Is happiness a banned gun?
By John Gray, CBC.ca Reality Check Team | Dec. 8, 2005 | More Reality Check
After a horrendous summer in Toronto, where more than three dozen people were shot to death on the streets, it was inevitable that gun control and gang violence would figure prominently in the current election campaign.
Indeed, even before the campaign began, Prime Minister Paul Martin promised: "We're going to take handguns out of our communities."
Now, with the election campaign in its second week, the prime minister has returned to the hard streets of the country's largest city and promised an outright ban on handguns "to make our communities safer."
Nobody would disagree with the hope. But handguns and gang violence in a modern big city may prove to be more complex than any other problem confronting Canada's political leaders in this election campaign.
However chaotic the streets of Toronto may have seemed last summer, the rate of gun homicide this year in the city is actually fractionally lower than it was in 1991.
And Toronto's murder rate per capita this year is lower than the rate for Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary.
But the nature of firearm violence has changed dramatically since the first of the stronger gun-control laws of the modern era was passed in 1991 and then strengthened four years later. There has been a 68 per cent decline in homicides involving rifles and shotguns. By contrast, the rate of murder by handguns has dropped by a more modest 30 per cent.
In theory, handguns have been controlled through registration since the 1930s and effectively illegal for all but target shooters since 1991.
The harsh reality is that people inclined to use handguns are not concerned much by what the law says. Virtually all the handguns on the streets of Canadian cities have been stolen from legal collections in Canada or smuggled from the United States.
The estimate of U.S. authorities is that 280 million people in the United States own 230 million guns. Every year, 500,000 of those are stolen and disappear into the underworld.
How many of those stolen American guns make their way into Canada, nobody knows. Canada Customs seizes about 1,500 smuggled guns every year, but that gives no indication of the real number. Only about three per cent of the traffic across the Canada-U.S. border is inspected, so the guns they miss may number 50,000 or many, many more.
It is the appearance of armed gangs using illegal handguns on the streets of Toronto and other large cities that has created the greatest uncertainty about public safety. The Coalition for Gun Control cites the case of a Toronto man who unknowingly tried to cross the border with 23 high-powered handguns that someone had hidden in the trunk of his car. The guns were destined for a Toronto gang.
The reality is that despite the newspaper headlines and concern of politicians, there has not been a massive rise in violent crime. Over the past 30 years, the level of homicides has declined dramatically, so it is hard to see what difference the current election campaign will make.