You may not have noticed amid all the other news, but the cause of banning handguns in Canada took two serious body blows in recent days. Good.
The first and most important was an announcement by Bill Blair, the federal Liberals’ minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction. Blair has been looking into cracking down on legal gun ownership in Canada for months, as part of a government promise to investigate whether Canada’s gun control laws are sufficient in the wake of some high-profile shootings. Though Blair concluded Canada can do more, and rumours continue to swirl about a possible ban of the AR-15 rifle (and perhaps other semi-automatic rifles), Blair said he had concluded that a handgun ban wasn’t necessary. Instead, he says a re-elected Liberal government would work with municipalities to consider whether the laws governing how firearms are stored need to be strengthened.
It’s hard to know exactly what to make of that — it could be relatively benign, or it could be some silly and logistically impossible plan to require central storage of privately owned firearms. (Good luck finding a building that can safely hold thousands of firearms while also being accessible and convenient for legitimate sports shooters.) I’ll set that matter to the side for a moment, and save it for a future column once more information is known. What’s worth discussing now is something else Blair said.
Blair said he had concluded that a handgun ban wasn’t necessary
In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Blair explained why the government had decided against banning handguns. “I believe that would be potentially a very expensive proposition,” Blair said, referring to the potential costs of a massive buyback of almost a million lawfully owned guns and their related accessories. “But just as importantly,” he told the Globe, “it would not in my opinion be perhaps the most effective measure in restricting the access that criminals would have to such weapons, because we’d still have a problem with them being smuggled across the border.”
I guess the federal government needed almost a full year of study to conclude what was always blindingly obvious — the supply of firearms to the gangs responsible for most of the shootings in Canada’s largest cities comes from the United States. Some handguns can be traced back to Canadian owners (individuals, institutions or even gun stores). These guns can be stolen or unlawfully diverted onto the black market. But the evidence has long been clear that the U.S. remains the main supplier, and there’s zero evidence to suggest (and no reason to believe) that any tightening of the supply of guns from Canadian sources wouldn’t be instantly offset by an increased supply from the U.S. Guns sold on the black market in Canada can already sell well beyond the market value a target shooter would pay for it in a gun store. This is because selling guns, like any other controlled object, is lucrative. Banning Canadian guns would enrich smugglers, not reduce crime.
Still, it was interesting to hear Blair say it. A handgun ban targeting lawful Canadian owners would not be “the most effective measure” because lawful Canadian owners aren’t the problem, they’re just convenient political scapegoats. Later in the interview with the Globe, Blair said further, “It is not, in any way, my intention nor my recommendation that we would do anything to restrict the activities of hunters and farmers or sports shooters who follow the rules, who are obeying the law and don’t represent a risk themselves to public safety.” See that? “Don’t represent a risk themselves to public safety.”
This admission by Blair is especially interesting because a ban on handguns would almost certainly be good politics for the Liberals, even if not good policy. Polls have consistently shown strong support for handgun bans in Canada, particularly in large cities. The Liberals have had a horrific six months and are no doubt looking for something with a bit of electoral sizzle as we get closer to the vote. Various Liberals have long taken a dim view of private handgun ownership. Going for a handgun ban, if you’re a Liberal, makes perfect political sense. For them to have studied the issue and concluded they’re not going to do it can only mean one thing — the evidence against its effectiveness must simply be overwhelming.
There was another surprise hit to the calls for a handgun ban — this time from the Toronto Star. The Star is not a fan of private handgun ownership; its editorial board criticized Blair when he announced there would be no handgun ban. But a report in the Star just this week discussed the results of a recent gun buyback program (3,000 guns were turned in), and noted that experts don’t believe such programs are effective. The Star quoted two professors, both of whom expressed skepticism that the buyback would matter. Reducing the number of guns in total would reduce the rate of gun violence “at a theoretical level,” Jooyoung Lee, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, told the Star. “But at an empirical, everyday, practical level, firearms that are turned into these programs aren’t often the kinds of guns that we see used in shootings.”
Right. Because they’re mostly being given back by lawful owners who simply don’t want them anymore. Much like a ban, a buyback targets the hundreds of thousands of lawful owners, not the dozens or perhaps hundreds of criminals responsible for most of the carnage.
Like I said, it’s been a bad few days for the handgun ban boosters — both the Liberals and the Star are admitting they wouldn’t work because they target the wrong people. I’ve been saying that all along. Let’s see how long until we’re having the same-old argument again, though. It never quite seems to go away.