Will Canadians comply with Justin Trudeau’s “buy back” of semi-automatic firearms? Despite government claims, cooperation with past gun restrictions hasn’t been all that successful.
Trudeau appears to be following the same script as New Zealand’s socialist Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, so it’s reasonable to ask how successful was New Zealand’s “buy back.” In 2019, Ardern exploited a mass public shooting by a demented environmentalist to confiscate what she called “military style semi-automatic” firearms (which included some pump-action rifles and shotguns and even a few lever-action 22s).
The “buy back” in both countries involves confiscating firearms from law-abiding citizens at mandated rates. The argument is that semi-automatic firearms are too dangerous for ordinary citizens to own because some spree killers have used them. All of the guns to be confiscated are lawfully owned by men and women the police have screened and approved. Not one of these guns has been used in a crime. Only legal owners will be compensated. Anyone who doesn’t surrender their newly prohibited guns risks years in prison.
The extent to which the New Zealand ‘buy back’ could be said to be successful provides an important clue about the success of the Canadian imitation. New Zealand and Canada share more similarities than many may imagine. Both were originally colonized by British settlers and are long-standing members of the British Commonwealth. Moreover, they share similar immigration patterns, particularly after 1960, and, over the past century, both have become increasingly urbanized. Nevertheless, both countries have retained extensive rural regions, and both continue to maintain impressive numbers of hunters and target shooters.
The New Zealand “buy back” included both registered and non-registered firearms. Prior to 2019, standard rifles and shotguns (called “Class A” in New Zealand) did not have to be registered. A number of firearms do have to be registered (called “Class E” in New Zealand), including ones that a previous government had classified as “military-style semi-automatic” rifles.
Compliance rates are higher when firearms are registered. Unsurprisingly, since registering a firearm means identifying its owner to the police. The threat of jail time is more effective when the police know the name and address of the owner.
Digging into the New Zealand Police reports, the government’s “buy back” was not very successful. At the most generous, just over one-third (37%) of targeted guns were surrendered. Registered firearms (E-category) were more than twice as likely to be surrendered as unregistered guns. Almost two-thirds (64%) of registered firearms were surrendered, but no more than 30% of non-registered firearms (A-category) were turned in; perhaps much less. The combined total is low because most (77%) of the firearms targeted were not registered.
|Police to follow up
The “buy back” of un-registered firearms is more difficult to assess because estimates of the total firearms to be confiscated vary widely. The challenge is precisely identifying which “semi-automatic” or pump-action rifles and shotguns are prohibited. The National Party estimated there are 240,000 such firearms, while other estimates put the number at 170,000 or 185,000.
In contrast with New Zealand’s “buy back,” which exploited public horror of a recent terrorist shooting, the Canadian Liberals must rely upon shocking gang shootings and feminist anger over a public shooting that happened more than 30-years ago at the Montreal Polytechnique.
Nor are Canadians any more biddable than Kiwis. Two examples from the recent past suggest Canadian gun owners may well not comply with the ‘buy back.’
Back in 2001, roughly one-half of Canadian gun owners signed up for a firearms licence. Government claims of that this represents almost all owners are based on a deliberately low estimate of the number of gun owners, as estimated by Mays and Ruddell.
In 2002, the government announced that almost 2 million firearms licences had been issued between 1998 and 2002 and claimed licencing was a success, boasting that over 80% of 2.46 million gun owners had obtained licences. Support for this claim could be found in a government survey conducted in 2000. However, this was based on a “low ball” estimate of firearms ownership.
How many gun owners are there?
To claim success, the government relied upon the lowest survey estimate (conveniently also the latest) found during the past decade. The government was unconcerned that survey estimates had been even higher before firearms ownership had been demonized. Throughout the 1980s, the best (uncorrected) estimate was that 24% of Canadian households had one or more firearms and there were 3.3 million firearms owners. In reaching their estimate of firearms owners, the government also ignored widely respected corrections for survey estimates which, had they made the corrections, would have further increased the estimated percentage.
|Owners per Household
|Firearm Owners (M)
|Licensed owners (%)
|All 12 Surveys
In the 1990s surveys were typically based on household telephone samples. A substantial difference in firearms reported by married men and married women has been discovered in firearms surveys. Mauser (2001) and Kleck (2001) both found that the married women are likely to underreport household firearms ownership in surveys by 10% to 16%. This underreporting could be due to the respondents lack of awareness that her spouse has a firearm, or it might be due to a greater unwillingness on the part of married female respondents to report firearms ownership than their spouses.
Other factors as well were also noted but not corrected for which artificially reduced the government’s estimate. The national survey that the government relied upon found one percent of the respondents refused to answer questions about firearms ownership and three percent of reported that they hunted or shot targets, but did not own a firearm (GPC Research, 2001). Adding these percentages to the share admitting to firearms ownership marginally increases the estimates.
Even after 20 years, many gun owners remain outside the system, according to a recent Angus Reid survey.
About twice as many respondents admit to being firearms owners in a recent Angus Reid national survey as hold a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL). The RCMP Firearms Program announced that 2,186,161 PALs were valid at the end of 2018. However, an Angus Reid survey (June 2019) found 14% of Canadian adults reported owning a firearm. This gives about 4.2 million firearms owners according to Statistics Canada estimation of the adult population on July 1, 2019.
|Firearm Owners (%)
|Owners with PAL (%)
A final example suggests that even fewer Canadians will surrender their firearms. Back in the early 1990s, just 10% of scary-looking semi-automatic firearms (like the FN FAL) were registered when then Prime Minister Kim Campbell re-classified them from non-restricted to restricted. This is based on comparing a personal statement by Al Lever, then owner of Lever Arms in Vancouver, on his import stats with the number of newly restricted converted automatics reported by the RCMP that were registered.
While illegal, many Canadians will not comply simply because they may not be aware that they should surrender a firearm they may have owned for a considerable period. This is not possible of course for registered firearms. However, in that case, the law provides for an appeal. The appeal may be rejected but the government is obliged to process all appeals. Outright refusal invites arrest and forcible confiscation of the newly prohibited firearm. Depending upon local police policy, this may well involve dynamic entry at 3 am, as happened in New Zealand.
It is not advisable to make a false claim that the firearm in question was lost or fell into a deep lake somewhere while drunk. Doing so is admitting to a criminal act. Not reporting a lost firearm ‘with reasonable dispatch’ risks 5 years in prison.
However it is legal to report to the police, if contacted, that the firearm has been previously sold, and you have no records. Records are not required for non-restricted firearms, so this is perfectly legal. Unfortunately, this is not possible with a restricted firearm due to its registration. Sales must be reported.