The top three Canadian gun myths debunked

Written By Guest User, Posted on March 23, 2020

The topic of guns in Canada can be a touchy subject, to put it mildly. While the conversation around firearms is not as heated as the American debate, there still exists a strong current on anti-gun rhetoric in Canada. 

Efforts to enact further gun control have been ramped up over the last few years, with the current Liberal government signalling that they will bring forward more legislation on the matter in this Parliament, in addition to Bill C-71 (the backdoor gun registry) they passed into law last June. 

While many Canadians support further gun control, no doubt with good intentions of minimizing harm and prioritizing safety, the measures they support, such as handgun bans or AR-15 bans, fail to help meet those goals and merely end up punishing law abiding Canadian gun owners. 

To help educate my fellow Canadians, I’ve addressed the top three firearms myths in Canada.

  1. Canada needs to ban “assault weapons” in order to make our country more safe.

While this proposal is supported by a majority of Canadians, there’s no definitive proof that it reduces gun crime or increases the safety of those impacted by such a ban. A Vice News analysis of the 1994 American assault weapons ban found the evidence to be inconclusive at best. 

Another article examining the same ban from the Annenberg Public Policy Centre found that while both sides of the gun debate like to twist the data to fit their preferred narratives, the actual facts were more complicated. 

Christopher Koper, an associate professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University, and the lead author of the study wrote the following: “What we found in these studies was that the ban had mixed effects in reducing crimes with the banned weaponry due to various exemptions that were written into the law. And as a result, the ban did not appear to affect gun violence during the time it was in effect. But there is some evidence to suggest that it may have modestly reduced shootings had it been in effect for a longer period.” 

One of the key factors in this whole conversation is magazine capacity. In the US, during the time their assault weapons ban was in place from 1994 – 2004, they had a federal ban on magazines with a capacity larger than 10. Currently, nine states have passed regulations capping the size of magazines but the remaining 41 do not have any limits. Here is Canada, however, the magazine limit for assault rifles (like the AR-15) is five rounds. Limiting magazine capacity is a far more effective way of improving public safety while also maintaining the freedom of Canadian firearms owners to safely use their firearms in controlled gun range environments. 

2. Strict gun control will make Canada safer 

Once again, nuance is key here when addressing this myth. While it is true that a certain amount of common sense regulations like licensing, background checks, training etc. will make for a safer public space, there reaches a point of diminishing returns. 

Currently, firearms are divided into three categories in Canada: Non-Restricted, Restricted, & Prohibited. If you want to own a firearm, you must go through the extensive training courses required, plus a detailed background check, before you are allowed to purchase a firearm. If you would like to transport your Restricted or Prohibited firearm, even just from your house to the gun range, you need to apply for an authorization to transport permit (ATT). Any fully automatic firearms, the kind that could do the most damage in a mass shooting scenario, are prohibited in Canada. 

All of this is to say that yes, a certain level of gun control is necessary. However, in a safe and regulated country like Canada, further measures to regulate firearms only penalize law abiding gun owners and do not improve public safety. 

As I mentioned earlier, Justin Trudeau’s government passed Bill C-71 last June, although many of its components require a cabinet order to take effect, the details of which are still being hammered out as the government approaches its budget season. New gun control measures planned by the Liberals include installing red flag laws, something that already exists in Canada, and banning “military style assault weapons,” a term they have not defined but say includes the AR-15. 

Red flag laws allow concerned neighbors and/or family members to alert the police about situations of potential domestic abuse involving firearms. Police can then investigate, and if they deem it necessary, seize the guns in the home and suspend the license of the firearms owner. Such laws already exist in Canada and the Liberals attempt to duplicate them are overcautious at best or cynical politics at worst. 

The same goes for the “military assault weapons ban.” This is a solution in search of a problem. Fully automatic firearms are prohibited in Canada and were used in only two of the 249 firearm caused homicides across the country in 2018. The AR-15, in its semi-automatic form, is already classified as a Restricted firearm. To turn it into a fully automatic weapon is illegal, can only be done by a handful of skilled gunsmiths with time and money to burn, and would change the type of firearm it would be categorized as, moving it into the Prohibited classification. The AR-15 is not a threat to Canadians – banning it is purely a political ploy carried out at the expense of Canadian firearms owners to curry favour with Canadian voters unfamiliar with the intricacies of Canadian firearms law. 

3. Gun crime in Canada is on the rise.

It’s all about the starting point. While it’s true that violent crime involving firearms is up over the past seven years, you have to consider the longer term trends as well as the source of the increase. If you want to dig into all the stats, this presentation from Yvan Clermont, the Director Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, to the Statistics Canada Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence last year is a great place to start. 

From 2009 to 2013, there was a record setting 33% drop in firearms related crime across the country. However, since that low point, the numbers have started to increase, up 42% as of 2018. The majority of this increase came from increased gang activity in the Greater Toronto Area. Of Canada’s five largest cities, only Vancouver did not see an increase in firearms related crime over this time period. In 2016 and 2017, about 25% of all homicides were gang related, up from 16% to 17% each year between 2010 and 2015. 

Unfortunately, it is hard to exactly pinpoint whether this increase is driven by illegal or legal firearms. While there were 9.9 incidents where a firearm was stolen for every 100,000 Canadians in 2017, that’s up from 2013 but down from its peak in 2015 (11.7). According to Mr. Clermont, we don’t have enough information on the origin of the weapons used in these crimes to determine where they came from or how they got in the country. 

Overall, we can see that while gun crime is certainly an issue in Canada, the increase is driven largely by gang activity in major Canadian cities, not by law abiding gun owners who have completed the required training courses and background checks. Governments of all levels should focus their efforts on combating the actual source of the problem, instead of fear mongering and virtue signalling to the broader Canadian public who are not aware of the realities of firearms ownership and crime levels in Canada. 

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