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Firearm seizures rise as police target guns

As gun crime rises across the country, police are fighting back: Manitoba law enforcement agencies seized 54 per cent more firearms last year than in 2017.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/07/2019 (1301 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As gun crime rises across the country, police are fighting back: Manitoba law enforcement agencies seized 54 per cent more firearms last year than in 2017.

RCMP said 1,245 guns were seized in Manitoba in 2018; so far in 2019, they’ve seized 570 (not including replica or imitation firearms).

On June 21 Manitoba First Nations Police Service seized 14 rifles, 2 shotguns, 2 crossbows, a 9mm handgun, a .22-calibre revolver and several edged weapons from a home on Swan Lake First Nation. (Supplied photo)

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“Sometimes, the on-paper increase in something, could be taken as a good sign — because it means something is being done about it,” said University of Manitoba criminology Prof. Frank Cormier. “The problem is, we don’t know.”

Cormier warns against putting too much stock in year-over-year statistics: the number of guns seized reflects what police are doing more than what criminals are doing.

“If it is perceived to be a problem, then police will respond accordingly, and start focusing more attention on illegal firearms, and therefore they will start seizing more,” Cormier said, “and the numbers will go up.”

While violent crime has declined nationwide the last 10 years, firearm-related crime has been on the rise.

Winnipeg had the second-highest rate of crime with a firearm present among Canadian cities in 2016: 49.5 per 100,000 population (behind only Regina). So far this year, nine homicides in Winnipeg have involved guns, compared with three in 2018.

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Manitoba First Nations Police Service seized 23 guns from a home in Sandy Bay on June 10. (Supplied photo)

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This spring, aided by $2.3 million from the federal government, the provincial government announced targeted funding to get more guns off the streets, including $1.3 million for the Winnipeg Police Service guns and gangs unit.

The Manitoba First Nations Police Service got $97,000, which will largely be used for training and equipment, such as bulletproof vests, to respond to high-risk situations.

“We have seven communities and, essentially, we just want to get the drugs and the guns and the gangs out,” said MFNPS Insp. Dave Scott. “It’s always a big problem… a very dangerous situation when we get called.”

Scott said officers seized more than 40 firearms in June alone.

After the team is trained this summer, it will gather more intelligence about how guns and drugs are getting into communities. Scott said it appears criminals from cities set up shop in small communities to sell drugs, and carry guns for protection.

“We certainly want to get a handle on this, and start suppressing it,” he said.

Cormier said there’s still not enough data on guns and crime to devise policy for law enforcement. Big questions remain unanswered, including: how many stolen guns are used in crime, and how many firearms come into Canada from the United States?

“Until we know the qualitative details… it’s hard to say what exactly we’re looking at, why is it happening, and therefore what can be done about it," Cormier said. Without better data, he said, it’s impossible to ensure police resources are allocated correctly.

People don’t want to hear “we’re studying that,” they want action. "I don’t envy (politicians) being in that position," Cormier said.

The federal and provincial funding includes $704,000 to create a database of illicit firearm and gang intelligence.

A patrol stop in Sandy Bay First Nation in May resulted in the seizure of a sawed-off shotgun and realistic pellet gun. (Supplied photo)

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Seizing firearms is an important step to improving that knowledge bank, Cormier said, because they can often be traced back to the source.

“I think the major obstacle is having the people, and the time, to try to figure these things out,” he said. “Are we willing to invest the resources if that stops us from doing the more high-profile, feel-good things?”

tvanderhart@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @tessavanderhart

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