(Note: Thanks to helpful criticism, I’ve updated the graph).
Senator McPhedran spreads false claims about law-abiding firearms owners. It is revealing that some Liberal appointed Senators, like Senator Marilou McPhedran, feel they must falsify evidence to support Bill C-71. Perhaps they realize there is no real evidence to support Bill C-71?
Senator Marilou McPhedran twittered on 18 March 2019:
“Gun control is a gender issue – mostly licensed firearms used in women’s murders says Dr. Amanda Dale, Executive Director (Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic) on Bill C-71 at #SECD.”
Her claim is false. Not only are more men murdered each year than women, but few murders involve law-abiding firearms owners, men or women. Senator McPhedran’s short Tweet is packed with errors.
Senator McPhedran doesn’t understand the firearms legislation
Despite having had a legal education, Senator McPhedran appears to be unacquainted with the basics of Canadian firearms legislation because she confuses firearms registration with owner licencing. Presumably, since “licensed firearms” do not exist, she meant to say “legal firearms,” or possibly, “registered firearms.” Her statement is false whether she is talking about all legal firearms or just those that are registered. These are very different claims because few legal firearms in Canada are required to be registered. She is probably aware that her colleague, Senator Pratte, has already (if inadvertently) made the point that approximately 90% of firearms used in homicide are illegally owned.
Statistics Canada refutes Senator McPhedran’s claim
Had Senator McPhedran checked with Statistics Canada, she would have known her claim was false. Apparently, Senator McPhedran’s dashed off her brief Twitter statement too quickly. When she says “women’s murders,” it is not clear if she is referring to all women’s murders or only those involving guns.
Let’s examine what she could have meant by, “mostly licensed firearms used in women’s murders.” It is easily shown to be false if she meant that legal guns were the predominant method of killing women, i.e., involved in all “women’s murders”. According to Statistics Canada, between 2006 and 2017, an average of 587 people were victims of homicide, including 161 women. Stabbings are more frequent than shootings. Between 2006 and 2015, an average of 13 PAL holders were accused of homicide. Legal guns are rarely used to kill anyone, men or women.
Very few PAL holders accused or suspected of murder
It is important to keep in mind that the numbers of PAL holders either “accused” or “suspected” of homicide are exceptionally small and are based upon notoriously unreliable police reports.
In estimating the number of PAL holders who are accused of homicide it is important to use averages over a number of years, not rely upon a single year. Statistically, this is necessary because so few PAL holders are accused in any given year that the number varies considerably from year to year. The number of PAL holders accused of homicide varied between 7 and 19 between 2006 to 2015, according to Statistics Canada.
As Senator Plett has pointed out, at the bottom of the spreadsheet that Senator Pratte relies upon is the warning from Statistics Canada that “data related to firearm licensing of the charged / suspect-chargeable should be interpreted with caution.”
Given the small numbers, StatsCan wouldn’t identify how many victims were male and how many female. (This study was based on a Special Request to Statistics Canada that I presented to Parliament). Even if all of the accused are found guilty, which is unlikely, Senator McPhedran’s statement can’t possibly be true (13 accused/161 murdered women). On average, about 28% of homicide victims are females, so if this percentage is extended to the victims of PAL holders, then PAL holders would be responsible for killing around 4 women per year — out of 161. The problem is women in abusive relationships, not PAL holders.
Are women killed with legal guns more often than illegal guns?
It is more likely that Senator McPhedran was referring to female victims who were shot, even though her Tweet wasn’t clear. StatsCan doesn’t normally report sex of homicide victim by method of murder, so it is necessary to estimate the number of females who were shot. Between 2006 and 2017, firearms were involved in 32% of homicides, so assuming the same percentage of women are murdered with firearms as men: 32% of 161 is 51. This is probably an overestimate, given the high number of firearms homicides that are gang related. Even if all of the 13 PAL holders were accused of killing women, 13 is not more than half of 51 women shot to death annually over this time period.
It is important to note that Senator Pratte uses an inflated number in his estimates of homicidal PAL holders, by including suspects as well as accused. Unsurprisingly, the police may have more suspects for a single crime than are eventually accused. If suspects are included as well in our estimates, the average is 17 PAL holders who were suspected or accused between 2006 and 2016, which is the time period that Senator Pratte graciously shared with me. Note that even by Senator Pratte’s definitions, the number of PAL holders (17) is not more than half of the women murdered with a firearm (51).
Remember, these estimates exaggerate the true number of PAL holders who murder women because they include the PAL holders who are suspected or accused of murdering men, not women, and only some of those accused will be found guilty.
Senator McPhedran relies upon hearsay
Senator McPhedran’s says in her Tweet that the source of her claim is Dr. Amanda Dale, but Dr Dale says she got it from yet another activist. This is hearsay. Neither activist provided empirical support for this claim.
To quote Dr. Dale: “Yes, gun control is a gender issue, particularly because it is, as my colleague said, mostly licensed firearms that are used when guns are used to murder women.”
Dr Dale is merely repeating what Lise Martin, Executive Director, Women’s Shelters Canada, said.
The relevant claim by Lise Martin, Executive Director, Women’s Shelters Canada, is:
“According to the most recent report of the Canadian Femicide Observatory, 148 women were killed in Canada in 2018. The most common method used when a woman or girl was killed was shooting. We know that most of the women killed with guns in Canada were killed with legally owned rifles and shotguns.”
P16, transcript from THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL SECURITY AND DEFENCE. EVIDENCE. OTTAWA, Monday, March 18, 2019 at 1hour: 28minutes: 14seconds. (This transcript has not yet been made public).
The study she cited is based on newspaper articles collected by activists, which naturally is less reliable than Statistics Canada data. Unfortunately, media have a bias to report gun incidents and ignore violent incidents that involve clubs or knives. StatsCan data contradicts the claim that guns are the most common method of murdering females.
In closing, Ms. Martin offers no support for the additional claim that these murders were committed using legally owned long guns. There is nothing in the report she cites to support such a claim. Senator McPhedran’s claim is without foundation.
Added later: Senator McPhedran is focusing on the rare negative side of civilian firearms ownership.
It is important to remember that millions of men and women use guns safely and responsibly for hunting, recreation, competition, as well as for protecting their family or their property. According to Canada firearms program, more than 200,000 women enjoy the shooting sports – including hunting — and they have a PAL.
In Canada, violent crime is uncommon, firearm violence is even more exceptional. Firearms are used in violent crime less in than 0.5 percent of all crime. Homicide is an extraordinary rare event.
Some facts: Three-quarters (73%) of homicide victims are male. In 2017, knives are used in murder more often than guns. Two-thirds (66%) of adults accused of homicide had a criminal record in Canada, whereas just over half (53%) of adult homicide victims had a Canadian criminal record, according to Statistics Canada.