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Staring Down the Barrel

A CBC Radio One Special Investigation
Updated March 19, 2004

Over the past year police in Toronto say they've seen the number of violent shootings in Ontario's capital city rise 50 per cent, a number that seems to be reflected in a series of recurring headlines.

At times it seems that gunfire has become an almost weekly occurrence, with shootings happening at late-night dance clubs and residential neighborhoods, to busy intersections and school playgrounds.

Law enforcement officials blame the surge in gun violence to the growing availability of illegal guns, especially handguns, for gang members and common criminals.

In light of this, CBC Radio News has undertaken a sweeping investigation into the proliferation of gun violence on the streets of Canada's largest city, in the hopes of uncovering where the guns are coming from, how they get here and who is selling them.

Despite a stringent federal gun registry, illegal guns continue to end up in the wrong hands. Authorities blame break-ins and thefts for some of the flow, but point to the U.S. as one of the main sources of these guns.

CBC Radio reporters Geoff Ellwand and Derek Stoffel travelled to a gun show in Ohio, a state that boasts some of the loosest gun laws in America, to explore the marketplace for guns.

They discovered a legal loophole that allowed Ohio residents to re-sell a host of powerful firearms with no questions asked.

These weapons, often bought in bulk, then slip into Canada inside tractor-trailers, the interior panels of cars and simply inside luggage.

Derek Stoffel talked to law enforcement experts and U.S. authorities about the efforts to stop the tide of gun smuggling across the U.S. - Canada border.

Once they're smuggled across the border the lion's share of illegal firearms head straight for urban centres, where they are sold off in an underground market.

CBC Radio's Rosie Rowbotham managed to enter this shadowy world of illicit gun dealers and convinced them to set up a mock gun demonstration and sale in Toronto.

Accompanied by CBC Toronto Webmaster Dwight Friesen, the two were driven to a makeshift shooting range where Rosie conducted an interview with the five masked men about the business and politics of guns.

Of course at the end of these transactions, there are the victims of gun violence.

In Toronto last year 31 people died as a result of guns. In the first three months of 2004, nine people-including a 22-year-old man returning from a parenting class-had died from gun violence.

By exploring the legal and cultural issues that contribute to the spread of illegal guns on our streets and communities, Staring Down The Barrel hopes to provoke possible solutions to the problem.

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