Paul Martin's recent handgun ban announcement looks great. From all appearances, the PM seems quite ready and able to take on the pro-gun lobby on my behalf.
And that, of course, is what the Liberals hope you feel, too and feel so strongly that you'll vote for them January 23. Problem is, few people on either side of the issue think this is much more than a Christmas election bauble flung carelessly at the electorate to shore up Liberal support in southern Ontario.
The plan is a stiff. Take the whopping price tag alone, a major insult to community activists who have long complained they can't get backing for their social projects.
On top of the close to $400 million for law enforcement and crime prevention initiatives already promised, the gun plan earmarks 50 mil to buy back legal handguns from collectors and an amnesty with cash incentives to gun owners who have unregistered handguns.
The spending list goes on. As an added inducement to get owners of long guns shotguns and rifles to comply with the gun registry, Martin has waived the fee gun owners have to pay every five years when they renew their licence. Previously paid relicencing fees will be refunded as well. According to most estimates, that's a $120 million give-back.
For groups like the Coalition of African Canadian Associations, that's a lot of dough that isn't going to skills training and economic opportunities.
"The plan is a superficial response,' says the org's Sandra Carnegie-Douglas. "Overall, this announcement will not have an impact on how many young black men get killed with guns. Is this [handgun ban] really going to stem the tide of illegal guns?"
From a totally different angle, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association does its own scoffing. "Big deal,' says CSSA executive director Larry Whitmore, speaking about the waiving of the gun registry fee. "It's an $80 fee every five years. That is no inducement for anyone."
Whitmore thinks the public should really question whether it wants its money to go to buying back handguns from collectors. "Look, I've got a gun worth $3,000," he says. "Most collectors have thousands upon thousands of dollars' worth of guns. But these aren't the ones you find on the street.'
Maybe not the antiques, but because collectors possess many different kinds of guns, cops say they are particularly targeted by thieves. Besides, collectors aren't the only ones with handguns.
Many of Canada's half-million registered handguns are owned by target shooters, those neighbours and fellow citizens of yours and mine who take their handguns to a range and blow off a few rounds of ammo.
The problem is that while half the illegal guns cops confiscated in Toronto have been smuggled in from the U.S., the other half were "legally owned at one time in Canada before they find their way onto the street,' says Ryerson prof Wendy Cukier, whose book The Global Gun Epidemic: From Saturday Night Specials To AK47s has just hit bookstores.
"Half a million legal handguns are in circulation in Canada,' she says, "so if you're looking for one, it isn't hard to find.'
Given this situation, it's strange that the Liberal plan doesn't ban handguns used by target shooters. (There are also 7 million registered rifles and shotguns in Canada. Gang members like to use them, too, but they've been left out of the Liberal ban.)
Liberal spokesperson Amy Butcher says, "Right now there's no definition of what a target shooter is. We will work with the provinces and law enforcement agencies to tighten the definition. Then target shooters would need to comply in order to get a licence for a handgun.'
What. Wait a minute. Work with who? Oh, yeah as with so many national initiatives that give good headline, it's up to the provinces to enforce the letter of law. And except for Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant, no other provincial government is lining up to support the plan.
In fact, Alberta's Ralph Klein has already said he's not interested (wow, what a shocker), and Ralph Goodale himself has reportedly all but admitted that he expects his home province of Saskatchewan to bow out as well.
This may scupper the whole enterprise before it gets off the ground. As it stands, while a thief has a 14 per cent chance of finding a gun in a break-in in an Ontario home, he stands a 40 per cent chance of finding one in a break-in Alberta.
If all the provinces don't comply, then the ban becomes fairly useless in stemming the tide of illegal guns. If we can't stop them coming in from the U.S., where we have border guards, we certainly won't be able to stop them coming east on the Trans-Canada.
The Martin ban has got gun owners even more riled than they were already. "I'd like to thank Mr. Martin for this,' says the CSSA's Whitmore. "The ban has certainly motivated our membership to get involved in this election.' The bulk of CSSA members live in the Golden Horseshoe, and they could tip the balance in some ridings.
Whitmore says the org has finalized a list of candidates it is asking members to work for. He won't tell me who's on it, but says most of them are Tories.
The Tories' platform would weaken current firearm legislation and do away with the long gun registry altogether, which, despite its significant operational problems and start-up cost, has been an enormously successful tool for cops trying to ascertain who it is they're encountering. It's estimated that officers across Canada access the registry's data bank 5,000 times a day.