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editorial

Two terrible events, both of which played out in the past two months, are revealing of our main federal parties’ scattered and ineffective policies on gun violence.

On March 13, two men, along with a third who drove the getaway car, were convicted of first-degree murder in the 2018 killing of Toronto resident Nnamdi Ogba.

Mr. Ogba was walking to his car when two men ran up and shot him five times in the back. One of the shooters had just gotten out of prison after serving fewer than four years for another gun crime.

Then, on April 18 and 19, a man went on a two-day rampage in Nova Scotia, killing 22 people in multiple shootings using military-style semi-automatic rifles and in several fires that he deliberately set.

The shooter did not have a gun licence. Two of his semi-automatic weapons were apparently smuggled into Canada from the United States, but were legal for purchase here.

Canada’s two main parties see shootings like these in very different lights.

The Liberals look at these tragedies and call for more gun control. Their 2019 election platform is filled with promises to make it harder to obtain and use many types of guns. Among other things, the platform promised bans, buybacks and stricter storage rules for legal weapons.

Last week, the Liberals kept a key election promise when the Trudeau government banned 1,500 variants of military-style semi-automatic rifles, including the two models used in Nova Scotia.

The 2019 Liberal platform contained 16 mentions of “guns” or “rifles.” The word “gang” appears only once.

The Conservatives’ platform mentioned “gangs” 26 times.

They look at murders such as the one in Toronto and see not a gun problem, but a crime problem. They see self-styled street thugs who randomly gunned down an innocent man for sport. They see a shooter who had just been released from prison, after serving two-thirds of a sentence for firing a pistol five times through a window of a restaurant just because he had been refused service.

The Conservative platform called for changes in the Criminal Code to identify gangs the same way terrorist groups are identified, and for imposing a minimum five-year sentence on gang members convicted of a violent crime.

The platform makes no mention of gun control, and it decries Liberal efforts to tighten background checks and improve record-keeping of gun sales. For Conservatives, shootings have nothing to do with the availability of guns in Canada and everything to do with the bad guys who use them.

The only thing the two parties agree on is the need to crack down on gun smuggling from the United States. But neither has a policy on gun violence that could be called complete.

The Liberal fallback of banning certain weapons, such as most military-style semi-automatic rifles (but, inexplicably, not handguns) will make them less available, while still allowing Canadians to own hunting rifles and recreational guns. It’s a good policy.

But bans will never completely stop determined criminals from obtaining illegal weapons, so it makes sense to target those who do with stiff sentences. In 2017, one in five homicides in Canada was gang-related, and nine out of 10 of those gang-related homicides involved a handgun. That’s impossible to ignore.

At the same time, the Conservative mantra of tougher policing and stricter sentences for gang members, while putting as few restrictions as possible on legal gun ownership, also misses the mark.

It focuses solely on one type of gun violence, and refuses to acknowledge that denying Canadians the right to own military-style semi-automatic rifles (and one day, we hope, handguns) will help prevent tragedies.

The sensible answer to gun violence is not entirely Liberal or Conservative. It’s some of both. It includes tight restrictions on gun ownership, strong anti-poverty and youth-support measures, tough sentences for people who obtain weapons illegally or use them in a crime and serious action at the border.

Unfortunately, Liberals and Conservatives are so hell bent on emphasizing their ideological differences that it’s unlikely any government will ever implement something as coherent and obvious as that.

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