Time to restart handgun-ban discussion

A point of pride for Canadians has long been that we are relatively free of handguns and the resulting scourge of injuries and deaths that are inevitable when citizens arm up, a plight that plagues our neighbours to the south. If we want to continue to be a country where handgun violence is relatively rare, it’s time to resume efforts to ban these weapons.

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Opinion

A point of pride for Canadians has long been that we are relatively free of handguns and the resulting scourge of injuries and deaths that are inevitable when citizens arm up, a plight that plagues our neighbours to the south. If we want to continue to be a country where handgun violence is relatively rare, it’s time to resume efforts to ban these weapons.

The need for such a restriction became clear at the March 4 meeting of the Winnipeg Police Board, when police reported 182 handguns were seized in 2021, a 35 per cent increase from the previous year. Winnipeg Police Service Insp. Elton Hall told the board, “Handguns have quickly become one of the biggest challenges facing front-line policing in Winnipeg today.”

His observation should concern Winnipeggers, who legally cannot own handguns except for target-shooting purposes and don’t want criminals to have them either. Polls show about two-thirds of Canadians want all handguns banned.

The public will is clear; what’s considerably less clear is which level of government will step up and do what the electorate wants. Recent jurisdictional jockeying has seen the issue ricocheted between federal, provincial and municipal levels.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press files)

Visiting Manitoba on Thursday, federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino answered media questions about gun violence by recounting measures his government is taking, such as moving forward with a national ban on military-style assault rifles. Unfortunately, he didn’t mention the possibility of a national ban on handguns, perhaps because his government seems stalled on the issue.

In November 2021, Mr. Mendicino said that rather than a imposing national ban on handguns, his government would help provinces and cities enact their own restrictions.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said at the time he supports a handgun ban, but would rather it be on a national or provincial level so enforcement is uniform.

Then-premier Brian Pallister said he wouldn’t support a municipal or provincial ban, but might support the ban if it was national.

While the politicians passed the hot potato, Statistics Canada reported an 81 per cent increase in gun violence between 2009 and 2019.

Handgun-ban legislation should also impose tighter penalties for possession of guns illegally smuggled across the U.S. border, for home-made devices sometimes known as Zip guns, for those assembled from mail-order kits and for those manufactured with 3D technology.

With the exception of legitimate target shooters, there is no valid reason for law-abiding Canadians to own handguns. While long guns are used by some for hunting and controlling pests on farms, the use of handguns for those purposes is illegal.

And when they are used (unlawfully) for purposes other than target-shooting, handguns are used primarily to intimidate people, to shoot people and in the commission of crimes.

With the exception of legitimate target shooters, there is no valid reason for law-abiding Canadians to own handguns.

Responsible handgun owners who currently pursue their hobby of shooting on licensed ranges might initially oppose a ban but, as people skilled with firearms, one hopes they of all people will understand the danger of having a growing number of such weapons in the hands of untrained amateurs, many of whom are of criminal intent.

Ottawa’s attempt to shift the ban responsibility to provinces and municipalities has been a non-starter, and for good reason. A patchwork of handgun bans would create the possibility of people travelling to neighboring jurisdictions in search of less-restricted access. A unified approach is essential.

Municipal and provincial representatives should support and work together with Ottawa, but their joint mandate should be clear – the handgun ban must be national.

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