Liberals vow to ban handguns

Martin announces sweeping ban on handguns, tougher sentencing, more law enforcement.

The Liberal strategy for making the streets of Canada's cities safer begins with banning all handguns and getting tougher on crime. Paul Martin announced the proposed ban in a troubled Toronto neighbourhood on Thursday.

"I've come to the conclusion that significant change is needed. I've come to the conclusion that we should ban handguns," Martin said at a community centre in north Etobicoke, a Toronto suburb rocked by a spate of shootings this year.

Gunfire has been responsible for 50 of the 74 homicides in Toronto this year.

"In a number of our cities ... there has been an upsurge in violent crime involving handguns," he said. "This is not the Canada we imagine. It isn't the Canada we want for our families."

Martin said on Thursday that his government, if re-elected in the Jan. 23 vote, would immediately introduce the handgun ban, offering narrowly defined exemptions for target shooters and allowing collectors time to sell or dispose of their weapons.

Collectors will have to sell or surrender their weapons over five years or become target shooters.

Under the current system, handguns are prohibited but people are allowed to possess a restricted firearm for target practice, target shooting competitions, to form part of a collection or, in rare cases, for employment purposes or to protect your life.

The Canadian Firearm Centre reports that individual Canadians legally own 520,000 handguns.

The Liberals plan to introduce the ban as an amendment to the Criminal Code and invite the provinces and territories to participate in making the ban nationwide.

But provinces could opt out of the program. And Westerners, who own 40 per cent of Canada's handguns, may not sign on.

The Liberal strategy, Martin said, would also mean tougher sentences for people convicted of crimes involving guns, better enforcement at the border to stop gun smuggling and more police assigned to fighting guns and gangs.

Martin said his strategy includes the creation of a new 250-member RCMP unit that would partner with local police in confronting guns and gangs.

"I stand for a Canada that looks at the costs of handguns in human terms and human lives and proudly says, 'No more,'" Martin said.

Martin's announcement comes nearly a month after he was last in the Jane-Finch area, when he promised tougher gun laws and the creation of a $50-million fund to help combat gang violence nationally.

Toronto police launched a gun amnesty program in November, collecting 261 weapons, including 33 handguns, and more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition.

He also said there would be a national handgun amnesty and that money would be made available to compensate people for giving up their handguns.

Martin pointed out that over the course of the last decade, the number of murders that have taken place with the use of handguns has gone from over a third to close to 75 per cent.

But in 2004, 27.7 per cent of Canada's 622 homicides involved some sort of gun, down from 31 per cent three years ago. Only 18 per cent of last year's killings involved handguns. Stabbings and beatings accounted for a much higher percentage.

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