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The coronavirus pandemic is responsible for lots of changes in 2020, directly or indirectly. We’ve got travel bans, businesses locked down, mask laws … and now, supposedly, illegal gangland gun purchases.

A recent report in the Toronto Sun has gangland sources saying criminals are using the federal government’s COVID-19 bailout money to buy illegal handguns. Note that the sources are unnamed. The reasons for this are obvious, but it does mean it’s impossible to verify the report.

According to the Sun’s sources, gangsters are using their $500-a-week CERB cheques to buy illegal handguns, smuggled into Canada from the US. Prices start as low as $400 for a firearm previously used in a crime. It’s more risky to be caught with these handguns, so the prices are lower. At the other end of the scale, criminals supposedly pay as much as $3,000 for a new Glock pistol.

The Sun’s sources say this gun-buying is partially the cause of this year’s string of high-profile shooting incidents in Toronto. Criminals are supposedly less worried about being stopped by police and are now packing more weapons, with high-capacity magazines, and emptying their guns at their rivals whenever they encounter each other.

Again, it’s impossible to verify this story, and frankly, the idea that CERB bailout money made the difference in firearms procurement for gang members sounds like a stretch. Either way, one thing’s for sure: Toronto has seen plenty of gun violence in 2020, and it’s mostly linked to gangs. At one point in July, city police reported six shootings over a 12-hour period. Currently, it seems likely there will be more shootings in 2020 than last year. In 2019, Toronto police reported 492 shootings, an all-time high for the city.

Analysis

What can we learn from these allegations? If gangsters really are drawing CERB and using it for weapons, it shows two things. First, the bailout is being sloppily implemented, if it’s being used to supplement criminal activity. Second, no matter how badly Canadian civic leaders want to ban handguns, it’ll do little good as long as illegal supply chains continue to reach into the US. Even Toronto police will admit most handguns used in the city’s crime are smuggled in from the US. If Canadian criminals can acquire weapons from the US even in the midst of a pandemic, with the border closed to all but non-essential traffic, how will punishing legal firearms owners change that issue? The federal government’s current handgun registry and PAL licencing system doesn’t solve the problem More rules will not change criminals’ ability to source firearms outside the law.

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