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It’s not like Canada’s cities and provinces are preoccupied with more urgent matters these days (can you think of anything?), so now looks like the perfect time for Ottawa to press ahead with an absurd proposal to make municipalities, rather than the federal government, do the job of banning handguns.

It’s an idea no one thinks will work, very few want and which is guaranteed to cause federal-provincial antagonism.

And yet there it was again in the Trudeau government’s Speech from the Throne last month: a single line deep in the proceedings about “giving municipalities the ability to further restrict or ban handguns.”

It’s a promise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made during the 2019 election, along with another to bring in a federal ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles.

Ottawa hastily implemented the rifle ban in May of this year, after the fatal shooting of 22 people in Nova Scotia. This page applauded that move, but was puzzled as to why the government wasn’t doing likewise with handguns.

Handguns, just like high-powered semi-automatic rifles, have no legitimate civilian use.

You can’t hunt with a handgun; that’s forbidden. Except for very rare cases, you can’t carry one for protection. Their only legal use is target shooting at a licensed facility, a niche pastime.

At the same time, they are the bane of major cities. Small and easily concealed, handguns kill far more Canadians each year than high-powered semi-automatics. When this page called for a ban on handguns in Canada on Aug. 7 of last year, Toronto was reeling from the shootings of 17 people in multiple incidents over the course of one weekend.

Over all, in each year over the past two decades, at least half of all firearm murders in Canada were carried out with a handgun. In urban centres, it’s closer to two-thirds.

This is not because of an absence of gun control. Handguns are classified as restricted weapons in Canada, which means they require a special licence, with more screening and training than for a hunting rifle, in order to be allowed to purchase and own one.

Unfortunately, Canada suffers from its proximity to the United States, which is overrun with firearms and a ready source of smuggled weapons.

Because of poor data collection, it’s not clear to what degree legally purchased firearms, as opposed to smuggled ones, are used in crimes in Canada. But there is no question that far too many handguns and other firearms legally purchased in Canada are winding up in the wrong hands.

A ban will not stop every bad guy from getting guns, nor will it result in an abrupt drop in the murder rate. But a comprehensive ban can reduce the circulation of deadly weapons that have no valid civilian use.

Such was the logic behind the government’s ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles in the wake of the Nova Scotia shootings.

So why won’t the Trudeau government apply the same logic to the purchase and ownership of handguns, a weapon that, year after year, registers a higher body count?

Instead, Ottawa says it will give municipalities the power to ban or restrict handguns. But it cannot explain how it will do that, since municipalities are provincial creatures.

In June, the Saskatchewan government passed legislation to prevent cities and towns from banning handguns, should Ottawa grant them that power. Other provinces have objected to this potential intrusion on their jurisdictions.

More importantly, the Trudeau proposal’s many critics point out that even if municipalities act, the result will be an ineffective hodge-podge of rules, where one local government might ban handguns, but the next one over doesn’t, negating their neighbour’s efforts.

The mayors of major Canadian cities have come out against the idea – because they want real action on gun control, not a sham. This week, a spokesperson for Toronto Mayor John Tory said Ottawa should be the one to ban handguns. Gun-control groups are similarly opposed to Ottawa’s plan, and with good reason: For gun-control rules to be effective, they have to be national.

Ottawa’s desire to sidestep controversy by handing the issue off to municipalities is political cowardice. The strong arguments invoked for banning military-style semi-automatic rifles are all the stronger when the target is handguns.

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