Liberals won't commit to handgun ban, but set firearms control on election agenda

The Liberal government's point man on gun control says more measures must be taken to choke the supply and demand for illegal firearms, but he won't commit to a handgun ban despite renewed pressure to impose one.

Minister Bill Blair faces renewed calls for tougher measures in wake of Toronto shootings

Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair says more effective measures must be taken to curb gun violence. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Liberal government's point man on gun control says more measures must be taken to choke the supply and demand for illegal firearms, but he won't commit to a handgun ban despite renewed pressure to impose one.

Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair said Thursday he had been asked to study a handgun ban, but suggested there are other "very effective measures" that can be taken to prevent the deadly weapons from getting in the hands of criminals.

Blair said more money to stop the flow of guns crossing into Canada from the U.S. — what he called "the greatest arsenal in the world" — along with stricter storage requirements and enhanced tracing for when a gun has been bought legally then stolen or sold illegally, are some of the measures he said could tackle gun violence.

"There's no one simple solution. There's a thousand things we must do and we must do them all well. And that's our commitment," he said.

Blair's remarks come after a spate of gun violence in Toronto during the Civic Holiday long weekend that saw 17 people shot during 14 separate incidents, sparking renewed calls for a national handgun ban from the city's Mayor John Tory.

After months of nation-wide consultations on gun control, Blair signalled in June in a series of media interviews that he was in favour of a national ban on assault-style weapons, but not handguns.

At the time, he told the Toronto Star the Liberals would instead propose empowering cities to impose additional restrictions on handguns, citing the potential $2-billion cost of compensating owners as one of the factors.

He also said there would be a continued challenge because criminals could still gain access to handguns because so many are smuggled across the border from the U.S.

Tougher sentences

A spokesperson for Tory said the mayor will not comment speculate on any scenarios that fall short of a full national ban on the availability, sale, possession and use of handguns, assault rifles and semi-automatic firearms.

"The mayor has advocated for a ban and will continue to advocate for a ban because he believes a ban would be bound to make some difference. But he has been clear that this is only part of the solution to tackling gun violence," said Lawvin Hadisi in an email.

"The mayor has been equally vocal about the need for tougher penalties and bail conditions for those caught using guns illegally and trafficking guns."

Toronto City Council is also calling on the federal government to invest more resources to tackle domestic firearm trafficking, targeting large single purchasers of firearms the flow of guns crossing the border. It also wants tougher mandatory-minimum sentences for gun traffickers.

Toronto Mayor John Tory says he wants to hear from political leaders on gun control plans during the upcoming election. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Tory will be pressing the gun control issue in the upcoming federal election.

"While the mayor won't be endorsing any party in the federal election, he does expect all party leaders to make clear how they will work with the City of Toronto to help keep the city safe," Hadisi said.

Earlier this week, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Blair's extensive consultations, along with other information and recent events, will shape the policy proposals the Liberals will present to electors in the upcoming campaign.

"Canadians will have an opportunity to listen to the competing views of all the political parties, but they'll see a very strong presentation from the government, and Canadians will be able to decide," he said.

An official in Blair's office noted the government has already brought in several gun control measures and has allocated $327 million for initiatives that include $214 million for provinces and territories to develop prevention and enforcement initiatives. But any new measures will not come by bypassing the will of Canadians, a statement from the office said. 

"We have been clear: In order to ensure the protection of our communities there is no option that we will not consider, though if we are to take additional measures we will need a mandate to do so."


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