Toronto's rash of gun violence has our pols wailing about U.S. imports, but the real data shows we are our own worst enemy. Our system of checks and balances? You can blow holes through it.
Most guns connected to crimes are smuggled from the U.S.
The reality A 2004 report prepared by Toronto police for the police services board found that only 24 per cent of crime guns seized by police last year could be traced to the U.S. Unregulated flea markets and gun shows south of the border - in some states buyers don't even have to present a licence - are considered significant sources of illicit firearms. But more and more guns, the report says, are being obtained from residential and commercial break-ins. Collectors are specifically targeted, according to Criminal Intelligence Services Canada (CISC), because they typically possess many different types of guns. Since 1997, more than 97,000 firearms have been reported stolen or missing to police, according to the RCMP's annual firearms report. Is smuggling occurring on a large scale and are there smuggling rings? CISC says that smuggling of guns from the U.S."usually involves small numbers of firearms."
Organized crime groups and street gangs are fuelling the trade in illicit guns.
The reality Licensed dealers and manufacturers and holes in the de-registration process operated by the Canadian Firearms Registry are actually diverting more illegal guns to the streets. The office of the Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) for the province of Ontario is supposed to inspect firearms businesses and enforce the Firearms Act, but as of January 2004, the CFO was conducting no active inspections. While biker gangs have been identified as a source of illicit guns, the largest investigations of gun trafficking by Toronto police and the Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit in recent years have involved legit firearms dealers, among them an employee at a gun manufacturer involved in the illegal sale of 150 semi-automatic pistols and 500,000 rounds of ammunition later linked to a variety of crimes, including murder and attempted murder, across Canada.
All firearms are supposed to be registered with the Canadian Firearms Registry. But there is currently no government agency that verifies the deactivation of firearms - those removed from the registry because they have supposedly been rendered inoperable. One group identified by police diverted some 450 firearms to the black market by simply removing the serial numbers of firearms they'd de-registered. How many more de-registered firearms have found their way to the black market? Potentially thousands. Almost 1 million have been exported, destroyed, deactivated or removed from the registry since 1998.
Gun crime is out of control.
The reality The stats don't bear that out. Despite the recent surge in gunplay - more than 30 shootings in three weeks - there have been only a few more murders so far this year (45) than at this time last year. While the number of murders involving guns is up (34 so far versus 28 for all of last year), in general guns account for a good deal less than half of all homicides in this city. Toronto police could not offer a breakdown of the 1,202 guns seized so far this year, but of the 325 homicides in Toronto between 1998 and 2003, 133, or 40 per cent, involved the use of a firearm. Similarly, of the 1,468 firearms seized by police in 2003, only 183 were identified as crime guns. According to Statistics Canada, nationwide only 14 per cent of all robberies are committed with a firearm.
Hiring more cops will stem the violence.
The reality Choking off the source of guns is more complicated than putting more dicks on the street. As the aforementioned 2004 report to the police services board points out, "The nature and scope of firearms trafficking, domestic and international, is beyond the investigative capacity of any one particular agency." A reinvestment in community policing is a critical part of any anti-gun strategy. But what's really needed is better coordination between law enforcement agencies. Although the Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit was formed in 1994, there is no one body coordinating firearms investigations in Ontario. As a result, investigative links are going unreported and unseen.
Stiffer gun penalties are what's needed.
The reality We already have some of the toughest gun laws in the world, with mandatory sentences for possession of stolen and smuggled guns. The penalties seem to be discouraging gunplay. In 89, 1,382 Canadians were killed by guns. In 2003, that number dropped to 811. We've seen a 40 per cent drop in gun deaths and gun robberies in Canada in the last 15 years. A real success story - too bad it's being drowned out by moral panic.