• Most ‘crime guns’ are NOT ‘domestically sourced’
• RCMP Inspector Chris McBryan is wrong to claim they are
To start from the beginning, we were both shocked when we saw claims like this one appear in newspapers published across the country:
Over 500 Firearms and 3,000 rounds of Ammunition turned over to Surrey RCMP in Safe City Project
Inspector Chris McBryan, Officer in Charge of NWEST (National Weapons Enforcement Support Team) in Western Canada. “It is a fact that the majority of gun related crimes in our communities are committed with guns that are domestically sourced.”
Such a claim contradicts all publicly available evidence that points to smuggling as the primary source of guns used in violent crime, not domestic sources.1 Although admittedly, the data are incomplete and only a portion of the guns are recovered and traced.
In 2005, the Vancouver Police Department estimated that 94% of the guns seized by them in 2002 originated in Washington State in the United States (Matthew Ramsey, The Province, 2005.12.09, p. A6).
The Annual Report in 2000 for the Toronto Police Services reported that the Firearms Tracing Enforcement (FATE) program traced 87 Toronto “crime gunsi.” Of the 53 traces returned that year, 20 different American States (38%) were identified as the source, with 1 gun being traced to Canada. (See page 19).
After we had a chance to study the 2014 Annual Report prepared by the Canadian Firearms Program, Firearms Investigative & Enforcement Services Directorate (FIESD), Firearms Operations and Enforcement Support Unit (FOES) we discovered that the claims of the police derive from FIESD’s ersatz definition of “crime guns.” The RCMP decided to reconsider their original ‘no records’ response to our Access to Information Act request after MP Bob Zimmer was able to pry a copy of the report out of RCMP headquarters and the Information Commissioner of Canada appealed the RCMP decision on our behalf.
NWEST and the RCMP deliberately abandoned the traditional definition of “crime guns” and instead rely on a new FIESD definition of “crime gun” that adds administrative crimes to the traditional criteria.
FIESD definition of a “crime gun”:
A firearm is a crime gun if it meets any one of the following criteria: “any firearm that is illegally acquired, suspected to have been used in crime (includes found firearms), has an obliterated serial number, illegally modified (e.g., barrel significantly shortened). (Page 10 of the 2014 FIESD Report).
By mixing together illegal acquisition with the use or suspected use of a firearm in a crime blurs the distinction between administrative and violent crimes. This definition breaks with the traditional usage of the term “crime gun.”
The 2012 Annual Statistical Report by the Toronto Police Services provided the RCMP’s traditional definition: GLOSSARY OF TERMS - Crime Gun: The RCMP National Weapons Enforcement Support Team (NWEST) defines a crime gun as “any firearm that is illegally possessed, used in crime or suspected to have been used in a crime, or has an obliterated serial number”.
Even worse, the term “illegal acquisition” in the FIESD definition allows the RCMP to gloss over important distinctions, not only because it includes “found guns,” but also because it mixes smuggling, theft, with lapsed permits. These are dramatically different violations and treats life-long law-abiding Canadians as if they were violent criminals.
The term “found guns” is a “trash can” category. One description is:
Found firearms not immediately linked to a criminal occurrence are referred to the Suspicious Firearms Index. Law enforcement officers may come into possession of firearms suspected of being associated with criminal activity, but which are not the subject of an active investigation. These typically include found and seized firearms where no charges are pending.2
Examples of “found guns” would be the 609 firearms seized in 2013 during the High River flooding, or firearms found during mental health or domestic altercations at a private residence (even when a firearm was not involved, but was found in a later search). To automatically classify all “found guns” as “crime guns” is over inclusive; obviously, the firearm might not have been involved in a crime.
Considering administrative crimes on a par with violent crimes is a direct result of Bill C-68 that criminalizing the simple possession of a firearm and allowing the police to include law-abiding firearms owners on CPIC along with violent criminals. This practice is fundamentally wrong because it exaggerates the threat to public safety of administrative crimes and obscures potentially valuable information.
These false or exaggerated claims allow the police to justify cracking down on Canadians who allow their permits to lapse. Even if absent minded, they are not a serious threat to public safety. It is wrong to focus police efforts on citizens who commit minor administrative offences.
The traditional Canadian definition of “crime gun” is the one that has long been used by a variety of Canadian police agencies: e.g., Toronto Police Services, Tactical Analysis Unit, part of the Firearms Support Services Directorate of the Canadian Firearms Program, Ontario Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit (PWEU), and the Vancouver Police.
The FIESD definition contrasts starkly with the traditional Canadian definition of a “crime gun,” as illustrated by the 2007 Ontario Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit (PWEU):
A “crime gun” is any firearm:
This definition assumes that ‘criminal activity’ involves violence or a threat of violence and does not simply include firearm possession offences.
This was the traditional Canadian definition prior to FIESD’s redefinition of the term and was formerly relied upon by many if not all police agencies. For example:
Antonowicz Consulting, use the traditional definition of “crime gun” in their analysis in, “Firearms Recovered by Police: A Multi-Site Study,” TR1997-6e, Canadian Firearms Centre, Department of Justice Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, July 1997. (see attached pdf).
Firearms Tracing and Enforcement Program, Ontario Police, Toronto Police Services, and Tactical Analysis Unit, Firearms Support Services, Directorate, Canadian Firearms Program, as reported by Heemskirk and Davies, 2008.
Axon and Moyers also use the traditional definition of “crime gun” in their analysis in their study, “An exploratory study of the use of firearms in criminal incidents in Toronto.” WD-1994-19e. Department of Justice Canada. (see attached pdf).
The Toronto Police Services (TPS) report an analysis of “crime guns” collected between January 1, 2003 through September 9, 2003.3 See also the TPS 2004 report. (see attached pdf).
This FIESD definition also differs from international standards. Neither the United States and the United Kingdom have accepted the FIESD definition of “crime gun.” Police forces such as the Scotland Yard and the Home Office in England, the ATF and the FBI in the United States continue to rely upon the traditional definitions.
The BATF definition:
“‘Crime gun’ includes any firearm used in a crime or suspected to have been used in a crime.” “Crime” in turn means a criminal victimization.
The UK Office for National Statistics makes similar distinctions:
“Offences involving firearms” encompass any notifiable offence recorded by the police where a firearm has been fired, used as a blunt instrument or been used as a threat. Firearm possession offences, where the firearm has not been used in the course of another offence, are not included in this analysis.
The ONS definition is the one used by the British Home Office.
The definition of “crime guns” is important because “crime guns” are just a small portion of the guns the police recover during a year due to amnesties, investigations into attempted or actual suicides, mental health crises, and family violence incidents. The police use “crime guns” in part to set priorities on domestic disputes or organized crime (and associated drug gang violence). And of course, to determine the importance they accord to administrative violations.
Non-restricted firearms (ordinary rifles and shotguns) have long been the most prevalent class of firearm seized by police, if for no other reason than such guns vastly outnumber restricted firearms such as handguns in Canada and have been possessed by many Canadians for many years, whether or not their owners cooperated with authorities by getting a licence or registering them when that was required. It is not surprising therefore that such guns would constitute the bulk of “seized guns.” What is surprising is that the RCMP would alter traditional definitions to include them as “crime guns.”
A typical example is given by the Toronto Police Service where 1,468 firearms were seized during 2003, of which 183 (12%) were determined to be crime guns by the PWEU. (In contrast, FIESD considered 51% of seized guns as “crime guns”).
The Gang and Gun Task Force further classified these crime guns into the following categories:
|26||long guns (rifles or shotguns)|
|11||registered in Canada|
|4||had no serial number|
|16||were too old to determine ownership|
|32||had obliterated serial numbers|
|45||were still under investigation|
|44||were submitted to BATFE|
|183||total crime guns analyzed|
What is most striking is how little information is available for many of these firearms.
123 (67%) of the 183 firearms were unable to be traced for various reasons (26, long barreled; 4 had no serial number; 16 were too old; 32 had obliterated serial numbers; 45 were still under investigation). Sources are open to speculation, smuggled or domestic.
16 (9%) of the 183 firearms (11 registered and 5 reported stolen) came from lawful Canadian owners.
44 (24%) of the 183 firearms were submitted to the BATFE for analysis since they originated in the US, and are presumed to have been smuggled into Canada.
Compare this breakdown with that given in the 2014 FIESD report (p 11):
|Registered in CFIS||3||56||8||0||0||67|
|Registered in RWRS||0||18||12||0||0||30|
Note 1: Lawfully registered firearms constitute only 6% (67/1,140) of the total crime guns.
Note 2: The report makes no mention of lawful firearms ownership, such as PALs or POLs.
The Report’s estimation of smuggled firearms is unconvincing [pp 16-21].
Just 783 guns were submitted for tracing out of 1,140 crime guns. Admittedly, there was no need to submit the 8% (97) of recovered crime guns that had a link to the Canadian registry. And those deemed Incomplete (139) were unable to be traced. Still, the sources for many guns are unknown, so it is possible some had been smuggled. What happened to the 121 other ‘Negative’ guns?
Of the 783 trace requests, just 229 were successful. 50% were domestic, and 48% were ‘deemed smuggled’? The report is silent on how was this was determined. The report says, “When a trace request is submitted for long guns a negative result is typically an indication that the firearm originated in Canada.”
This is a very vague category and includes:
It is important to note that the police—neither the TPS nor the RCMP—provide any information about how many “crime guns” originated from the Canadian police or military. The police might understandably be hesitant to report such figures, but internationally a significant percentage of “crime guns” has been found to originate from local police and military stock. Unfortunately, Canadian government records are incomplete because Canadian police and military are not required to report regularly to Parliament how many firearms they lose or have stolen from them. Nevertheless, ATIP requests reveal partial figures, such as, in 2002 the Canadian military reported over 400 guns were lost or stolen.4.
More recently, the RCMP admitted in 2016, again in response to a request under the Access to Information Act by Dennis Young, that 108 firearms were lost, missing or stolen from the RCMP.5
The FIESD definitions are being used to justify policies that are destructive of the law-abiding Canadian firearms community. It is doubtful that the misleading definitions used in this report were inadvertently invented by low-ranking statisticians in the FIESD (Firearms Investigative and Enforcement Services Directorate) or NWEST. These definitions must have been created by higher ranking officers who crafted them to achieve their strategic goals. As yet, we have no documented sources that indicate who determined this definition nor why they did so.
The Liberal government promises “evidence based” policy, but to do so it is necessary to have honest methods for collecting and assessing the facts. Opening these police reports to public scrutiny allows their research methods to be criticized. Such oversight can only improve their quality, and eventually, one hopes, will result in solid policy decisions. This report reeks of efforts to concoct findings that will support policy that has previously been agreed upon. Canadians deserve “evidence based” policy, not policies based on fabricated data.
Gary Mauser, Professor Emeritus, Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University.
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