Do “crime guns” come from PAL holders?

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Do “crime guns” come from PAL holders? TPS statistics undermine the claim that law-abiding gun owners are the source of Toronto “crime guns.”

No more than 12% – 14% of “crime guns” were seized from PAL holders, while at least 25% were smuggled from the US, according to the Toronto Police Service tables that TPS gave to Dennis Young in response to his ATI request on 24 August 2018.

There are serious deficiencies in the Toronto Police Service response, “Crime guns and firearms – 2000-2017,” their ATI response. First, the TPS relies upon poor definitions of the key terms, “crime gun” and “domestically sourced crime gun.” These definitions are over-inclusive — mixing paper crimes with violent crimes — even including sticks and bananas as “domestically sourced” guns if used to threaten victims. These poor statistics hinder analysis and understanding of firearms use in violent crime.

The TPS reports that 23% of “crime guns” were “domestically sourced,” but TPS also reports that 30% of “crime guns” weren’t actual firearms.

In this brief blog, I will report the TPS definitions, identify the problems, and do my best to make sense out of what I find:

1. The TPS definition of ‘crime gun’ is over-inclusive:

There four conditions in classifying a gun as a “crime gun,” but only the first is reasonable.

• Any firearm that has been used or suspected to have been used in a criminal offence;
• Any firearm that is obtained, possessed, or intended to be used to facilitate criminal activity;
• Any firearm that has had a serial number removed, altered or obliterated;
• Any weapon that has been adapted for use as a firearm

My comments: The first point in the TPS definition of “crime gun” accords with the classic international definition of “crime gun,” but adding the other points in the definition includes things that are not even guns as well as paper crimes.

More specifically:

• Point 2: “Any firearm that is obtained, possessed, or intended to be used to facilitate criminal activity;”
Comment: This would include the “criminal activity” of not having a PAL or unsafe storage; these are non-violent acts, paper crimes;

Point 3: “Any firearm that has had a serial number removed, altered or obliterated.” Comment: This would also include weapons captured during previous wars, brought home as souvenirs, and kept peacefully at home until seized by police if the owner violates a paper crime such as unsafe storage.

• Point 4: “Any weapon that has been adapted for use as a firearm;”

Comment: This would include fingers, bananas, or sticks hidden inside a pocket if used to threaten a victim. Legally, threatening someone with any hidden object is considered to be a “dangerous weapon,” but such objects should not be considered “crime guns.” Obviously, fingers or sticks inside pockets are “domestically sourced.”

2. The TPS definition of ‘domestically sourced crime gun’ also has multiple conditions and is over-inclusive::

The TPS definition of “domestically sourced crime gun,” is “Any gun that is registered in Canada, has been reported stolen, was made in Canada, or was legally imported into Canada. Non-regulated items (e.g., air guns), firearms with no serial numbers, and firearms that are too old are unable to be sourced.”

My comments: The first point is legitimate, but it is difficult to understand why “non-regulated items” – objects that are not even firearms — are automatically called ‘crime guns” or “domestically sourced.”

It is not reasonable to categorize firearms considered to be too old or unable to be sourced to be “domestically sourced.” This means that military heirlooms — guns brought back after WW I or the Boer War — are “domestically sourced.”

Note added later: Friendly critics have objected to my interpretation of the definition of “domestically sourced crime guns” as including “non-regulated items.” The police may in fact exclude them. Attempts to clarify the definition with the TPS have not yet been successful.

A critique of the tabular data:

1. Just 70% of “crime guns” reported by TPS from 2007 through 2017 are in fact actual firearms [5,424/7,764].

By comparing the totals of the three categories of actual firearms reported in Q#13 [Total “crime guns” seized that were Prohibited, Restricted, or Non-restricted] with Q#6 [total “crime guns” seized], we find that 30% of “crime guns” reported seized aren’t actual firearms.

Given the low quality of these definitions, it is virtually impossible to answer the question if legal firearms owners pose a threat to public safety.

2. How many of the “crime guns” are “domestically sourced”?

Comparing Q#13 with Q#6, we find that 23% [1,787/7,764] are reported as “domestically sourced.” But an unknown number of these “crime guns” aren’t even guns.

3. What proportion of “crime guns” were smuggled?

This is impossible to know because the TPS fails to report how many “crime guns” were traced.

The TPS reports how many “crime guns” were traced to the US, but they don’t say what proportion were submitted for tracing. It is extremely doubtful that the TPS traced all “crime guns,” but what fraction was traced, is not reported.

All we know is that at most 25% of crime guns [1923/7764] were traced to the US. But since the bulk of crime guns couldn’t have been traced, this percentage is far too small. Previously, the police have reported three-quarters to 90% of guns used in violent crime to have been smuggled into Canada.

4. How many “crime guns” came from PAL holders?

To answer this question we can either compare the ratio of Q#11 [“crime guns” legally registered] or Q#7 [the number of “crime guns” seized from PAL holders], with the totals with Q#6 [total “crime guns” seized].

12% of “crime guns” were legally registered [927/7764].
Comparing Q#11 [“crime guns” legally registered] with Q#6 [total “crime guns” seized].

14% of “crime guns” were seized from PAL holders.
Comparing Q#7 “crime guns” seized from PAL holders with Q#6 [total “crime guns” seized]

To conclude: A conservative estimate would be that at least twice as many “crime guns” (as defined by the TPS) are smuggled from the US as are seized from law-abiding Canadian firearms owners.

1 Comment on "Do “crime guns” come from PAL holders?"

  1. The most universal human law is the law of supply and demand. If there is a demand there will be a supply no matter what. Do politicians know that Manitoba, where I live, has a higher murder rate than our neighbours Minnesota and North Dakota where they can carry a concealed gun? (in fact, here are at least 16 US states that have a lower murder rate than Manitoba in 2016) Why is this? Maybe rich farmers in MN and ND have little need for killing each other while gang members protecting drug territory do.

    The point is you can have all the laws you want and people will or won’t obey them because of their culture and/or need. Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, etc., all have tougher gun laws than Canada and everyone knows how effective those laws are.

    Spend your time and money on useful solutions and not taking the easy way out.

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