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OTTAWA — Manitoba gun owners say a Liberal proposal to study a ban on all handguns misses the mark, believing it will threaten shooting sports without putting a dent in Winnipeg gun crime.
“It’s a stopgap; it doesn’t fix the problem at hand,” said Brenden Roemich, who is head of the Winnipeg Revolver and Pistol Association but was only speaking for himself.
“It’s becoming a knee-jerk reaction: ‘We can’t fix whatever it is, so we’re looking instead to just ban things.’”
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released mandate letters for new ministers, revealing his instructions for the last 14 months before the next federal election. Among the duties for Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair is a call to “lead an examination of a full ban on handguns and assault weapons in Canada.”
Roemich says that would effectively kill his West St. Paul club, which numbers 300 people and has held shooting events, including with pistols, at both the 1967 and 1999 Pan American Games.
‘We’re picking on an inanimate object. We’re not making the individual responsible; we’re absconding from social responsibility’— Matt Hipwell, owner of Wolverine Supplies in Virden
Trudeau’s suggestion has not led to legislation, though Montreal and Toronto city councils have both asked for restrictions after urban shootings involving handguns.
Although the national crime rate is on the decline overall, violent crime is dramatically rising. In 2016, Winnipeg had the second highest per-capita rate of violent crimes involving firearms, at a rate double the national average. However, just three per cent of all violent crimes involve firearms.
Matt Hipwell, the owner of Wolverine Supplies in Virden, noted that Canadian gun owners face much more stringent requirements than in the U.S., involving an arduous application process, strict storage rules and a daily criminal-record scan of all owners.
“We’re picking on an inanimate object,” he said, suggesting tougher prison sentences and better resourced courts would prevent criminals from getting released with a recognizance or undertaking. “We’re not making the individual responsible; we’re absconding from social responsibility.
Gun-rights advocates note that many such guns are sourced through the black market, likely smuggled from the United States — but there is no national repository to track the source of firearms used in crimes. Gun-control activists believe many guns are stolen from licensed Canadians and used by criminals.
Selkirk-area MP James Bezan shares that view. He said the Liberals are trying to shore up support from voters unfamiliar with Canada’s gun laws.
“This isn’t about making our streets safer; this is simply a public-relations exercise,” he said.
“They shouldn’t be allowed to come in and strip property rights away from citizens,” he said, suggesting the Liberals could start going after even more firearms. “This is the thin edge of the wedge.”
Hipwell says he expects parties of all political stripes are riling up their base ahead of the October 2019 election.
“Public safety should be above politics,” he said, adding that news organizations only focus on guns going wrong. He tried in vain to drum up media attention for a national pistol-shooting championship that brought 400 shooters to East Selkirk, including from overseas.
Larry Neufeld hunts for deer, elk and geese in Rockwood, about 45 minutes north of Winnipeg. Though he doesn’t hunt with a handgun, he says rural Canadians feel under siege.
“The law-abiding firearms owners are very irate about what the Liberals are trying to do,” he said. “They’re trying to satisfy downtown Toronto with their actions, but it’s severely impacting rural Manitoba.”
He said there should be more educational campaigns and programs to undercut urban crime, instead of ramping up firearm restrictions. He said it’s not even clear how Ottawa plans to define the “assault rifles” it’s considering banning.
“It gets crazy, because every day you wonder what they want to get rid of and what they’re going to take away.”
Robyn Dryden, co-ordinator of the Gang Action Inter-Agency Network, said any measures that reduce the number of firearms could have a positive impact on Winnipeg’s streets, but she said that won’t address the reasons troubled people seek guns.
“We still need to be looking at it from a more holistic point of view and looking at how we can be helping folks heal and deal with whatever issues they may be facing, whether that’s complex trauma, or addiction issues, family issues,” she said.
In March, Dryden took part in an Ottawa summit on guns and gangs, after which the federal Liberals tabled legislation aimed at beefing up background checks for gun licensees.
Dryden says she’s since seen some funding come through for youth-gang prevention, but is still waiting to see guaranteed, multi-year funding for services, instead of hoping for success from shorter-term projects based on annual budgets.