'River' of US guns also flows north of the border
In Canada, concerns mount about weapons smuggling – a problem that has long roiled Mexico.
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"The challenge for Toronto and for other Canadian cities is that a huge volume of guns flows north across the US-Canada border; it's far and away the single biggest border-security issue," Miller says.Skip to next paragraph
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Two-thirds of the guns used in crimes in Toronto come from the US, Miller says, citing local police statistics.
But Regina Lombardo, an agent with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) posted to Toronto as the assistant country attaché, says statistics are not comprehensive enough to pin a specific percentage of the blame on the US.
Agent Lombardo worked on one smuggling case that brought about the conviction of Ricardo Tolliver, who was sentenced in March to 32 years in federal prison.
Mr. Tolliver, a US citizen who was living in Canada, led a ring that traded marijuana from Ontario for more than 500 handguns from Kentucky. One was the primary weapon used to kill eight gang members in Ontario in April 2006, officials say. The incident was the largest mass murder in the history of the province.
Lombardo believes that the cooperation between US and Canadian law enforcement agencies can be a model for more effectively fighting the illegal weapons trade to Mexico.
"We are able to now monitor a tracking device that's put in a car in Miami, and we are following it across the border, and allowed to follow it into Canada and we get our people on this end to pick up the surveillance," says Lombardo. "That's the difference, of taking it up to that next level."
World's 'longest undefended border'
In 2007, a Washington resident was convicted of trading more than 200 guns for drugs from British Columbia. And in January, border agents seized 10 semi-automatic handguns and 300 rounds of ammunition entering Alberta.
According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2,637 crime guns were reported to the Canadian Firearms Program in 2008; 925 were linked to a firearms dealer, and three-quarters of those originated in the US.
Wendy Cukier, president of the Coalition for Gun Control in Toronto, says plenty of illegal guns are flowing north, especially handguns, which are much more tightly regulated in Canada.
"We have the longest undefended border in the world," she says. "And they inspect a fraction of the vehicles going across the border, and they seize a small, small, small fraction of the firearms coming in."
Part of the appeal of smuggling guns is that a handgun that sells for $150 at a gun shop in the US could fetch $500 or more on the black market in Canada.
Some guns sell for less. Saint John police nabbed another of the guns Porter smuggled from Maine – a silver, double-barreled .22 that had been in the possession of a drunken teenager. He said he bought it from a stranger at a party for $20 and two packs of cigarettes.