Even though the Trudeau Liberals have already abandoned many campaign promises, they remain eager to crack down on gun owners. To keep their base happy, the Liberals must honour at least some of their promises. And we are easy meat.
During the 2015 campaign they promised to “get handguns and assault weapons off our streets.” This included, among other ideas, rolling back the few relaxations of gun laws that the previous government had introduced and joining the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. Signed immediately after the Liberals came to power, the ATT is a grab bag of draconian firearm restrictions based on the UN’s “recommendations.” Not only does the ATT fundamentally refuse to accept that civilians have a legitimate right to own a firearm for self defence (even against rabid animals) it also strongly urges countries to adopt universal firearms registration, sets strict limits on civilian “stockpiles” of firearms and ammunition, imposes “enhanced safe storage” regulations. and urges stringent enforcement of who can prove they legitimately need a firearm.
Given their support for the ATT, I predict the Liberals will reintroduce long-gun registration in one form or another, despite promising not to do so during the 2015 campaign. Gun control has been out of the news since the election. That is about to change. The recent appointments to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee, especially Nathalie Provost as vice-chairperson, (she’s promoted as a “survivor” of the multiple-victim shooting at École Polytechnique), reveals the government’s goal is to severely restrict gun rights.
It is time to get prepared before the Liberals bring down the hammer. To argue against further gun laws, it is important to know the facts. The Liberals will justify new restrictions by claiming that civilian gun owners pose a serious threat to public safety, particularly to women and children. But what are the facts? Are PAL holders potential killers? Do violent criminals get their guns by stealing them from legitimate owners? Are guns more dangerous than knives? Here are the answers you need for forthcoming debates.
How murderous are PAL holders?
Civilian gun owners recite the mantra that we are less violent than other Canadians. Indeed, past statistics support this claim. In my 2012 presentation to the Senate during the hearings over dismantling the long-gun registry, I reported that PAL holders are much less likely to be murderers than are other Canadians. Based on a Special Request to Statistics Canada, Canadians who do not have a firearms licence are almost three times more likely to commit murder than those who do over the years 1997-2010 (Mauser 2012).
Did homicide rates for PAL holders go up after the long-gun registry was cancelled? To find out, I submitted another Special Request in 2016 and extended the analysis through 2015 (the most recent year statistics are available). Over that new, longer period, I found the homicide rate was virtually the same, 0.65 per 100,000 licensed gun owners. The demise of the long-gun registry saw the annual homicide rate for PAL holders remain well below the general Canadian homicide rate.
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After a long irregular decline in the national homicide rate since the early 1990s, the Canadian national homicide rate increased slightly (from 1.58 to 1.68) from 2012 to 2015. The homicide rate for PAL holders also increased after 2012 (from 0.60 to 0.95). Because of the small number of homicides involved, three years are not enough to know if this trend is real. It is unlikely that ending the long-gun registry has had any effect at all since fewer than 5% of guns used in murder were ever registered. The small number of murderers holding a PAL means for statistical reasons that there are wide swings from year to year, and the changes since 2012 fall well within the normal range reported by StatsCan. Since 1997, between 7 and 19 (out of approximately two million) PAL holders are accused of murder in any given year.
Are licensed firearms owners the source of crime guns?
As I’ve reported in previous articles, published police reports have systematically pointed to smuggling being the dominant source of crime guns in Canada, and only secondarily, domestic firearms. Exceptionally few of the domestic guns have never been legally owned. In a Special Request to Stats Can, I found that only 6% of the guns used in murder had ever been registered between 2003 and 2010 — the time the long-gun registry had been operational (Mauser 2015). Whether recently smuggled or long held in Canada but never registered, the overwhelming majority of guns used in crime have long been outside the system. Authorities are too embarrassed to admit that this. At least two million Canadian gun owners never bothered to get a PAL or POL when licensing was imposed (Mauser 2007). The large majority are scofflaws, while a few are hard-core criminals.
Don’t forget: other domestic sources for crime guns are the police or military themselves, who don’t routinely announce losses or thefts. Even to Parliament. After persistent digging, researcher Dennis Young has managed to find some information on firearms lost or stolen by Canada’s police or military. Check his website out for more information.
Are guns much more dangerous than knives?
The rationale for building our extensive and complex firearm laws is that guns are much more dangerous than any other weapon. One wag claimed that the criminal code is, “mostly gun laws plus a few other things.”
The case against guns is exaggerated because knives are approximately as deadly. According to Statistics Canada, there were more homicides committed with knives than with guns over the past ten years (1,807 vs 1,588). However, this somewhat overstates the case against knives as there were more serious knife attacks than gun attacks. One way to compare the deadliness of knives and guns is to look at the frequency that police lay charges in different types of murderous attacks (i.e., attempted murder or homicide). Over the past ten years (2006-2015) there were 3,697 murderous attacks involving firearms and 4,070 attacks involving knives. Thus the “deadliness” of a gun attack is 43% and that of a knife attack is 44%.
On the other hand, police are much more likely to lay a charge in the case of a gun assault than in a knife assault. If fewer knife attackers are charged, then the deadliness of knives is unintentionally exaggerated. A more accurate approach is to examine medical data on injuries. Professor Gary Kleck did this in 1991 and he found that gun wounds resulted in death four times as often as knife wounds. Kleck attributes the greater mortality of gun attacks primarily to the difference in the attacker’s motivation.
Dangerousness does not just mean deadliness. In a study I did in 2005, I found that attacks with knives (or even clubs) were much more likely than gun attacks to result in seriously injuring the victim. (Assuming they live). Just 6% of victims received “major physical injuries” in a gun attack, while 11% of victims of knife attacks were seriously injured, as were 14% of victims of attacks with clubs. The problem is violent criminals, not firearms in the hands of civilians.
It’s time to get ready to fight for our rights. My sources tell me that the Liberals are drawing up new laws to impose on gun owners. This article has provided facts to help argue against further gun laws.
First, PAL holders are not potential killers. Canadians who hold a firearms licence are approximately one-third as likely to commit murder as other Canadians. My Special Request to Statistics Canada found that homicide rates remained virtually the same after the demise of the long-gun registry. The annual homicide rate for PAL holders remains well below the general Canadian homicide rate.
Second, the shooting community is not a reservoir of guns for criminals. The statistics show that violent criminals primarily get guns by smuggling them across the border in exchange for drugs, and only rarely by stealing them from law-abiding owners.
Third, the unique dangerousness of guns is a gross exaggeration. In terms of absolute harm, guns are more dangerous than knives, but not by much. The key difference is that firearms are much more useful for personal protection. Hunters, farmers, rural or urban residents, all benefit from the potential increased defence capability of a firearm over a knife.
As Caillin Langmann has shown, gun laws just don’t work. Whatever new laws the Liberal government proposes, there is no evidence whatever that any further restrictions, such as gun registration, would do anything to bring down crime rates. At the same time, there is ample evidence that gun restrictions cause real problems for law-abiding citizens … and the poor suffering taxpayer ends up paying the tab.
Don’t be shy. Go talk with your MP! Share your views on firearms. When you do speak out in defence of lawful ownership, please remember that you must always be polite. Angry or intemperate protests can only backfire. You are claiming to be mature, so you’d better act like it.
If your MP is doing a good job, be sure to tell him or her. Don’t just complain. MPs appreciate praise like anyone else. Even better: get involved in the political party of your choice – Liberal, NDP or Conservative. Volunteering is the best way to make sure political parties understand the importance of issues facing law-abiding gun owners.
NB. This article was published in the May/June issue of the Canadian Firearms Journal. Other issues with many fascinating articles are available at this website.
Kleck, Gary. Point Blank, Guns and Violence in America. Chapter 3. 1991.
Langmann, Caillin. Canadian Firearms Legislation and Effects on Homicide 1974 to 2008. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2012.
Mauser, Gary. Do Triggers Pull Fingers? Mackenzie Institute. 2015.
Mauser, Gary. A presentation to Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, The Senate of Canada, 2012.
Mauser, Gary. Hubris in the North. The Canadian Firearms Registry. Fraser Institute. 2007.
Mauser, Gary. Are guns really more dangerous than other weapons? Fraser Forum. June 2005, pp 16 – 18.
Young, Dennis. Missing police firearms.