The newly tabled federal gun control legislation misses the mark, according to the city’s mayor and area member of parliament.
Bill C-21 would allow cities to ban handguns through bylaws, restricting their possession, storage and transportation. The bill also proposes buyback of a wide array of banned assault-style weapons.
Kamloops mayor Ken Christian said neither council nor the community have discussed a bylaw in Kamloops to ban handguns. However, he called the downloading of responsibility from the federal government onto communities a “copout,” noting it would create a patchwork of policy from city to city.
“This shouldn’t be something we decide to pass in Kamloops and they don’t decide to pass in Barriere,” Christian said. “That would make no sense. If you’re going to ban handguns, do it nationwide and have a system by which you can regulate handguns into the country, rather than Kamloops having a patchwork of bylaws to deal with Kamloops.”
Other British Columbia communities appear to be taking action. Two Lower Mainland mayors (Mayor Kennedy Stewart in Vancouver and Mayor Doug McCallum in Surrey) have said they are directing staff to prepare handgun ban bylaws. Stewart cited a recent uptick in gang-related shootings for the reason he plans to ask council to implement the handgun ban bylaw.
Christian said the urban centres have better capacity to control this type of ban.
Meanwhile, a shooting death occurred over the weekend in downtown Kamloops at the Howard Johnson Inn, at 530 Columbia St., and Kamloops RCMP have noted a steady increase in violence related to low end drug dealing.
While Christian said that guns are problematic in Kamloops, he said the majority of murders in Kamloops occur via stabbing and physical assault. Crimes that do occur with guns utilize stolen guns, he said, adding they are owned by people who already do not follow the law.
“I think that the use of handguns in crime, like holdups and things like that is very prevalent, but just because you’ve banned the handgun, doesn’t mean that the crooks are going to comply with the ban,” he said. “You’re dealing with a group of people that aren’t going to be following the law anyway, so that really isn’t going to solve that problem.”
Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo Conservative MP Cathy McLeod said the policy divides rural communities from urban municipalities. She said rural communities utilize handguns for sport shooting, including competitions.
Christian said there are responsible gun owners in Kamloops, such as hunters and target shooters.
McLeod said handguns come into the country illegally across the United States border and said the country would be better served with increased border measures to prevent entry of those firearms. She said a private member’s bill to that effect was presented, but voted against. She also said that too often light sentences are handed out for horrific gun crimes.
The Liberals said the municipality-level laws would be backed by serious penalties, including jail time for those who do not abide by the local bylaws.
“We all care about public safety, but I don’t believe that this bill [Bill C-21] is going to do anything in terms of enhancing public safety,” she said.
McLeod agreed with Christian that municipalities should not be the level of government to put in place law restricting handguns.
Asked what could help with violence outside of a bylaw to ban handguns, Christian said the city is working to reduce crime, including the hiring of a crime analyst, support for the RCMP and their facilities (council recently approved a study to look into upgrades for the downtown detachment) and further police training.
Christian said the biggest problem on the streets of Kamloops is drugs. He said the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the drug supply, resulting in increased violence. It is a concern of the mayor.
“It worries me because at some point in time, you’re likely to see innocent bystanders get caught up in the crossfire,” he said.
— With files from Canadian Press and the Vancouver Sun