For the second morning in a row, Justin Trudeau pitched GTA voters on a gun control plan that falls short of what was wanted by the people standing directly behind him.
Shortly after the Liberal leader held a closed-door conversation on gun violence with seven GTA mayors and one regional councillor in Richmond Hill on Tuesday morning, a CBC reporter asked the local leaders for a show of hands on their support for a national handgun ban. Eight hands went up.
Asked the GTA Mayors for a show of hands if they would support a national handgun ban. Trudeau is promising to allow municipalities to ban handguns, these mayors support a national ban pic.twitter.com/u6it2YmYJ5
— Katie Simpson (@CBCKatie) October 1, 2019
Trudeau’s plan does not call for a national handgun ban and instead promises to give cities the authority to impose one, should they so choose. The Liberals have said a national ban is too expensive for uncertain benefit.
“A re-elected Liberal government will give municipalities the option and the authority to ban or restrict handguns,” Trudeau said on Tuesday.
Some experts have said the municipality-by-municipality approach risks creating a “patchwork system” of different laws in neighbouring jurisdictions. It’s also still unclear specifically how the Liberals’ plan will get around opposition from any province or territory — such as Doug Ford’s Ontario — that is against allowing a city to impose a ban.
On Monday, Trudeau heard from a chorus of doctors and public-health workers who called for Ottawa to treat gun violence as a public health issue, another step the Liberals have not explicitly endorsed.
The Liberals have pledged to ban military-style assault weapons, such as the AR-15 rifle. The party is also promising to spend $250 million over five years to help Canadian cities combat guns and gangs. That money, Trudeau said, will go directly to cities, “bypassing the need for provincial involvement.”
In a tweet, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who appeared behind Trudeau on Tuesday, said he was encouraged by the funding promise. “Further restrictions are welcome, even for responsible gun owners,” he wrote, “but criminals don’t follow rules and more resources are needed at the border to cut off the flow of guns.”
“This is a national issue,” said Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie in a statement saying she applauds efforts to introduce stricter gun control. “While I believe the federal government is in the best position to effectively enforce gun control measures, there are steps we can take here at home to combat violent crime,” she said. Crombie also raised her hand Tuesday.
It is not necessarily a bad look for the Liberal leader to appear with a group of people who say his plan does not go far enough, said Tim Murphy, a Liberal strategist and chief of staff to former prime minister Paul Martin. Even appearances that show disagreement can frame the debate as a choice between the Liberal plan to let cities choose and the Conservative opposition to any ban at all, he said.
Besides, the NDP to Trudeau’s left is also not calling for a national handgun ban. A national party will struggle with a “one size fits all position” like a countrywide ban, Murphy said.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has argued a firearms ban punishes lawful gun owners. He has said his party will impose tougher sentences for gang members and give more money to police anti-gang initiatives.
Premier Doug Ford continues to oppose a handgun ban. “The premier doesn’t believe in blaming law-abiding hunters and gun-owners for the crimes of gang members,” spokesperson Kayla Iafelice said in an email to the Star, adding that the premier’s office has so far received few details on the Liberal plan. “As law enforcement experts routinely highlight, criminals don’t respect geographic boundaries and the vast majority of gang and gun crime do not involve legally obtained guns,” she wrote.
Asked about Ford’s opposition, Trudeau said Ottawa “has the tools” to support municipalities in their desire to ban handguns — “But, of course, our preferred option is to work with all orders of government.”
It is unclear how often assault-style weapons are used in shootings in Canada, as that data is not published.
It is also unclear how often legal weapons of any kind end up being used in Canadian crimes.
Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, the Liberal candidate for Scarborough Southwest, on Tuesday outlined three ways in which guns get into the hands of criminals: The weapons may be illegally smuggled over the border with the U.S., stolen from legal gun owners or retailers, and bought legally before being sold illegally “for enormous profit,” he said.
As examples of the kinds of weapons that criminals may find harder to get under the Liberal plan, Blair pointed to the handgun that was in the Danforth mass shooting. That gun, a Smith & Wesson .40 calibre handgun, was stolen from a Saskatchewan gun shop before it ended up in the hands of the Danforth gunman.
The Liberal plan, Blair said, includes tougher rules for firearm storage that may help prevent such thefts. If such weapons are stored in a safe or vault, they will be “far less likely to end up on our streets,” he said.
Legally purchased weapons can also become a risk in situations such as intimate-partner violence or hate crimes, he said.
“In Canada, gun ownership is a privilege,” Blair said.
Tuesday’s event included the mayors of Mississauga, Markham, Oakville, Newmarket, Whitby, Aurora and Richmond Hill, plus Brampton councillor Martin Medeiros.
Also standing behind Trudeau was Majid Jowhari, the Liberal candidate for Richmond Hill.
Toronto Mayor John Tory was not at the event, nor were Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown or Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua.
Tory has said he supports a national handgun ban. Brown is in Europe and was not available for comment. The Star did not immediately hear from Bevilacqua on his position.
Like Trudeau, New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh has argued cities should have the right to ban handguns. The NDP is also calling for funding community-led projects to help deter youth from joining gangs.
Green party Leader Elizabeth May has argued for a ban on both assault weapons and handguns.
Gun violence continues to be at or near record levels in Toronto. As of Monday, 192 people had been killed or injured in a shooting in Toronto this year — up from 77 by that date in 2014 for the most by Sept. 30 in any year in police records that go back to 2004.