Gun Control is not Crime Control
by Professor Gary Mauser, Simon Fraser University
Introduction by Michael Walker, Executive Director, The Fraser Institute
About the Author
Gun Control is not Crime Control
Canadian firearms owners
Firearms and criminal violence
How effective is firearms
Firearms and self defence
Evaluating the proposed firearms laws
by Michael Walker, Executive Director, The Fraser
What has gun control got to do with economic
policy? The Fraser Institute is both an economic and social research organization, and has
long maintained an interest in a variety of subjects which are only tangentially economic
in their principal content. But this is not the main reason for undertaking a study of the
relationship between gun control and violence, or for examining the gun control
legislation which the government of Canada seeks to pursue.
The real function of the Fraser Institute in Canadian society is to encourage the
enhancement of our quality of life and our standard of living by encouraging more rational
public policy. And that means public policy that is constructed after taking into account
what is understood about cause and effect relationships in society, and, therefore, after
taking into account the unintended consequences that policy actions will have, and taking
into account a careful appreciation of the extent to which the policy goal being pursued
can in fact be achieved by the policy in question. We also want to know the minimal level
of intervention required to achieve the policy goal.
All of The Fraser Institute's 21-year body of work has been careful to note that there is
a distinction between an agreement with the objectives of a policy, and with the policy
being suggested to pursue that objective. Good intentions don't necessarily make good
policy. The current Critical Issues Bulletin is a perfect illustration of this concern.
One can wholeheartedly agree that reducing violent crime is an objective worthy of pursuit
by all Canadians. Indeed, if it were true that violent crime could be reduced by
increasing control over the general public's access to firearms, then it would be rational
to expend more effort controlling access to firearms. But the compelling evidence is that
there is no apparent connection between the availability of firearms and the extent of
To adopt tougher firearms controls in the belief that doing so would solve the problem of
increasing violence in Canadian society would be simply incorrect. But such an action
would have unintended consequences. It might actually increase Canadians' exposure to
violence since guns are frequently used to protect individuals from attack by other
individuals or by wild animals.
More importantly, a system of gun control of the kind proposed by the federal government
would be so onerous that it would greatly reduce the resources available for policing. And
with less policing, Canadians are likely to experience increased violence. In that sense,
the policy is likely to have precisely the opposite consequence to that intended by its
The author of this paper estimates that the most stringent form of gun control--a
universal gun registration--would actually cost half a billion dollars, implying that
there is a significant economic aspect to this policy. As the author himself concludes,
given its likely ineffectiveness and the financial circumstances of the government, is
this really a policy that should be pursued at this time?
This paper is the first of a number of studies that The Fraser Institute is undertaking
that will consider the incentives and disincentives of different kinds of behaviour
related to crime and justice. We will, over the course of the next several years, be
publishing studies that examine: the costs of the justice system; how the costs of
criminal activity appear to those who find criminal behaviour attractive; and the
consequences, both for the administration of the justice system and the containment of
criminal behaviour, that follow from the established incentives.
The Fraser Institute has been very pleased to support the work of Professor Mauser, as
reported in this Critical Issues Bulletin. However, Professor Mauser has worked
independently, and his views do not necessarily represent those of the members or the
trustees of The Fraser Institute.
About the Author
Gary Mauser, Ph.D. is Professor in
Business Administration and in the Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies at Simon
Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. He has taught at SFU since 1975. His formal education
includes a B.A. in Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. in
Psychology from the University of California at Irvine.
Professor Mauser's publications include two books and over 30 published papers in
criminology, political science, marketing, and research methodology. For the past several
years, Professor Mauser has been researching issues related to firearms and firearm
legislation. He has published two articles comparing Canadian and American attitudes
towards firearms and firearm legislation and another examining the treatment of polls and
gun control by the mass media. He has published an econometric analysis of the effects of
the 1977 Canadian firearms legislation on homicide, and he is currently working on a
parallel evaluation of this same law's effect on armed robbery.
Professor Mauser is a gun owner and a certified Canadian Firearms Safety Course
Gun Control is not Crime Control
Crime increasingly dominates the news and the
public is quite concerned about criminal violence. Naturally, the government wants to be
seen as doing something. Unfortunately, few options promise a quick fix.
Any real solution to criminal violence is likely to be complex and expensive, so the
government is attracted to waging a symbolic campaign to win votes. Since it is currently
fashionable to equate firearms with violence, and there is an emotional crusade against
firearms, the government sees a political opportunity. Gun control promises an easy
victory. Polls show that the public is both afraid of firearms and ignorant of the current
firearms legislation. Even if the new laws don't work, the public won't know, and the
government can always call for more "gun control" laws in a few years.
Unfortunately, the track record of "gun control" actually reducing criminal
violence is not good. No government in the world can boast that the introduction of
stricter firearms laws has actually reduced criminal violence. Firearms have been banned
in Jamaica, Hong Kong, New York City, and Washington, DC, without leading to decreases in
homicides. Consequently, governments that impose stricter gun controls frequently find
themselves calling for another round of yet stricter firearms laws just a few years after
introducing the original gun laws.
The federal government's current proposals for stricter gun control would, if introduced,
not only fail to reduce crime, but would vastly increase the size of the federal
bureaucracy. It is even possible that the gun control proposals would increase violent
crime. The government's proposals naively assume that all gun owners are identical.
Reality is quite different. There are at least two basic types of firearms owners: the
ordinary person (e.g., the hunter or target shooter) and the violent offender. The
problems posed to public safety by these two groups differ considerably. Legislation
already in place is more than adequate for regulating the average person (e.g., the
Firearms Acquisition Certificate, hunting regulations, handgun registration, regulations
for storing, handling, and transporting firearms). However, the violent offender poses a
significant threat to public safety, and greater efforts must be focused here. It is a
truism that laws only apply to the law-abiding.
The present laws are so complex that not even the police, who must enforce them,
adequately understand them. The Auditor General of Canada, in his 1993 report, pointed out
that the most recent Canadian firearms legislation (Bill C-17, which became law in 1991
and has been phased in over the past three years) has been poorly researched and requires
a critical reevaluation to see what its consequences are. Report of the Auditor General,
1993, Queen's Printer, Ottawa, pp. 647-655.Note Before any further legislation is enacted,
it makes sense to conduct a thorough evaluation as requested by the Auditor General.
Gun control laws are a boon to the bureaucracy. Bill C-17 cost at least $50 million in its
first few years and has had no measurable effect on firearms deaths. Gary Mauser,
"Canadian Gun Laws: Peace, Order, and Good Government?" presented to the
American Society of Criminology, New Orleans, November 4-7, 1992. It is very difficult to
estimate the cost of bill C-17 because the costs are divided among several
departments.Note Universal firearms registration, which is presently being considered by
the government, would cost a minimum of $500 million to introduce and would be no more
It is not rational to fear firearms owners. Neither internationally nor within Canada is
there a demonstrable link between firearms availability and violence. On an international
level, Canada, along with Israel, Norway, and Switzerland, has a relatively large number
of firearms per capita, but these countries, including Canada, exhibit some of the lowest
homicide rates in the world. Within Canada, those regions with more firearms--the rural
areas--tend to have lower homicide rates, while the urban areas, where there are fewer
firearms, have higher homicide rates. Robert Silverman and Leslie Kennedy, Deedly Deeds:
Murder in Canada, Ontario: Nelson Canada, 1993, pp. 211-216; Philip Stenning,
"Homicide in Canada," presentation at Simon Fraser University, 1994.Note The
contrast between Newfoundland, where many families have firearms for hunting, and Toronto,
where few people have legal firearms, is striking. The situation in the West, where
firearms ownership is high, is more complex. The higher homicide rate for the aboriginal
population distorts the rural population's average. Unfortunately, native Indians have a
higher homicide rate than other Canadians, whether they live in rural or urban areas.Note
To understand why firearms legislation cannot reduce violent crime, the first part of this
paper reviews the available statistics pertaining to Canadian firearms owners and firearms
accidents. Next, it shows that firearms ownership is not linked with criminal violence,
and that firearms legislation has a dismal track record in reducing crime or violence.
Then it examines how often Canadians report using firearms to defend themselves or their
families. The final section evaluates two specific proposals that were recently introduced
in Parliament by the government--full firearms registration and banning small handguns.
Evaluating the proposed firearms laws
Bill C-68, introduced in Parliament on February 14, 1995, will, if implemented, introduce
universal firearms registration and prohibit and confiscate over 50 percent of all
handguns that are now registered, as well as radically rewriting all firearms laws. Both
of these proposals rest upon the canards that additional regulations are needed to protect
the public from the typical firearms owner and that such regulations can be effective.
Before examining the specific proposals, it might be worthwhile first to ask why further
firearms laws are necessary and second, to conduct a thorough evaluation of the present
firearm control legislation in order to decide what, if anything, needs to be done. This
is precisely what the Auditor General of Canada requested. Report of the Auditor General,
op cit., 1993.Note However, the Justice Minister has not presented any compelling
justification for additional legislation. In 1991, prior to their defeat in 1993, the
Conservatives introduced sweeping changes in the firearms legislation (Bill C-17). Have
these changes done any good? Nobody knows. How much have they cost? Nobody knows. It is
reasonable to ask why the Justice Minister is ignoring the recommendation of the Auditor
General of Canada.
Universal firearms registration
Universal registration may seem reasonable at first glance, but a closer look shows that
it would be unworkable, ineffective, and outrageously expensive.
The Justice Minister has suggested a variety of justifications for registering all
firearms. He proposes to register all long arms, i.e., rifles and shotguns, for the first
time, although handguns have been required to be registered since 1934. Perhaps the most
important arguments are: first, that firearms registration is supposed to expedite police
investigations; second, that firearms registration would provide police with a way to know
if a suspect has firearms in his residence; third, that in the case of seizure orders,
courts would know how many firearms to seize from the suspect. Finally, it is claimed that
registration would encourage firearms owners to store their firearms more securely,
because the owners would be liable to face criminal charges for unsafe storage if their
firearms were stolen. Each of these arguments is specious.
First, universal firearms registration would be ineffective
because it cannot reduce firearms deaths, cannot help police to solve crimes, nor can it
let police know who has what firearms. There is no factual support for the claim that
firearms registration can help the police solve crimes. The police in the United Kingdom,
Australia, and New Zealand have worked with firearms registration for a number of years,
but in none of these countries have the police found full firearms registration to be
cost-effective. The police in two Australian states recommended the termination of
universal firearms registration. Report of the Victoria Police on the Firearms Registraion
System, February 26, 1987; Report of the South Australian Deregulation Task Force,
Adelaide, October, 1985.Note The New Zealand government decided to discontinue firearms
registration in 1983 after the New Zealand National Police recommended its termination
since they had not found it useful. Despite drastic increases in funding in the 1970s, the
New Zealand National Police were actually falling further and further behind. They
discovered that after several decades, their firearm registry hadn't proved useful in
solving crimes and it was diverting scarce resources away from more important duties.
"Background to the Introduction of Firearms User Licensing Instead of Rifle and
Shotgun Registration Under the Arms Act 1983," New Zealand National Police, 1983.Note
A secret police report from the United Kingdom admits that their extensive firearms
database has not been useful in solving crimes in that country either. Police forces find
that registration diverts police resources away from more important duties.
Furthermore, unless the registration list were substantially complete, police would
neither be able to use it to know which houses had firearms, let alone what types, nor be
able to track stolen firearms or those in criminal hands. There is every likelihood that
the registration list would be far less than complete. Since neither rifles nor shotguns
have ever been registered before in Canada, it is very probable that a substantial portion
of firearms owners would not comply with the new legislation. During World War II the
Canadian Parliament introduced a program to register all firearms (Order in council #3506,
26 July 1940, Canada Gazette, August 3, 1940, pp. 353-354). Nevertheless, this program was
never enforced, and after the war the idea was abandoned.Note Even with extensive
publicity, many firearms owners may not learn about the new law--a problem which is the
bane of every public information campaign. Even after heavy media coverage, large segments
of the general public fail to hear of the campaign. Other owners may refuse to participate
on principle. Many firearms owners believe that registration will lead to confiscation and
cite many historical examples, both in Canada and internationally, where this has
occurred. For example, in 1991, Bill C-17, introduced by the Mulroney government,
confiscated (without compensation) previously-registered firearms. Bill C-68 will, if
implemented, confiscate most currently registered handguns. The experience in Australia is
that more than 40 percent of firearms have not been registered even after decades of
requirements that they be so. Report of the Victoria Police, February 26, 1987, p. 5.Note
Even if only 25 percent of gun owners failed to register their firearms, the effectiveness
of registration would be severely hampered. Even after registration, the police would not
be able to trust the registration records to indicate if a suspect had firearms, nor would
courts be able to know that prohibition orders were complete. The actual number of people
who would refuse to register could be far higher than 25 percent. In 1991, Bill C-17
required that a number of semi-automatic firearms--so-called "assault
weapons"--be registered. It is difficult to know how many people complied, but
estimates are that less than 10 percent of firearms that fall into this category were
brought in for registration. In addition, a large number of people did not register their
handguns in 1934 when handguns were first required to be registered in Canada. Anonymous
RCMP informant, 1994.Note
It is difficult to believe that firearms registration would have any effect on the
availability of firearms by hard-core criminals in Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal.
Handguns have been required to be registered since 1934, but that has not taken handguns
out of the hands of those inclined to use them for criminal purposes. The government has
not been able to stop the smuggling of cigarettes, alcohol, or cocaine. Why should anyone
believe that it can stop the smuggling of firearms? Recent studies by the Department of
Justice found that most handguns in the possession of street criminals in Toronto had been
smuggled. See Lee Axon and Sharon Moyer, "The Use of Firearms in Criminal Incidents
in Toronto," September 1994, and Andrew Dreschel, "Yankee heat," Hamilton
Spectator , Saturday, April 2, 1994, p. A9.Note
The Justice Minister has suggested that firearms registration would act to reduce firearm
thefts, accidents, and suicides by motivating owners to pay more attention to their
responsibilities. It is difficult to understand how registering firearms could do this.
Automobiles are registered, and no one has ever suggested that registration helps to
reduce drunk driving and auto theft, or that it motivates owners to take better care of
their cars. Some gun owners who know about the new legislation might well be motivated to
lock up their firearms more securely. But surely the key here is education, not the threat
of additional punishment. Bill C-17, which introduced strict standards of firearms safety
training, including tougher rules for firearms storage and use, is just now beginning to
be implemented. Perhaps it would be wise to evaluate its effectiveness before introducing
any new legislation. New legislation may not be necessary.
While it is admirable to attempt to reduce firearms thefts, we should first assess the
magnitude of the problem. Out of the more than 6 million firearms that are conservatively
estimated to be legally owned in Canada, approximately 3,000 of these are stolen or lost
annually. The statistics probably exaggerate the problem. No one knows how many of these
3,000 firearms were legally owned; many of these firearms may in fact have been abandoned
because they had been used in a crime. In addition, many of the stolen firearms have been
stolen from the police and military.
Concerning firearms accidents, it is difficult to see how firearms registration would act
to reduce accident rates. Firearms accidents are extremely rare in Canada and have been
declining for decades. The key to lowering accident rates is firearms safety training, not
increased penalties. Although the Justice Minister has not mentioned it, since the 1960s
all Canadian provinces have required prospective hunters to take firearms safety training.
Moreover, starting in January 1994, anyone who wishes to purchase a firearm must pass an
exam or course in firearms safety.
Concerning firearm suicides, it seems improbable that registration could reduce the number
of people who use firearms to commit suicide. People who use firearms to commit suicide do
so because they want a method that will be effective. Firearms are involved in less than
one-third of suicides in Canada. Those who wish to end their lives have the option of a
wide variety of equally effective methods with which to do so. Restricting the
availability of firearms has not reduced the overall suicide rate. This can be seen in the
international statistics. There is no relationship between suicide rates and the
availability of firearms. For example, Canada has a higher suicide rate than the U.S. even
though the U.S. has almost twice as many firearms per capita as Canada. Japan has
virtually banned firearms, but has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
Second, full firearm registration would be unworkable because it would require a database
of an estimated 6-10 million firearms and at least 3 million owners. An estimated 1
million firearms are sold every year in Canada. Even in the age of computers, it is very
difficult to maintain an "clean" database of such magnitude. Moreover,
registration requires unique serial numbers. Not only do many rifles lack serial numbers,
but many others have identical numbers. These awkward facts stem from the relative lack of
concern shown worldwide for the danger of firearms owned by law-abiding citizens during
most of the past few centuries.
Introducing ineffective and unworkable legislation brings the
law into disrespect. Many firearms owners oppose mandatory firearm registration on the
grounds that they believe it would be an expensive failure. Moreover, if the registration
system is not enforced equitably, i.e., if native Indians are not required to register
their firearms, then many gun-owning Canadians will lose even more respect for the law.
The Justice Minister is caught in a dilemma with universal firearms registration and
native people. In principle, Canadian criminal law applies to all Canadians--natives and
non-natives alike. But many native groups view firearms registration as a violation of
their aboriginal treaty rights, so if the government does atempt to enforce firearms
registration, it will further aggrevate an admittedly delicate situation. However, if the
Justice Minister allows the natives to opt out of registering their firearms, he will
anger many non-natives who would see his decision as violating the constitutional
guarantees of equal treatment under the law for all Canadians.Note
Third, full firearms registration would be prohibitively expensive
because it would require countless person-years to introduce and operate. There are four
different types of costs to consider: a) introduction costs, or the costs of purchasing
new hardware, software, and training personnel in its use; b) operational costs, or the
costs of registering a firearm once the system is in place; c) enforcement costs, or the
costs of arresting and bringing reluctant firearms owners to court; and d) citizen costs,
or the costs incurred by citizens in complying with the legislation. The government
typically does not include costs to citizens in complying with its regulations, but such
costs can be quite large.
The government typically does not consider those costs that citizens incur complying with
its regulations, but such costs can be quite large. If it is assumed that firearms will
have to be taken to the local police station to be registered, then full firearms
registration would cost Canadians at least $125 million in foregone wages and
transportation costs. This calculation assumes that each of the estimated 3 million
firearms owners has to take time off work to make one three-hour trip during normal
business hours to register his or her firearm. If more or longer trips are required, then
these costs could easily be much higher.
To date, the Justice Minister has released very little information about how much it would
cost to introduce this new computerized system. The cost of the hardware is expected to be
much less than the software, and the cost of training police personnel across the country
will be the most expensive of all.
The operational costs of registering a rifle or shotgun can be estimated from the time it
currently takes to register a handgun. It may even take longer to register rifles and
shotguns because of technical problems. For example, many rifles lack serial numbers. If
the RCMP had to put serial numbers on hundreds of thousands of firearms, the costs of
registration would be far higher than what is estimated in this paper.
The Department of Justice estimates that it now costs a little over $82 to register each
handgun. Department of Justice, Cost Model, Registration of Restricted Weapons, 1992,
Consulting and Audit Canada, Project No. 560-0288. See also Terence Wade, Review of
Firearms Registration, TR1994-9e, RES Policy Research Inc. pp 26-27.Note Estimates are
that it requires more than 2 person- hours for the police to register a handgun in Canada.
Clerks, both locally and in Ottawa, who do the data entry and processing, are paid
approximately $18 per hour, ($25 including benefits) while RCMP constables, who do most of
the processing in smaller, rural detachments, are paid $22 per hour ($30 including
benefits). Of course, managerial personnel, who must supervise these activities, make
more. A conservative estimate would be $35 per hour ($50 including benefits). If the
present handgun registration system is to remain in place until the new universal firearms
system is fully functional, the number of employees and managers must also increase. The
proper registration of long arms could not take any less time. Rock claims that, once the
new system is in place, it should cost only about $10 to register each firearm. This is an
underestimate; it has ignored both the costs of physically checking each firearm and the
provincial costs of enforcement.Note
According to a 1991 survey of Canadian firearms owners by Angus Reid, there are
approximately 6 million firearms in Canada--5 million long arms (that is, rifles and
shotguns) and 1 million handguns. All of these firearms are owned by Canadian hunters and
target shooters. This estimate may be low. A survey in 1993, funded by the United Nations,
estimated that there were 7 million firearms (6 million of which were rifles and shotguns)
in Canada. Estimates based upon import/export figures are even higher.
Assuming there are 5 million long arms to be registered in Canada, it would cost at least
$410 million to register all rifles and shotguns. If there are 6 million long arms,
registration would cost at least $492 million. These estimates are quite conservative
because they do not include any funds for new computers, software, or training of
personnel that would be required, nor do they include any enforcement costs.
The total cost could be close to a billion dollars if introduction costs and enforcement
costs are included as well as operational costs for the first year. The total would be
essentially the same whether or not firearms registration were phased in over a period of
several years or attempted in a single year.
There are only three ways to pay for this program:
- Taxpayers could pay an additional $500 million to $1 billion to register
all of the long guns in Canada. (Given the current fiscal problems, either taxes must be
increased or funding for other programs must be reduced.)
- Firearms owners could pay to register their firearms. However, this may cause many
people, even those who are typically law-abiding, not to comply. This problem is serious.
Many Canadians feel they are overtaxed; some work in the underground economy to avoid the
GST, and some buy smuggled cigarettes. If it is important to register all firearms, it
might be wise not to charge for registration.
- Police departments could register long arms, but their budgets would be frozen--in other
words, they would be asked to "do more with less." This appears to be what
Justice Minister Rock means when he says that universal registration would not cost
anything. In effect, this would pull constables off the street to process the additional
paper work. Such a result could well have perverse consequences as it would force the
police to spend more time on target shooters and hunters, and less on criminals.
- Firearms registration is simply not practical. The money that registration would cost
(between $410 and $500 million at a minimum) would be better spent on fighting crime more
directly, by hiring more police, by improving the justice system, or by changing the Young
Offenders Act. Alternatively, one might use this money to resolve some of the many social
problems in Canada. Money spent on social programs, such as alcohol and drug treatment
programs, job-training for young people, or even language training for new immigrants,
would be more effective in fighting crime than would be attempting to register rifles and
To sum up, it is wasteful to spend money on universal firearms registration when Canada
has serious social and fiscal problems. Firearms registration would only contribute to the
growth of bureaucracy.
The prohibition of handguns
The government has introduced legislation in Parliament to prohibit all handguns that, in
their view, are only useful for self defense. According to the Justice Minister, this
would include all handguns with barrels 4" or shorter, as well as all .25 calibre and
.32 calibre handguns. This is a curious definition, as it includes over 50 percent of all
handguns legally owned and registered in Canada. Moreover, this definition also includes
the handguns used by the Canadian Olympic shooting team. After introducing this bill, the
Justice Minister proposed specifically exempting one of the target pistols used by
Canadian Olympic shooters. Unfortunately, he still plans to prohibit other target pistols.
The prohibition of handguns is naive and misguided for several reasons: 1) handguns do not
pose a serious threat to Canadians; 2) handgun bans simply don't work; 3) such a ban
violates our sense of due process by confiscating legally purchased private property; 4)
the campaign to ban handguns is counterproductive as it draws attention away from truly
effective ways to fight criminal violence. To the extent that prohibitions have any
effect, they tend to cause people who would have used the prohibited firearm to substitute
another weapon. One would expect that the prohibition of small handguns would cause
criminals to move to larger, more deadly calibers of handguns and rifles.
It is important to note, first, that despite well-publicized atrocities, handguns do not
pose a serious danger to Canadians. They are not widely misused in this country. Only
about 0.1 percent of handgun owners have fatal accidents with them, or use their firearms
to commit violent crimes or to commit suicide. There are an estimated 256,000 households
with handguns in Canada. Angus Reid, op. cit., p. 8.Note On average, handguns are involved
in under 200 deaths annually including suicides. (In 1993, there were 125 handgun-related
deaths: 90 homicides, 4 fatal accidents, and 31 suicides.) In fact, the favourite murder
weapon in Canada is the knife. Over the past decade more homicides have been committed
with knives than with firearms of any type. As for accidental deaths, drownings account
for far more deaths than do handguns. Of the approximately 9,000 accidental deaths that
occur annually in Canada, there are about 400 drownings (4 percent), and only about 50
firearms deaths (less than one-half of 1 percent); accidental handgun deaths are even
rarer (about 5 per year). With respect to suicides, handguns are involved in fewer than 50
suicides out of the approximately 3,600 in Canada annually.
Second, despite decades of research, no solid empirical support has been found for a link
between handgun availability and homicide rates. Gary Kleck, op cit., pp. 202-03.Note
Cultural, economic, and demographic factors are much more important. Nor is there is any
solid support for a link between firearms availability and overall suicide rates. Even
more importantly, no empirical link has been found between the introduction of firearms
bans and a decrease in criminal violence. Gary Kleck, op cit., pp. 406-08.Note
Many people are concerned about civil rights and liberties. All of us abhor police
intrusion into people's lives. However, a handgun ban would be meaningless unless it was
accompanied by house-to-house searches to confiscate newly prohibited firearms. How would
that respect individual rights? But if the government does not confiscate handguns, then
the ban does little if anything to improve public safety. The Justice Minister has said
that the only reason he does not immediately confiscate the handguns now in private hands
is that it would overburden the police. Perhaps the private ownership of handguns isn't as
dangerous to the public as is claimed.
Fourth and finally, the push to ban handguns is counterproductive. It draws attention away
from truly effective ways to fight violence. Four of every 10 homicides in Canada are due
to family violence; this is too many. Society must redouble its efforts to seek ways to
reduce the social problems that beset too many families. Such efforts would be far more
effective than an emotional attack on the handgun as a symbol of violence.
Gun control is not crime control. The government's gun control proposals will not reduce
violent crime, suicide, or firearms accidents. This pessimistic evaluation is supported by
the failure of a variety of gun-control measures around the world to improve public
safety. Even the Auditor General in 1993 doubted the value of further gun control
legislation. Gun control is merely a prescription for rapid growth in the federal
Specific proposals, such as universal firearm registration and the prohibition of handguns
will have serious consequences for all Canadians, not just for firearms owners. The impact
of these proposals on legal firearms owners is obvious. Draconian new laws will force a
large number of previously law-abiding firearms owners to choose between violating the law
or abandoning their chosen recreational activity. But there is also a serious impact on
Canadians who do not own guns. These proposals will simply expand the federal bureaucracy
while doing nothing to reduce violent crime. Crimes of violence might even increase,
causing more Canadians to die needlessly. Moreover, because the number of hunters, both
foreign and local, may well decline, these proposals will simultaneously increase poaching
by local hunters, and decrease the income gained from foreign hunters who will no longer
come to Canada.
It is difficult to assess the costs accurately because the bill tabled in the House of
Commons is just enabling legislation. Many important details will only be known later. If
the government requires the police to implement these proposals without a corresponding
increase in their budget, the police will be forced to pull constables off the street,
where they are now dealing with criminals, in order to process the new paper work.
If firearms owners are required to pay for registering their firearms, (or worse still,
for having their handguns confiscated) then even fewer people will be motivated to comply
with the new legislation. If many owners refuse to participate, this will not only
guarantee the failure of the legislation, but will increase the cost of enforcement. If
funds are diverted from other programs in order to pay for the newly-increased costs in
policing, then all Canadians will be forced to do without the benefits of other, more
worthwhile social programs. Finally, it is also conceivable that the government will
simply increase taxes or the deficit in order to pay for the increased size of the federal
bureaucracy. Given the likely ineffectiveness of the measure, is tougher gun control
really a sensible policy choice at this time?
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