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Using avoidance manoeuvres

Article by: By LORRIE GOLDSTEIN

Yesterday, in response to a couple of my recent columns about escalating gun crime, one of my regular readers — “Ron in Kelowna” — e-mailed asking why politicians propose such phony solutions as “banning handguns.”

Incensed by calls from Toronto Mayor David Miller and Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant for a “handgun ban” in the wake of an outbreak of gun and gang violence last weekend, including the murder of an 11-year-old boy, Ron asked, “Are they dense? Are they stubborn? Do they have some kind of vested interest in not solving violent crime?”

My answer is “no” to all three. I believe politicians propose simplistic solutions like “gun bans” because it’s easier than telling people the truth — that fighting gun crime is hard.

Calling for “banning handguns,” particularly when you’re asking a Conservative government in Ottawa to do it while you’re a left-wing Toronto mayor or a Liberal provincial attorney general, is just an easy, partisan way to avoid responsibility and duck the issue.

This is also true for politicians on the right, who talk only about passing tougher laws against gun crime.

Actually, we don’t need tougher laws. Our existing laws are plenty tough.

That is, they would be if judges used the sentences they provide to their full extent, which they don’t.

Then, whatever sentence they do impose gets eroded by easy parole, assuming the case hasn’t already been plea-bargained away by overworked Crown attorneys shovelling criminals through a justice system where there are too few courts and prisons to cope.

In Toronto, violent criminals often get double and triple credit for time served in custody before their trials upon a finding of guilt, because of trial delays and poor conditions in the jails where they’re held pending trial.

Apparently, it’s beyond the ability of our government to build some new jails, so that when a criminal who is held pending trial is convicted, he’ll at least get only straight time for time served, not double or triple time.

Things are so bad that after a recent police bust of a major gang — which had been planned for almost a year — it took so long to get bail hearings for nine of the accused that the judge charged the attorney general’s office (meaning taxpayers) $2,000 apiece to help pay their legal bills. Apparently, 11 months’ advance warning wasn’t enough for our government to figure out a way to hold timely bail hearings.

Public frustration with lax sentencing has become the political impetus for “mandatory minimum sentences” for gun crimes, such as those stuck in the Senate after being passed by the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has accused the Liberals of stalling this bill and others (the Liberals say it’s his fault), but even when this bill is passed, it won’t make a difference.

Even judges who try to be tough on gun crime (and thus get overturned on appeal given the lax sentencing patterns established by their colleagues) see mandatory sentencing as an infringement on judicial independence.

In fact, mandatory minimums aren’t a solution, since unenthusiastic judges and defence attorneys will find ways around them.

Indeed, in today’s politically correct atmosphere, a politician who seriously wants to fight gun crime will be accused of interfering with the judiciary (for demanding judges take into account public concerns about gun violence), of being a racist (for demanding tougher bail and longer sentences since the criminals are disproportionately black), of being a fascist (for demanding the hiring of more cops and building more prisons) and finally, of being a bleeding heart and a spendthrift (for calling for massive new public spending, meaning higher taxes, to bolster public education, strengthen families and help find decent jobs for people jammed into urban ghettoes like Toronto’s Jane-Finch).

Now, what are the chances we’ll find a politician like that?

Better to treat the public like mushrooms. Keep them in the dark, cover them with manure and tell them “banning handguns” is the answer.