Truth is, we don’t know where the guns come from
It is now widely accepted as gospel that about half of the so-called “crime guns” used in Canada come from domestic sources, in other words, are either stolen from legal owners in breakins or trafficked by them for profit to criminals.Big-city mayors and police chiefs cite the wisdom casually, as though the statistic was untouchable.For instance, Toronto Mayor John Tory recently wrote in a piece for the Toronto Sun that while at one time, the United States was “the overwhelming source of illegal guns” in the city, “now those numbers have shifted with around 50 per cent of the guns coming from right here in Canada.”Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale recently told a guns and gangs summit something similar and tweeted, “With so many crime guns coming from legitimate domestic sources, we need effective firearm measures.”And as far back as 2016, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders told a meeting of the Toronto Star editorial board, “Most of the firearms are coming from Canada, into bad guys’ hands.” About the same time, a Star reporter also had obtained an internal police memo bemoaning the fact that once someone has a federal Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL), he or she “can buy as many guns as they want.”Toronto city council, in the wake of the Danforth shootings last month, voted overwhelmingly to ban the sale of handguns and handgun ammunition within the city limits; Montreal city council is next week set to debate a motion calling for a nationwide ban on handguns and assault weapons.Alas and alack, no one, including the aforementioned public figures, knows anything like this, as Evan Dyer wrote last week for CBC News.Dyer set out to trace the source of the new conventional wisdom, tracking it back to an RCMP inspector in Vancouver, who had told the Vancouver Sun, also in 2016, that “the majority of gunrelated crimes in our communities are committed with guns that are domestically sourced.”But when Dyer contacted the Canadian Firearms Program and asked for the supporting data, the RCMP replied that no such data exists.Instead, the force told Dyer in a statement that the inspector would have been using information he had at the time. “However, this information would not have provided a complete, national picture of the sources of crime guns, as no such data exists.”The problem on a national level is a lack of actual data, collected in the same manner and using the same definitions.What Toronto police and the RCMP know is that where they can determine the source of a crime gun, there’s a roughly 50-50 split between guns from the U.S. and guns from within Canada.The difficulty is that police can usually trace — at best — less than half of crime guns.On average, Toronto spokeswoman Meaghan Grey told the National Post in an email Wednesday, “investigators are able to determine the source of about half (46 per cent).”That’s in part because nonregulated items such as air guns and starter pistols, though still considered crime guns, can’t be traced, and in part because neither can firearms with no serial numbers.Last year, for instance, Toronto police seized a total of 726 crime guns, but was able to source only 328 of them. Of those, 180 came from the U.S., and 148 from within Canada.In 2016, of 516 seized crime guns, 99 originated in the U.S., 107 in Canada.But that leaves, respectively for 2017 and 2016, 398 and 310 crime guns unsourced, origin unknown.As Dennis Young, a former Mountie and advocate for legal gun owners, found, the same holds true for the RCMP statistics.Last June, a year after he’d made an Access to Information Act request, he finally got some numbers from the Canadian Firearms Program, contained in a 2014 annual report for the four western provinces and three territories.Astonishingly, the report also says in the executive summary that “contrary to popular perception, the majority of crime guns — restricted, non-restricted and otherwise — were domestically sourced rather than smuggled.”And yet, much deeper along in the same report, is the telling qualifier: Of the 783 crime gun “trace requests” made in those western and northern jurisdictions in 2014, only 229 “were successfully traced.”And yes, of those which were traced, the split was about 50-50 U.S./Canadian. But that does not translate to half the guns that are used in crimes originating from within this country’s borders.As Young told the CBC’s Dyer: “Accurate statistics should be collected by the Canadian Firearms Centre and they’re not. And those statistics should be verified and reported by Statistics Canada, and they’re not.”Pretty simple. Speaking of simple: Twice in recent columns, I have distinguished myself with spectacular errors. In one, I described Marathon, Ont., as being northeast of Toronto; it is mostly north but also west. (I made this goof while looking at a map.) In another, I described Japanese-Canadians as having been “interred” during the Second World War. In fact, they were interned in camps, which was quite bad enough. Mea culpa. I am a well-known idiot.
The problem on a national level is a lack of actual data on crime gun origins, collected in the same manner and using the same definitions, Christie Blatchford writes.
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