Mayor David Miller acknowledges gun offences are the only major crime offences that have not been reduced over the past five years, but he says there is a plan.
It’s three main steps involve hiring more police officers, more funding for youth programs and employment, with a main focus on getting a national ban on handguns.
“Handguns are manufactured to kill people,” Miller told the Observer in an exclusive telephone interview last week.
“That’s what they’re manufactured for, nothing else. It’s time to take them out of the possession of people.”
But asked about the city’s plans to deal with guns already in Toronto, Miller side-stepped the issue, bringing the focus back to keeping guns out.
“Well, illegal guns start legally. They either start as legal Canadian guns or they start as legal American guns,” he said. “The measures I’m talking about will end the flow of illegal guns because they all start legally.”
Based on 2004 data from the Toronto Police Service, about half the handguns used in Toronto crimes are from the U.S., where weak gun laws mean firearms are easily obtained.
Miller said the federal government needs to pay as much attention to border security as it does to airport security.
“If we can afford billions at airports, we can afford billions to be invested in ways to combat the river of guns that flows north from the U.S,” he said.
The Mayor also said strong enforcement of gun laws will keep criminals from using firearms.
“I think we need to send the message to those who would use guns that if you get caught, you’re going to jail.”
Const. Gary Gomez, of 42 Division, agreed stronger border controls and tough enforcement of gun laws are one of the most effective ways to stop gun crime.
“I think the best way is just to stop the guns from coming in and stop people from getting guns,” Gomez said. “Making it such a hard and such a difficult situation that if someone does end up with a handgun, that they’ll never want to do it again.”
A national handgun ban would also be useful, he said.
Roughly one third of guns used in Toronto’s crimes are stolen from registered owners. Banning everyone from owning handguns would keep them off the market for criminals, the crime prevention officer said.
“If [registered gun owners] store their gun improperly and it gets stolen, that gun is on the street,” Gomez said. “If they [handguns] were all gone, there’d be no way to get them.”
As far as the issue of more support for young people, the city has helped create thousands of jobs for youth through special funding, Miller said.
“Without investing in young people and giving them hope and opportunity in programs, you’re not going to be nearly as successful,” the Mayor believes.
In 42 Division, police visit elementary schools to teach kids to make the right choices from an early age, Gomez said. Education, providing good role models and making sure kids have realistic goals also keep youth away from gun crime, he added.
“I think a lot of police forces are going that route because they realize that once a kid gets to a certain age, it’s very hard to influence them in a positive light.”