It has become a tradition for the Trudeau government: Whenever a mass shooting occurs, it immediately announces more gun-control measures.
It did it in 2020, when in the days after the murder of 22 people in Nova Scotia, it announced a ban on ownership of many semi-automatic assault-style rifles, and said it would bring in a mandatory buyback program for those weapons.
The Liberals did it again last week, in the heightened emotional aftermath of the killing of 19 children in a Texas elementary school, when they announced their intention to take new gun-control steps.
On the plus side, hey, at least in Canada we have a government that responds to mass shootings by talking about preventing more of them – unlike the United States, where it is preordained that yet another slaughter of children will not change American gun laws.
But using such episodes to sell Canadian gun-control policies overlooks the fact that the biggest and most persistent gun-violence problem in Canada is not mass shootings. It’s the daily tally of individual violent crimes involving firearms, especially handguns. And the Liberals have done little to stem the growing number of these less-newsworthy crimes.
A Statistics Canada report released last week says that, since 2009, the per capita rate of firearms being pointed at someone in the commission of a crime has nearly tripled, and the rate at which guns are fired with intent to kill or wound is up fivefold.
In rural areas, there were notable spikes in firearms-related crimes in 2019 and 2020, mostly involving long guns. But it’s in cities and suburbs where crime is most likely to involve a firearm – usually an easy-to-conceal handgun. Statscan says 63 per cent of firearm-related violent crimes in urban areas involved handguns in 2020.
These trends are starkly reflected in Canada’s largest city, whose rate of gun crime is about average for the country (and lower than Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon and Calgary). The Toronto Police Service reported this month that 286 people have been killed in shootings, and 1,185 people have been injured, since 2015.
The Liberals, quick to rush to the podium after mass shootings, have mostly offered half-baked measures in response to the much larger number of Canadians harmed by mundane, day-to-day gun violence.
Their most talked-about plan involves passing the buck to municipalities, by giving them the right to ban handguns. Toronto could ban handgun ownership and sales, while municipalities next door do not. It’s nonsensical. A more sensible proposal would be for the federal government to ban handguns nationwide, as this page has argued before.
There should also be increased penalties for smuggling and trafficking illegal guns, and tightened border controls. Canada’s rules to screen legal gun owners are necessary and effective, but there’s a large and growing problem of illegal guns flowing in from the U.S. That’s why, as we recently wrote, those who want tougher gun control and those who want to go after criminals with illegal guns are both right.
The Liberals should also listen to an idea from the Toronto Police Service. It proposed this month that the federal government require bail hearings for people charged with the most serious firearm offences be heard by judges, instead of by justices of the peace. It’s a move the police say would “clearly convey Parliament’s view of the seriousness of these offences.”
Toronto police also suggest that Ottawa amend the Criminal Code so that someone who opens fire in a busy public place can be charged with first-degree murder if they kill an innocent bystander.
There is no one magic bullet that can make gun crime disappear. But Canada has done a few things right, and the way forward includes more of the same: smart gun control that screens owners while respecting law-abiding hunters; a focus on the flow of smuggled and illegal guns; criminal laws that target gun crime; and a society with a strong economy, education system and social safety net, to minimize the incentive to turn to crime.
More proposals from the Liberals to, for example, limit the magazine capacity of long guns may be welcomed by the public – especially in light of the Texas tragedy. But they would be, once again, ignoring this country’s most deadly and widespread gun crimes.
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