The horrific shootings in Las Vegas have attracted excited calls for more gun control in Canada as well as the United States. Most are just red herrings.
Murder sprees draw gun-control “experts” like a wounded squirrel on the road attracts hungry crows. Progressive politicians can’t resist the opportunity to accuse “easy access to guns” for the atrocity. This is code for blaming the acts of a homicidal maniac on normal people who own guns. As usual, the liberals claim that banning some object du jour will protect the public. Apparently, “bump stocks” (or even semi-automatic rifles) are the focus of legislation.
As Rahm Emanuel, former Chief of Staff in the Obama White House, once said, “You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste.”
In their rush to exploit the atrocity, celebrities and anti-gun activists, in the US and Canada, ignore real heroes and use the bloodied victims as props for their claims that more and tighter gun restrictions on peaceable civilians are needed to protect the public. Unfortunately, too many politicians are easily gulled by red herrings. Bans on bump-stocks or semi-automatic firearms are merely feel-good measures, knee-jerk reactions that cannot solve complex social problems. More effective steps, such as increasing funding for researching the dangerous side effects of the prescription drugs suspected of causing violent behavior would be more worthwhile, but would not satisfy the politicians’ need to be seen do something, anything (and especially soon enough to match the news cycle). Nor would it ever satisfy anti-gun activists, typically Democrats in the US and federal Liberals in Canada, or any other gun-banning political party that feeds on public shootings.
Could any of the current gun control proposals have stopped the Las Vegas killer?
Knee-jerk reactions rarely result in wise decisions. Unsurprisingly, gun control proposals made in the wake of a heart-rending event like the Las Vegas shootings are not likely to be practicable. Banning bump stocks or even semi-automatic firearms may sound appealing, but such bans would not reduce gun violence or stop terrorists. Similar unworkable proposals are regularly trotted out after every heavily publicized shooting, and have been for decades.
Even US Senator Diane Feinstein, who is widely known for her support for gun control, admitted that none of the gun controls currently being proposed would have stopped the Las Vegas shooter from obtaining weapons. The shooter passed several background checks, because he had no violent criminal record and no medical history of mental illness. American law (as well as Canadian) already prohibits people with violent criminal records or serious mental problems from purchasing (or possessing) firearms. The killer used common semi-automatic rifles, not fully automatic firearms. Semi-automatic (also known as “self-loading”) means that each trigger-pull fires a single shot. Fully-automatic means that the firearm continues firing after the trigger is pulled until it is released.
Nevertheless, Senator Feinstein and other politicians support banning bump stocks so that they may be seen to be doing something. Even during the Obama presidency, the bump stock was not considered as an automatic weapon, nor to be exceptionally dangerous. Semi-automatic firearms are no more dangerous than any other kind and are widespread in both the US and Canada. Rifles of all kinds (including semi-automatic) are used in fewer than 7% of murders in Canada and 2% of murders in the United States.
How do the Las Vegas killings compare with other murderous rampages?
The Las Vegas murders (58 people were killed and 489 wounded) was the largest shooting spree in the United States but not the deadliest mass murder.
Unfortunately, firearms are not the only way to kill large numbers of people. A few notable examples: on 11 September 2001, terrorists used box cutters to hijack airplanes killing 2,977 people. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a truck bomb under the day-care center in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and injuring another 680 people.
The US is not unique in large scale murders. Europe has more multi-person killings than the US per capita. In 2015, both bombs and shootings were used to kill 130 people in France. Last year, a Muslim terrorist killed 86 people and wounded another 458 with a truck in Nice, France. Nor is Canada immune. The largest mass murder in Canada was an arson attack in the Blue Bird Café in Montreal in 1972 which killed 37 people. Terror attacks are not limited to Europe or North America. In October 2017, a truck bomb in Somalia killed 231, injuring more than 275 people; the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group was blamed for the attack.
Who owns guns in the United States and Canada?
About one quarter of households in Canada have one or more guns, and around 40% of households in the US have one or more guns, according to survey estimates. Hunting is an important reason for owning firearms in both countries; protection is also widely reported as a prime reason in the US but not in Canada.
People who own their firearms legally are much less likely to be murderous than are other Canadians. A Special Request I submitted to Statistics Canada found that licensed gun owners had a homicide rate of 0.60 per 100,000 licensed gun owners over the 16-year period (1997-2012). Over the same period, the average national homicide rate (including gun owners) was 1.81 per 100,000 people.
Do more guns mean more or fewer murders?
Mass shootings are not the best window for understanding gun violence. Murders involving three or more victims (with firearms or not) account for fewer than 1% of murders in the US.
Most murders in the US and in Canada involve criminals shooting other criminals. Most (70% to 80%) firearms used in murder in the US are possessed illegally, and almost all (95%) firearms used in Canadian homicides were possessed illegally. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 67% of murderers in the US had a criminal record, with most of their arrests being for violent crimes. Homicide victims frequently had a criminal record as well. Similarly, Statistics Canada reports that nearly two-thirds of those accused of homicide had a criminal record, as did 50% of victims. In 2015, about half (44%) of all homicides in Canada committed with a firearm were gang-related.
According to the recent Pew survey, 40% of US households legally own one or more firearms. In rural areas, 58% of households have guns, 41% small towns, and just 29% in urban areas. With respect to race, 49% of white Americans say either they have a gun in their household, compared with 32% of African-Americans. Homicide rates, according to the FBI, vary from 3.4 per 100,000 in smaller towns (where there are more legal guns) to 10 per 100,000 population in large urban areas (where there are fewer legal guns).
In an effort to control violent crime, some jurisdictions, such as Chicago, have not only banned popular semi-automatic rifles, but have also made handguns virtually impossible to carry outside one’s residence as well. Nevertheless, Chicago has one of the highest murder rates in the US (mostly with handguns). In 2016, there were 765 murders in Chicago. Similar murder statistics can found in other big American cities, such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Los Angeles. But these murders don’t make headlines.
I believe a study on the correlation between Canada’s immigration policies and violent crime would be worth while.