Are firearm owners a public safety resource or a threat to public safety?

gun owners should be considered a resource not a threatFirearm owners embarrass Canadian authorities

Are firearm owners a public safety resource or a threat to public safety?

Current courts may not accept that Canadians have an individual right to possess firearms for personal protection, but a future court may well disagree. Instead of playing down the British historical and legal connections as is currently fashionable, future Canadian courts may well rediscover and reinvigorate traditional British rights. Brown fails to understand the enduring power of grass roots movements.

Instead of justifying the expansion of federal powers by asserting that the ownership of firearms is uniquely dangerous, or “suspicious,” a future court may hold that Canadians, regardless of their national origins, enjoy the traditional rights and responsibilities of free English subjects, including the right to arm themselves for personal protection. Indeed, a future court, under the influence of a more conservative zeitgeist, or perhaps changing social conditions, may decide massive expansion of governmental power that has taken place over the past century has not been as beneficial as hoped but has merely resulted in a bloated bureaucracy, accompanied by serious problems with accountability. No methodologically respectable study has been able to find that restrictive Canadian gun laws have reduced criminal violence, e.g., Langmann’s excellent recent study. The willingness to retreat from an all-protective state could well result in encouraging greater individual responsibilities, including the right to arms for personal protection.

It is entirely plausible that future Canadian courts will reject the unreasonable demonization of firearm owners, which appears to be held by central Canadian elites. Canada’s firearm owners are a public safety resource, not a threat to public safety.

 

Read the whole thing:

Here is an early version of my rebuttal of R Blake Brown’s critique of Canadian’s Right to Bear Arms that has been published in the recent issue of Dorchester Review.

Gary A Mauser, PhD, professor emeritus, Simon Fraser University

R Blake Brown’s recent critique of John Robson’s article in The Dorchester Review, “Armed Canadians: A Brief History,” fails to hit its target. Writing in activehistory.ca, Brown denies that Canadians have an individual right to possess firearms for personal protection that we have inherited from our shared English legal traditions. Despite being a historian, Brown pins his argument on contemporary court decisions, willfully ignoring Canadian history. Brown observes that modern Canadian courts have repeatedly rejected arguments that Canadians enjoy firearm rights enshrined in the English Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta.

Brown ignores the historical record because he knows that throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century Canadians widely accepted that, as British subjects, they naturally shared British liberty, including firearms rights. Sir John A Macdonald, the first prime minister of Canada, opposed various firearms bills, asserting that disarming Canadians would violate their rights as English subjects, as Brown relates in his book, Arming and Disarming. Other prominent 19th century Canadians agreed that Canadians shared English rights, including Liberal MP David Mills, who became a Supreme Court of Canada member, and Edward Blake, leader of the Liberal Party from 1880 to 1887.

Even as 19th century parliamentarians believed that English Canadians had the right to own firearms for personal protection, they were not eager to extend firearms rights to non-English Canadians. They willingly crafted firearms restrictions targeting groups that they considered “suspicious,” such as Aboriginal peoples and at times French habitants, and later Irish or Italian workers, or in the years following the Russian Revolution, alleged Bolsheviks.

Beginning early in the 20th century, Canadian jurists started to play down the idea that Canadians inherited English rights by invoking the “living tree” approach to interpreting Canadian law, which takes its name from the famous case, Edwards vs. Canada in 1929. Under the “living tree” interpretation, courts take account of current conditions in deciding how to interpret the law, placing less importance on the original text. Canadian jurists, adopting this approach, have rejected firearms rights for civilians.

Unfortunately for Brown, he has pinned his argument on moving ground. Under the “living tree” interpretation, contemporary court opinion cannot be the final word on how to interpret the law. What the tree gives it can also take away. Current courts may not accept that Canadians have an individual right to possess firearms for personal protection, but a future court may well disagree. Instead of playing down the British historical and legal connections as is currently fashionable, future Canadian courts may well rediscover and reinvigorate traditional British rights. Brown fails to understand the enduring power of grass roots movements.

Instead of justifying the expansion of federal powers by asserting that the ownership of firearms is uniquely dangerous, or “suspicious,” a future court may hold that Canadians, regardless of their national origins, enjoy the traditional rights and responsibilities of free English subjects, including the right to arm themselves for personal protection. Indeed, a future court, under the influence of a more conservative zeitgeist, or perhaps changing social conditions, may decide massive expansion of governmental power that has taken place over the past century has not been as beneficial as hoped but has merely resulted in a bloated bureaucracy, accompanied by serious problems with accountability. No methodologically respectable study has been able to find that restrictive Canadian gun laws have reduced criminal violence, e.g., Langmann’s excellent recent study. The willingness to retreat from an all-protective state could well result in encouraging greater individual responsibilities, including the right to arms for personal protection.

It is entirely plausible that future Canadian courts will reject the unreasonable demonization of firearm owners, which appears to be held by central Canadian elites. No other law-abiding community in Canada is subjected to a governmental bureaucracy that assumes, without any evidence, that every member is potentially violent – not Catholics, not Jews, not Muslims, not recent immigrants, nor even violent criminals released from custody. Public safety is not improved by the maintenance of an expensive, invasive police bureaucracy to screen and monitor millions of law-abiding Canadians.

Statistics show that firearms owners are typical middle class Canadians, in that they are employed, tax-paying, law-abiding, contributing citizens. Demographically, civilian gun owners are solid citizens who contribute substantially to their communities. Surveys show that handgun owners tend to be MDs, executives, and business men and women. Historically, armed civilians have played crucial leadership roles in their communities, including protecting the country from attack. The primary reason (73%) Canadians give for owning a firearm is hunting. Around one quarter of the adult population in Canada has hunted at some time in their lives. Surveys find that there are more lawful gun owners in urban areas than in rural areas, even though the percentage of households in rural areas that own firearms is higher. The best estimate is that there are between 3 and 3.5 million Canadian residents who personally own firearms.

Gun owners as a group are much less likely to be murderous than other Canadians. I found in a Special Request to Statistics Canada that licensed gun owners had a homicide rate of 0.60 per 100,000 licensed gun owners over the 16-year period 1997-2012. During the same period, the average national homicide rate (including gun owners) was 1.81 per 100,000 people.

Canada’s firearm owners are a public safety resource, not a threat to public safety. It may be a surprise to learn just how many Canadians report using guns for self defence. Based on representative samples of Canadian residents (taken between 1988 and 1995), firearms were reported to have been used for protection from human or animal threat between 60,000 and 80,000 times per year (approximately 19,000 times against a human threat). This study remains the best empirical estimate of the frequency with which firearms are used for personal protection in Canada.

R Blake Brown has built his argument on a slippery foundation. What the “living tree” gives it can take away. Research undermines contemporary suspicions about lawful gun owners as a class, and political culture keeps changing. Building a bureaucracy to monitor gun ownership has not been shown to lower murder or violent crime rates. In fact, armed citizens save lives. Future Canadian courts may again embrace the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights.

References:

Brown, R Blake. The ‘Right’ to Bear Arms in Canada, activehistory.ca, February 6, 2017.

The ‘Right’ to Bear Arms in Canada

 

Brown, R Blake. Arming and Disarming, A History of Gun Control in Canada.

The Osgoode Society, Toronto, 2012.

Langmann, Caillin. Canadian Firearms Legislation and Effects on Homicide 1974 to 2008. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2012.

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0886260511433515

Mauser, Gary. Armed Self Defense: the Canadian Case. Journal of Criminal Justice, Volume 24(5), pp 393-406, 1996.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/4871732_Armed_self-defense_The_Canadian_case

Mauser, Gary. Do Triggers Pull Fingers? A look at the Criminal Misuse of Firearms in Canada. Mackenzie Institute, Briefing Note 58, 2015.Toronto, Ontario.

Do Triggers Pull Fingers? A Look at the Criminal Misuse of Firearms in Canada

Robson, John. “Armed Canadians: A Brief History,” The Dorchester Review, Winter 2016, Volume 6, Number 3, 57-60.

https://www.dorchesterreview.ca

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council Decisions – Edwards vs. Canada. http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKPC/1929/1929_86.html

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