COMMENTARY: Guns in Toronto — why is this such a difficult issue?
Is Toronto safe?
A strong majority — 78 per cent — of Torontonians believe it is, especially when compared to other cities of a similar size around the world. And when you look at crime statistics, city residents are right to feel this way. There are even Canadian cities with higher crime rates than Toronto.
But, once you get past the civic pride, and appeals to keep things in perspective, many Torontonians — 55 per cent — are personally afraid of falling victim to gun violence. Given recent events, it’s easy to see why. But it’s not just the incident on the Danforth that’s driving this fear. There is a pervasive and persistent belief that Toronto has a serious problem with gun violence.
Why does Toronto have a gun problem? While Torontonians cite several causes, they are unanimous (93 per cent) in their belief that something needs to be done specifically about criminals getting access to guns. When Mayor Tory recently asked the rhetorical question, “Why does anyone in Toronto need a gun?” he was speaking for almost everyone in the city. They wonder the same.
Mayor Tory is free to take a strong stand on the gun issue because the Toronto politics are easy. Toronto, especially the downtown core, votes almost exclusively for progressive political options at municipal, provincial and federal elections. Stricter gun control is a no-brainer for them. Progressive politicians want it, and so do their voters. Mayor Tory’s position is on the numbers for a Toronto politician, and will only help his re-election chances in October.
Watch below: Toronto’s gun situation
While the Toronto politics are easy, decisions about access to guns, even in Toronto, are mostly made by our national and provincial governments. While Mayor Tory is aligned with Toronto voters on the need to change the guns laws, none of them are within the municipal jurisdiction. Mayor Tory and Toronto city council can do some symbolic things and tinker with municipal bylaws, but the big decisions are made by politicians at the provincial and national levels of government.
It’s at the national and provincial levels of government where conservative voters are relevant to gun laws, and conservative politicians get their strongest electoral support from suburban and rural voters. While suburban voters would likely side with downtown voters on the need for greater gun control, rural voters have a much different view. Laws meant to stop gangsters accessing guns in Toronto could impact responsible gun owners in rural Canada. These voters greatly resent being caught up in laws meant to stop downtown criminals and have a habit of making gun laws a priority issue at the ballot box.
With the October 2019 federal election looking like it will be tight, will Prime Minister Trudeau be willing to risk the few rural seats he has by bringing in tougher gun control laws for Toronto? And what about Premier Ford? While he won’t face the electorate for another four years, he needs to be careful about upsetting the rural and small-town Ontario voters who elected him.
Ultimately, these are the elections that matter most for future gun laws in Toronto.
Darrell Bricker is CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.