Gun Control in Canada and Its Benefits

Introduction

The arguments on gun control are a very controversial issue. Canada has had some forms of gun control since 1800. The Government of Canada requires all firearms, including shotguns and rifles to be registered and not just restricted firearms such as assault rifles and automatic weapons. People benefit by gun ownership because they can defend themselves and the government can increase revenue by issue gun licenses etc.

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Historically, Canada has had very rigorous gun control laws relative those of the United States. Moreover, in Canada, the criminal violence rate is lower but its suicide rates are higher. In both Canada to the United States, there have been lower rates of legal gun ownership in urban provinces but urban provinces report higher criminal violence in comparison to rural areas. In Canada, the federal government is empowered to legislate criminal laws, whereas in USA even states have the power to make their criminal laws. In Canada, authority is more centralized.

In Canada, individual rights have fewer protections under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in comparison to American Bill of Rights.

If one goes through the history of gun control in Canada, one can witness a “slippery slope “of gun control. During the periods of political instability and fear, gun laws were passed. However, there is no solid evidence found associating Canadian gun laws to a fall in either suicide rates or crime rates. (Dandurand, 1998).

Supporters of gun control law argue that, unless there are gun control measures, there will be high rates of crimes due to free flow of firearms. However, critics argue that if law abiding citizens are disarmed, then there will be more violence as criminals alone will have guns. Further, they argue that every citizen has a fundamental right to defend themselves and the Canadian government should guarantee them the right of access to guns if necessary to safeguard themselves.

Anne McLellan, the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, on May 20, 2004 introduced a new gun control scheme which offers vibrant punishments, more mechanisms for the police and to have robust registration and licensing schemes while rationalizing processes and limiting the administration costs. About 70 women’s organizations have supported the stricter gun control schemes, mainly to prevent violence against women.

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Polls suggest that about 77% of women who live with the owner of a gun and about 80% of Canadian women have supported for stricter gun control regime in Canada.

This research essay discusses the various facts of gun control measures in Canada and arrives at a conclusion, whether gun control measures are an inevitable one or not by placing sound arguments for the same. (Rock 2002 p.130).

Background

The law and regulations of gun control in Canada

Under Canadian law, an individual age should be more than eighteen years or older to purchase a gun or to have a legal ownership of the same. A minor should be in the age of twelve to eighteen years to have a gun licence which does not authorize them to procure a firearm but permits them to borrow a firearm and ammunition unsupervised.

History of gun laws in Canada

The 1892-Canadian government required in individuals 1892, to have permission to carry a pistol, unless the owner had reasons fear of injury, or assault.

1920-For all firearms newly acquired by foreigner’s needed permits in the 1920s.

1930-Due to the fear of American rumrunners and labor unrest during 1930s, the Canadian government was more concerned and hence, it passed fire arm legislation that mandated handgun registration in 1934.

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1934- In 1934, handguns had been registered.

1941-In 1941, Orientals were restricted to own firearms and their firearms were forfeited.

1947-Before 1947, few blacks orientals were qualified as British subjects. During World War II, additional gun control laws were introduced in Canada. There were separate gun permits for British citizens and for aliens.

1960- During the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Quebec was dominated by terrorism.

1969- One another firearm law was enacted in 1969 that established the classes of ‘restricted weapons” and “prohibited weapons” for the first time. As the result of this, in Quebec, ‘restricted weapons ‘(ex: handguns) had to be registered mandatorily and their deployment was subject to harsher terms.

1995- New, stricter, gun control legislation Bill C-68 was introduced in 1995.This act mandates compulsory licensing for firearm owners and universal firearm registration. A harsh penalty for crimes involving unauthorized firearm use is mandated by the current legislation which a license is a must for the acquisition of any firearms, and to register all firearms compulsorily. Considering the stricter firearm regime, this legislation can be considered as a remarkable one.

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1977-From 1977 onwards, police scrutiny had been mandatory for all firearm purchases. A wide variety of weapons was banned.

1991-In 1991, a wide range of large capacity magazines and semiautomatic rifles were either restricted or banned. However, critics argue that such a law will not redress and just establishes another expensive bureaucracy. (www.guncontrol.ca).

With stricter controls on firearms, gun violence is on the decline. Firearm death had decreased to 1037 in 1997 from 1367 in 1989, which is the lowest rate and number in the last 28 years. During the 1990s, the number of firearm homicides remains lesser than the average of 200 per annum. Further, a majority of the Canadians extend their support for gun control law. The Supreme Court of Canada is also vehemently supporting the gun control law. Supreme Court of Canada held that registration stipulations cannot be cut off from the balance portion of the Act. The licensing rules demand everyone who has a gun get a license and the registration rules require that all the guns have to be registered. These conditions of the Firearms Act are both tightly associated to the Canadian parliament’s aim of encouraging safety by minimizing of any and all firearms. Thus, both licensing and registration are necessary and integral for the operation of the gun control measures. Thus, by having a stricter gun control law, Canada is aiming to minimize crime rates pertaining to misuse of guns and to have peaceful and pleasant society.

Does Canada have more or less Firearms per-capita than other countries?

According to many research studies, the quantum of gun ownership globally is related directly to suicide and murder rates and particularly to the quantum of death by gun.

According to the above table, we can assume that Canada ranks fourth in gun ownership globally.

Why Gun Control is necessary?

The licensing system for gun control helps the police in taking preventive actions like the removal of guns from domestic violence scenarios. Further, gun licensing system also minimizes the opportunity for those who are a menace for themselves or to others. Canadian police is having a comprehensive database that makes sure that when a gunshot happens to involve a gun owner, the officials are alarmed and will initiate immediate action either to revoke his license or to remove the firearms from him. (www.guncontrol.ca).

Sufferers from domestic violence, police and health care professionals made a legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Supreme Court of Canada, on June 2000, held that the gun control laws were essential and fully constitutional. (www.guncontrol.ca).

Have the number of murders, suicides and other criminal activities due to guns have increased or decreased over time in Canada?

According to federal agency research report, after the introduction Firearms act, deaths due to guns have declined drastically. It reports that 816 individuals of whom 49 are females and 767 are gents died due to gun associated injuries in 2002 in Canada. This symbolized a decline from 5.9 per 100,000 in 1979 to 2.6 deaths per 100,000 populations in 2002. If we compare it with the USA, Canada is less than three times in death due to firearms than that of America. Further, as far as homicide due to gun is concerned Canada ranks eight times lower than that of USA. Moreover, in USA, homicide death accounts for 38 percent of death involving guns, whereas it is just 18% in Canada. This demonstrates clearly that death due to guns in Canada has come down drastically after the introduction of stricter gun control legislation. (CBC News 2005).

Types of Firearms in Canada

There are three kinds of firearms in Canada. They are non-restricted firearms, prohibited firearms and restricted firearms. Non-restricted firearms include ordinary sporting and hunting rifles, air guns and shotguns.A semi –automatic firearm with a center would have a barrel height of 470mm to fall under the category of non-restricted. A semi-automatic rifle is a kind of rifle that fires one bullet on each occasion when the trigger is released.

Restricted firearm: Many handguns fall under this category. Pistol is also known as handguns.

Prohibited firearm- This includes converted automatic guns, fully automatic guns and many kinds of terrifying appearing firearms. A rifle is a kind of firearm planned to be charged from the shoulder. An automatic gun is a firearm which automatically reloads itself and engages on firing continuously until the trigger is discharged like A.K 47 (www.firearmstraining.ca).

Proposal

This research paper will explore the question of gun control measures are really of help to people as they can benefit from keeping their guns mainly to safeguard them from criminals. Further, if an individual possesses a gun, he may be protected from thefts and from highway robberies, looting etc. Possession of a gun reduces the chance of people to get injured from humans and animals. Secondly, Gun control policy increases the economic benefit as gun owners and government.

Gun control measures will increase the accountability of owners. While the gun control law specifies for safe storage of guns, but this provision is often violated by the gun owners. With the help of the stolen rifle from a car in Alberta, a constable was shot and killed. In the Boxing Day shooting in Toronto, stolen gun is used, which killed a young boy. Hence, this research essay will show that stricter storage norms for guns should be prescribed as the current law is not of much use. This will prevent stolen guns used by criminals to kill innocents.

Presently more than 7 million firearms which are being used in Canada are hunting shotguns and rifles and not military weapons. The hunting shotguns and rifles are presently notified as non-restricted firearms. However, it is to be noted that many unrestricted fire arms are semi-automatic in nature. Though, many supporters support to ban all semi-automatic, it is wise not to impose prohibition on semi-automatics intended for hunting. Further, it is recommended that all gun owners’ licences should be renewed periodically and all guns in Canada are to be mandatorily registered.

To sum up, it is strongly suggested that firearms that are regarded as lawful for target shooting or hunting should not be banned and all other firearms should be prohibited or restricted as the risk they pose overshadows their usefulness.

Alternatives

There are four alternatives:

  • First, the government takes away the guns from people and it may reduce the chance by people to use guns to commit a crime and hence this may create safer society.
  • Second, government could increase the age of possession of firearm. For example, government increase the legal age of owning and using a firearm to age 21 instead of age 18, because people are more mature at age 21.
  • Third every applicant for gun license should pass firearms classes , should undergo psychological tests to see whether they are under treatment for depression or taking psychotropic drugs and to pass an eye test before they are authorised to purchase a gun.
  • Fourth, at any cost, gun license should not be issued to a criminal who had been sentenced for violent crimes. Criminal background check is a must before a gun license is issued.

Analysis

Costs and benefits (or cost effectiveness)

Canada has spent more than a billion dollars over the past one decade mainly for screening and licensing gun owners. Presently, it costs about $80 million per year. In Canada, the compliance rates are soaring and more than two million gun owners (90%) have been registered and licensed , about 7.2 million (85%) of guns are registered, their license has to be renewed once in five years and this is a recurring cost for the Canadian government. About 1,871,595 valid firearms licenses have been issued as of April 2008 in Canada. Between 1998 and 2008, 22,140 firearm licences have been revoked or turned down for public safety purposes. Law enforcement officials queried the Firearms Registry about 8,603 times each day during 2008. However, firearms have to be registered only once at the time of their purchase unless they are resold or traded and as of date 7 million guns have been registered and this is a sunk cost. In addition to this, there are sunk costs for about 400000 guns per year towards the registration of new guns or those guns that are sold or traded. Canadian government rather allows free gun usage, and then it can save about $ 10 to 15 million per year. However this is not advisable as this will be great threat to public safety.

Canada spent $ 947million from 1995 to April 2005 towards cost of the Canadian Firearms Program and this works out to average cost of $ 94.6 million per year. The above costs include cost of Correctional Services, additional enforcement measures and contribution of about $180 million to the provinces to administer the system over 10 years. It is to be noted about 67% of total expenses incurred for licensing the firearm owners whereas about 33% for the registration of all firearms. Further, Canadian government has set a $25 million cap on firearm registration activities starting in 2005-06. Gun injury and death in Canada were projected to cost around $ 6.6 billion per annum in 1995. With the aim of “billion dollar gun registry”, the Canadian government is likely to spend about $70 million per annum. The cost for the Canadian government is somewhat high since the government has declined to make users pay. As an incentive for the gun owners to comply with Firearms Act, Canadian government has refused to make users to pay. The cost of a license to own a gun is just $1 per month or $12 per annum. For Montreal or Toronto residents have to pay double the amount than the annual cost of the gun licence fees for owing a cat or dog.

Is Gun Control is More Supported in Urban Centers than Rural Centers? Why?

In rural areas of Canada, usage of long guns is the major issue. Though there is an argument that gun control measures were an urban issue , many research studies have revealed that gun injury and death were high in numbers in rural and Western Canada.

Rural Canadian’s who use long-gun is respectable, responsible citizens, and they are not criminals who need to be tagged and registered. Rural Canadians use the gun in their farms, mainly to control the pests. Rural Canadians hunt elk and deer to fill their fridge like what urban Canadians stock their fridge with Costco. In urban areas Canada, guns are used by criminals for theft, robbery, homicide, suicide and in domestic violence.

Hence, gun control is more supported in Urban Centers than rural centers of Canada.

What Does Canadian Police Department Say about the Need for Gun Control?

According to Canadian police department, gun crimes could not be combated without strong gun controls in Canada. Though, the violence due to firearms remains a distress in Canada, the rates of homicide, crime and death due to gun has fallen drastically over the last ten years due to stricter gun control norms. The Firearm act augments the accountability of owners of firearms. According to the police department, firearm registry not only helps them to book those who are in possession of illegal guns but also acts as a valuable investigation mechanism. Many numbers of police investigations including the murder of one Karen Marquis revealed that gun registration and licensing are essential. Women’s group vehemently argues that gun control is essential, mainly to minimize domestic murders.

Whether Provincial Government is agreeing with the Stance of Federal Government?

It is to be noted that a majority of provincial governments supports a strong federal government law on gun control. In Montreal, the support is highest (about 87%) and Saskatchewan occupies the lowest. Since 2001, the support for the stronger gun control regime has decreased dramatically in Alberta, Saskatchewan, rural British Columbia and Toronto. Both the Greater Vancouver and Manitoba have registered an increase in support marginally. However, an opinion poll suggests that Alberta, Saskatchewan and rural British Columbia have a desire for the discontinuance of Gun Registry.

Quantitative, qualitative, financial (multi-year)

  • Sensitivity analysis – Risk analysis should be done on the risk factors like marital breakdown, substance abuse, job loss, criminal record, mental illness etc.
  • Legal-Timing/implementation Canada should introduce strong controls on all guns to stop legal guns from entering the illegal market. Strict licensing norms are the need of the hour as the legal guns are frequently employed in instances of domestic violence or individuals with stress who commit violence.
  • Labour – Environment/health- Health care officials and experts support the gun control measures.
  • Fed/prov -Communication strategy – In Canada, Federal government is empowered to legislate criminal laws whereas in USA even states have the power to make their criminal laws. In Canada, authority is more centralized.Six provincial governments including Ontario initiated a constitutional challenge on the Firearm Act of 1995 but it was rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • The provinces in Australia were tried to differentiate handguns which they allege are dangerous as compared to shotguns and rifles which they allege are just private property which is not comprehendible since the long guns are the fire arms most frequently recovered in crimes.

What are the alternatives?

Available alternatives are:

  1. to rise the minimum age for holding guns
  2. stricter screening norms
  3. to avoid criminals for the issue of gun license.

Status quo is one of the alternatives

Stricter Screening norms: In Canada, Licensing process includes verification of police records and making sure proper training has been imparted. However, police screening process does not include the assessing of risk factors for suicide and violence which include history of mental illness, marital breakdown and substance abuse. Screening for these risk factors was first introduced through Kim Campbell’s law in 1991. The gun license application is to be signed by two referees mainly to corroborate the accuracy of the information by two referees. Further, there is a spousal notification process as issue of gun license will be threat to estranged families. The gun license application will be notified both to the current and former wife as to give them a chance to state their worry if safety is an issue.

Prevention of gun crime is not cheap. Opponents should be educated that expenses on gun control are an investment for future of Canada. By inappropriately cutting costs of water testing was proved to be expensive by the Government of Ontario from the Walkerton tragedy. One health official warned the Canada’s federal government not to repeat the identical mistake by cutting the gun control program. It is to be remembered the gun licensing expenses are much lower than the snow removal expenses in Montreal which costs about $130 million per annum.

Recommendation

It is recommended to remove the firearm from the home when there are risk factors for adolescent suicide. Further, firearm safety measures should be included that include environmental and educational measures like provision of gun safes and trigger locks should be provided. Further, Canada should ban semi-automatic assault rifles, which are employed to unleash more than 70 rounds, which were used by killer Gill in his deadly attack at Dawson’s college. By researching gun registries of both federal and Quebec educational researchers should recommend new protocols for public policy transformations to bar future incidents involving firearms.

Conclusion

Under Canadian law, an individual age should be more than eighteen years or older to purchase a gun or to have a legal ownership of the same. A minor should be in the age of twelve to eighteen years to have a gun licence which does not authorize them to procure a firearm but permits them to borrow a firearm and ammunition unsupervised.

References

CBC News. Gun Deaths Cut in Half. 2009. Web.

Dundurn Press Ltd. With Public Works and Government Services Canada Translation Bureau. Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing. Revised and Expanded. Dundurn Press Ltd, 1997.

Rock Nora. Enforcing Federal Statutes. Montreal: Emond Montgomery Publishing, 2002.

Trunk, William and E.B. White. The Elements of Style: Fourth Edition. New York: Longman, 2000

www.guncontrol.ca. Canada’s Gun Control Law. www.guncontrol.ca.

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