TORONTO - Gun control advocates took aim at handguns Wednesday, calling for a national ban of the weapons they said are used only for violence.
Relatives of a Toronto man killed in a double shooting four years ago urged the Harper government to shift from defending long guns — the focus of a heated political and now legal battle — to tackling what they consider "a weapon of war."
Family members of Oliver Martin, who died at 25, said there is no reason for anyone to carry handguns, arguing that unlike long guns, the smaller firearms serve no legitimate purpose.
"No one should have the right to own a handgun except the police," said Susan Martin, speaking at a news conference on the anniversary of her son's death.
"Handguns are easy to hide and are used, with few exceptions, for one purpose only: to wound or kill someone," she said.
Martin and his friend Dylan Ellis, 26, were shot dead in a parked SUV in Toronto's entertainment district on June 13, 2008. The killing has so far remained unsolved.
A deadly shooting rampage at Toronto's Eaton Centre this month once again cast a spotlight on gun violence in the city, and several officials joined in on Wednesday's call for a crackdown on firearms.
Coun. Adam Vaughan said plans to improve public safety — including a proposal to outlaw the sale, storage and use of munitions in Toronto — were under discussion before the attack that killed two people and injured five others.
"I wish we didn't need a recent example to convince anybody that action is needed," he said.
"There is no rational reason to have a bullet in a crowded city, a friendly neighbourhood or a shopping mall," he said.
Handguns are considered restricted or prohibited weapons under current federal law, meaning they must be registered by their owner. Anyone looking to purchase one must also obtain a licence.
Many have sought to get rid of them altogether, including a 2005 bid by then-Liberal leader Paul Martin.
Toronto cracked down on shooting ranges under former mayor David Miller, who then launched an unsuccessful petition to prohibit handguns across the country.
Such efforts have met staunch opposition from the gun lobby and other critics, who argue a ban would do little against illegal handguns typically used to commit crimes.
Asked about Vaughan's proposal, federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews called it "a misdirected effort."
"The issue isn’t the legality or illegality of bullets or guns," he said Wednesday. "The issue is these guns in the hands of criminals. That needs to be stopped."
Those behind Wednesday's push also made an emotional plea to revive part of the federal long-gun registry, scrapped this spring as the Conservatives fulfilled a longstanding promise.
They urged Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to fight to retain provincial data from the registry, much as Quebec's government is attempting to do.
The Quebec government is in court arguing that province-sensitive data should not be destroyed over the coming months along with the rest of the federal long-gun registry.
Quebec lawyers have already succeeded twice through court injunctions in ensuring that the registry continues to function. That has meant long-guns continue to be registered in that province, a process that has ended elsewhere in Canada.
McGuinty said regulating firearms is a federal responsibility and the province will have to find other ways to curb gun violence, such as working with at-risk youth.