The City Council passed motions urging Ottawa to ban handgun sales in the city and to tighten screening for gun owners with mental-health issues, and voted to spend millions of dollars on closed-circuit TV cameras, additional police and community violence-prevention programs.
Ottawa apparently is listening. Ralph Goodale, the public safety minister, told journalists that he's studying the issue but warned that any ban would require a “significant remodeling” of Canada's Criminal Code. The Globe and Mail reported Friday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will decide by mid-August whether his government will pursue a proposal to ban handguns nationally in an effort to attract urban voters, who are believed to widely favor a ban.
Hilary Pierce, a spokeswoman for Goodale, said in an emailed statement that the Trudeau government is "open to all possible options" to fight gun crime but without mentioning a handgun ban. The options included enforcing an obligation on medical professionals to disclose the mental illness of potential firearms buyers and imposing safe storage rules and advertising regulations for firearms.
Could the Greektown attack be Canada's Dunblane? In 1996, the massacre of 16 children and their teacher at a school in Dunblane, Scotland, provoked a massive public reaction throughout Britain, leading to an eventual ban on handgun ownership in that country.
Although it is too soon to gauge the national political effect of Sunday's shooting, it has rekindled the debate here over gun control and highlights the sharp contrasts between how firearms are viewed in Canada and the United States.
Gun violence remains much less common in Canada than in the United States, with an estimated 11,000 gun-related homicides in the United States in 2016, against 223 in Canada.
Yet gun violence is on the rise, and illegal handguns are increasingly easy to get, according to Wendy Cukier, president of Canada’s Coalition for Gun Control.
“The reality is that homicide with guns has increased over the past four years. Suicide with guns has increased over the last four years, and gun theft has increased over the past four years,” Cukier said.
The problem is most acute in Toronto. The city is in the midst of a wave of gun violence, including 228 separate shootings that have taken 29 lives this year, up 71 percent over the same period in 2017. Much of the violence is blamed on turf wars between rival street gangs. While shootouts have usually been concentrated in specific districts of the sprawling metropolis, recent incidents have attracted attention because they have struck at popular downtown areas.
Jooyoung Lee, an American who is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, where he studies guns and gun violence, says there is a fundamental difference in the gun debate in the two countries.
“Owning a gun here is a responsibility and not an inalienable right,” Lee said. “Owning a gun is seen as a social responsibility.”
The result is that there is broad acceptance of the Canadian system, which requires any firearms purchaser to apply for a license, go through a background check and take a firearm safety course before getting permission to buy a gun. It takes at least a month to complete the process.
Questions are being raised about how Faisal Hussain, the Greektown shooter who died in Sunday’s attack, managed to obtain the handgun he used even though he had a long history of mental-health problems.
Attention has focused on Faisal’s older brother Fahad, currently in a coma after a drug overdose last year. Fahad previously lived at a home where 33 guns were seized by police in 2017.
Canadian police have long placed much of the blame for the flood of illegal guns on smuggling from the United States but have noted a recent increase in the number of domestically sourced guns being seized. According to Toronto police, 75 percent of guns seized in 2011 originated south of the border, but that number dropped to 55 percent in 2017.
Increasingly, legally acquired handguns are being sold illegally because the profits are so alluring, Toronto Police Detective Rob Di Danieli told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
“They go get their license for the purpose of becoming a firearms trafficker,” he said. “A lot of people are so ready to blame the big bad Americans, but we had our own little problem here.”
While Canada’s gun lobby is less outspoken than U.S. groups such as the NRA and has few high-profile spokesmen, it remains a presence. Under the previous Conservative federal government, the gun lobby succeeded in its push for the dismantling of the national firearms registry for rifles and shotguns in 2012 and the destruction of ownership records for more than 5 million firearms.
Opponents of the registry said it was a costly and onerous regime that unfairly targeted law-abiding hunters and recreational gun owners. While restrictions remain on the ownership of handguns and “restricted and prohibited weapons,” even those rules were relaxed, and ownership of assault weapons such as the AR-15 remain legal.
While promising to tighten gun control, the Trudeau government has vowed never to bring back the firearms registry, worried about losing support in rural parts of the country. Legislation under review in Parliament would tighten record-keeping rules for gun sellers and background checks for license holders, but gun-control advocates say the measures aren’t sufficient.