What Canada's largest gun lobby group thinks of handgun ban proposals

A handgun is used at a firing range in Arizona in 2018. Canada’s National Firearms Association says it strongly opposes a proposed ban on handguns in Canada because it is the “lawfully-owned property of Canadians.” Photo from Getty Images.

Are Canada’s two biggest cities looking for an easy target when it comes to addressing gun violence?

The country’s largest gun lobby group sure thinks so.

On Tuesday, CBC News reported the federal government plans to launch a study on a full ban on handguns and assault weapons in Canada.

The move comes after Montreal councillors unanimously voted to adopt a motion urging the federal government to impose a nationwide handgun ban last week. This follows a motion approved by Toronto to urge the federal government to impose a ban on the sale of handguns and handgun ammunition in the city.

Montreal Councillor Alex Norris tabled the motion, which urges the federal government to ban the possession of handguns and so-called assault weapons for those not with security or law enforcement forces. It also calls on the federal government to bolster its gun-control bill, C-71, while enhancing regulations to prevent dangerous individuals from owning firearms. 

“We don’t see any reason for private individuals to be authorized to own such weapons,” Norris told CBC News. “These are weapons that are principally designed to kill people.”

Blair Hagen, the executive vice-president of Canada’s National Firearms Association, told Yahoo Canada these political gestures amount to nothing more than “virtue signalling.”

“I think these cities are out of ideas when it comes to targeting criminal gang violence. And of course, it’s very difficult to do that because it requires a lot of resources, a commitment to fighting crime and frankly, it’s easier for them to go after law-abiding people.”

The calls for more action on gun violence comes as Toronto grips with an “unacceptable” amount this summer, according to Toronto Mayor John Tory. During a one-week period this summer, 11 people were shot in the city of Toronto. 

The city revealed a “gun violence reduction plan” last month that placed more police officers on night patrol, but that hasn’t prevented incidents such as the deadly Toronto Greektown shooting.

Targeting the wrong crowd?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has acknowledged the federal government is considering a “broad range of things” in the fight against gun violence, but he hasn’t ruled out a handgun ban in the same way Ontario Premier Doug Ford has.

Hagen, who supports Ford’s approach, asserted the real issue cities face is the demand for guns from criminal gangs.

“They’re not talking about reducing the demand for illegal guns, they’re talking about targeting the lawfully-owned property of Canadians. And frankly, it’s wrong and offensive and unconscionable, and they should be taken to task on that,” Hagen said.

Instead, the National Firearms Association, which represents 150,000 legal gun owners across Canada, said it would rather see criminal gangs punished more severely with “very, very costly” prison sentences imposed on those guilty of illegal gun play.

“Unless Ottawa and the courts get behind that, it’s just not going to happen,” Hagen said.

Earlier this month, two-thirds of Yahoo Canada readers polled said they did not support Toronto having a handgun ban after more than 5,000 online votes were cast. Most of the comments appeared to side with the gun lobby group, but others said any move that limits the number of guns wouldn’t hurt.

“Criminals use unregistered weapons anyway. Tougher laws on gun crime are what we need,” a Yahoo Canada reader named ‘mazroon’ wrote. 

“I seriously doubt that the criminal element in society will be deterred by putting more controls on guns, they are already skirting the law,” a commenter named ‘norm’ chimed in.

“Who needs a handgun?” Aigle posted in the comment section. 

“I, as a legal gun owner, am not bothered at all about a handgun ban,” Yahoo user Paul said.

But those in favour of a handgun ban argue time is of the essence. Earlier this month, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said increased gun violence has “devastated lives” in the Toronto area.

“There is an urgent need to stop gun violence from going from bad to worse,” Horwath posted on Twitter. “Measures to enhance community safety are worth considering.”