Do “fewer guns mean safer communities?” Based on such claims, the federal Government has cracked down heavily on civilian firearms owners over the past few years. In addition to introducing increasingly restrictive regulations, the government has erased the value of over $4 billion worth of private property by ordering its confiscation. Property that was legally owned and legally used is now is forfeit to the government. The government justifies their efforts by saying they intend to “reduce gun violence,” but none of the owners have been accused of a violent act. Nor were any likely to commit a violent crime. Adding insult to injury, the administrative costs of these confiscations could reach into the billions.
Bill C-21 (currently before the Senate) is the most recent move in a multi-year campaign by the Liberal government to disarm Canadian civilians. In 2020, the Trudeau government mandated the confiscation of hundreds of thousands of firearms with a total value of more than $3.0 billion. It’s unclear how many firearms the ban covers—estimates vary from 150,000 to more than 500,000. Purported to be “assault-style weapons,” in reality, many are simply semi-automatic rifles and shotguns that have been popular with hunters and sport shooters for more than 100 years. All of these lawfully owned and used firearms are now prohibited and must be surrendered to the government before the amnesty expires in October 2023.
In 2022, the Trudeau government announced a “national freeze” on handgun sales, prohibiting the legal sale or inheritance of almost all handguns and requiring them to be surrendered without compensation when the owner passes away. The freeze effectively renders approximately one million legal firearms (valued at more than $1.0 billion) worthless. The government will allow special permits for a small number of Olympic competitors, security guards, and wilderness activities such as trapping. The government’s decision, if maintained, will eventually eliminate target sports and put many fish-and-game clubs under severe financial pressure because they rely on target sports for much of their income, as I have explained in an earlier post. Almost all handgun owners are required to join a F&G club to be able to shoot their handgun.
Taken together, the Trudeau government has rendered valueless more than $4.0 billion of private property from law-abiding Canadians while simultaneously bankrupting hundreds of small businesses, including fish-and-game clubs that depend upon sport shooters for their income. Because of the ban, more than 4,500 small and medium-size businesses, which employ more than 40,000 people, are now stuck with large amounts of inventory that are suddenly illegal for them to sell or export. These businesses can’t absorb such losses; many will need to cut jobs or close their doors. The Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association estimates that the economic loss is between $900 million and $1.06 billion and have negotiated some relief from Ottawa.
Do fewer guns mean safer communities?
The progressives’ animus against civilian firearms is based on the simplistic notion that, “fewer guns mean safer communities.” While this mantra can be shown to be false, it is widely accepted by those who have little or no experience with firearms. Angus Reid’s opinion surveys find that support for gun bans is greatest among those who admit knowing “nothing” or “not much” about gun laws. (See Questions G1-G3)
Gary Kleck, Professor Emeritus at Florida State University in criminology, conducted a thorough review of studies that tested the idea that higher gun prevalence levels cause higher crime rates, especially higher homicide rates. He found that technically weak research mostly supported the hypothesis, while strong research did not. (See note below.) Kleck concluded that higher gun ownership rates do not cause higher crime rates, including homicide rates. This point can be illustrated by a few examples. First, Canadian firearms owners are exceptionally law-abiding and are less likely to commit murder than other Canadians. Between 2000 and 2020, the number of PAL holders accused of homicide varied from 6 to 21, averaging 12 accused per year out of approximately 2 million PAL holders. The number of PAL holders increased from 1,979,054 to 2,206,755 over this same time period, so the annual rate over 20 years was 0.63 accused per 100,000 PAL holders. But the firearms homicide rate for adult Canadians is 0.72 per 100,000—that’s 14 per cent higher than the PAL holder homicide rate of 0.63 per 100,000. Since almost all PAL holders are male, the firearms homicide rate for adult Canadian males is 1.29 per 100,000. Almost double the homicide rate for PAL holders.
More than two million Canadians have qualified for a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL). To qualify, each one must be vetted by the RCMP and is checked nightly for any violation through the “continuous eligibility screening” program. From 2017 to 2021, 0.14 percent of PAL holders lost their firearm licence for various charges – including domestic abuse, mental health, and potential unsafe firearm use (See Tables 9 and 10).
More guns, less crime
Internationally, countries with greater numbers of civilian firearms tend to have lower rates of homicide than countries with fewer civilian firearms owners. Consider North America. Mexico has fewer guns per capita than either the United States or Canada, but has a much higher homicide rate. The problem isn’t civilians with guns, it’s drug gangs and government corruption. See my recent blog at the Fraser Institute.
The homicide rate in the United States has fallen faster than in Canada since the peak in 1991 despite the increasing number of Americans who carry concealed handguns. By 2021 Canada’s homicide rate had fallen 13% from the peak in 1991 (from 2.69 to 2.06), while the US homicide rate had fallen 31% in the same period (from 9.8 to 6.5). An even more dramatic example is Brazil where the homicide rate dropped after President Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022) stimulated a major increase in the numbers of Brazilians who owned firearms by relaxing gun laws in 2019.
Perhaps the most insidious part of Bill C-21 is the introduction of so called “red flag” provisions. If implemented, Bill C-21 will allow private citizens to ask a judge to issue an Order to seize a person’s firearms. As written, the person who is potentially subjected to such a restraint will not have the opportunity to defend him or herself. These “red flag” provisions are unnecessary and appear to be based on American news. The Canadian Criminal Code (Section 117.04) currently permits the disarming of anyone who poses “an imminent threat to themselves or others.” Anyone who believes a person poses such a threat can call 1-800-731-4000 to “report a spousal or public safety concern.” The Police must respond. Under the Firearms Act, the Chief Firearms Officer can revoke firearm licence and order firearms confiscated. However, current legislation provides the opportunity to appeal revocations, and to order firearms returned to the owner; Bill C-21 apparently does not.
This crackdown on law-abiding gunowners will not make Canadians safer. It mandates the confiscation of billions of dollars of private property and destroys an entire sector of the economy.
Peer-reviewed research shows that previous legislation prohibiting the possession and acquisition of certain firearms made no discernable impact on the rates of homicide, spousal homicide or suicide in Canada or other countries. Dr Caillin Langmann’s testimony reporting peer-reviewed research has found that bans of short-barrelled handguns, semi-automatic or military-looking firearms have had no demonstrable beneficial effect on homicide rates.
Moreover, according to testimony by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and other police representatives at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU), both the freeze on handgun sales and buy-back of so-called assault firearms are misdirected and this money would be better spent tackling illegal guns in the hands of criminals rather than collecting hundreds of thousands of lawfully-owned firearms. Available data show that the Lion’s share of guns used in violent crime in Toronto are smuggled. Border guards testified to Parliament that due to gaping holes in Canada’s border security, guns could easily slip through unless new technology and new funding were provided.
Focusing on guns rather than violent criminals lets Ottawa pose as a protector of public safety while doing very little about criminal violence. The Trudeau government believes attacking “guns” will win votes and put the Opposition on their back feet. To actually make Canadians safer, it would be rational to pursue policies that targeted criminals instead of law-abiding firearms owners.
Footnote: In this study, Kleck defined technically strong research as having met at least three criteria: (1) whether a validated measure of gun prevalence was used, (2) whether the authors controlled for more than a handful of possible confounding variables, and (3) whether the researchers used suitable causal order procedures to deal with the possibility of crime rates affecting gun rates, instead of the reverse.