where she helped parents and children, side-by-side, read for the first time. She was proud of her country and skeptical about ours.

“Your country has so many murders,” she pointed out. “Why do so many people have guns?” I jumped to Canada’s defence. I explained that, in this regard, we are not like the United States. Canadians are far less likely to own guns than Americans and we have far lower per capita murder and incarceration rates. Our anti-firearms mindset is the cultural value that most sets us apart from our southern neighbour. It makes Canada a safer country. A better country.

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When you consider we live a stone’s throw from the most heavily armed country in world, it is a miracle this holds true. There is a steady flow of licit and illicit hardware across the border. And the powerful firearms lobbying forces that have a stranglehold on U.S. politics are at work in Canada, too. We need to push back on firearms creep with all our might.

That is why we should applaud the willingness of our big city mayors in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to ban handguns in their urban centres. The idea was floated by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau last week, who promised that, if re-elected, he would ban military-style assault weapons and allow municipal handgun bans in willing provinces. The proposal drew howls from gun enthusiasts who struck back with the old “guns don’t cause crime, people cause crime” argument. Handguns used by criminals are illicitly smuggled into Canada from the United States and they point out bans will do nothing to stop that.

On this point they are almost certainly correct. But our inability to stop smuggling is not a good argument against banning handguns in Canadian cities.

Police do a lousy job of tracking the provenance of handguns seized from criminals, a Globe investigation pointed out last weekend. But we know that some guns used during crimes do come from Canada, most notably the .40-calibre Smith & Wesson used in a 2018 mass shooting in Toronto that killed two people and injured 13 others. It was stolen, along with five other handguns, from a legal shop in Avonlea, Sask. That’s one horrific instance too many for me and many others who see no reason why anyone in Canada who isn’t in law enforcement needs to own a handgun.

Law-abiding handgun owners defend their right to own and use handguns responsibly. To them, I say find a new hobby. There are many people who ski when they are young and move on to something new when their knees can’t take it anymore. Target shooters could take up archery, paintball or even photography. The list of hobbies that involve aiming and firing without handguns is long.

As Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart pointed out this week, there is no place for handguns in urban centres. Handguns are designed to shoot people, which is why most gun crime occurs where people live – our cities.

In Vancouver, there were three shootings over a 15-hour period this week. In Toronto, 14 people were shot during the August long weekend. And although it is likely most of those guns entered Canada illegally, it doesn’t take more studies to see a ban would remove some handguns from the street.

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The fewer there are in stores and personal gun closets, the fewer there are to steal.

Richard Florida, a professor at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and the School of Cities, grew up in the United States, and saw what gun violence has done to American cities. He sees Toronto moving in the same direction and supports handgun bans.

“Toronto is no Detroit or Chicago. But I am worried if we don’t take a firm stand we will lose all the good things, like safety and security, that have made this city so great.”

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

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