Canadian Gun Law Offers Example for U.S.
Participants in the gun control debate often compare the United States with other countries. Some countries, like England and Japan have virtually no legal gun ownership, so comparisons are of limited value. Comparing Canada with the United States is much more useful. Most Americans know that Canada has a low crime rate and relatively strict gun control laws. What few people realize is that the number of guns per capita is roughly similar.
Nobody really knows how many guns exist in either country, but one estimate for Canada is 21 million guns owned by a population of 30 million people. In the United States, we have over 200 million guns and a population of 273 million.
In 1994, the Liberal Party pushed through a new gun control measure known as The Firearms Act (C-68) that will force Canadian gun owners to register themselves and their firearms of all types. At the same time, handguns suitable for self defense, those with a barrel less than 4.1 inches in length and those of .32 caliber or less were banned. Since handguns have been registered since 1934, it was felt that this ban would have a good chance of being effective. C-68 is being phased in gradually, with mandatory licensing of gun owners required by January 1, 2001. All firearms must be individually registered by January 2, 2003.
Unfortunately for the Liberal Party, there have been serious problems with implementation of the new system, which is known as the registry.
The registry is far over budget and way behind in processing the applications. The original budget was $85 million over 5 years, but $300 million has already been spent and annual costs of $60 million have been projected by the Department of Justice. Detractors of the program expect this to go much higher. More and more money is being diverted from important law enforcement activities. Tight budgets combined with the unpopular law are affecting police morale and there is concern that crime might actually increase as a result of C-68.
Compliance with the new law has been poor. A large portion of gun owners say they have no intention of registering their guns and predictably, criminals are not registering their guns at all. Officials say that black market gun trafficking is thriving. Since the total number of guns in Canada is unknown, it will be impossible to determine how effective the system is. Any registration system must be accurate if it is going to be useful to law enforcement officers, but various reports coming from within the Justice Dept. indicate an error rate between 20 and 100 percent in the current database.
By targeting honest gun owners, the government has alienated millions of citizens who would otherwise be motivated to help the police do their job. Law enforcement at the local level may actually become more difficult. Ironically, polls show that most front line law enforcement officers do not support the gun registry. This may have been the reason for the creation of special "Firearms Officers" in each province.
The Liberal Party has been further embarrassed by proof that they falsified crime statistics from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in order to promote the passage of C-68. In a letter to the Minister of Justice, the Commissioner of the RCMP complained that information his agency had supplied to the Ministry regarding crime in 1993 had been misinterpreted to greatly overstate the amount of firearms crime in Canada. For example, the Ministry of Justice claimed that firearms had been involved in 623 violent crimes, while the true figure was only 73. Furthermore, the RCMP investigated 333 homicides that year and only 6 involved a firearm, another indication that criminal misuse of firearms was not the major problem that the Liberal Party politicians claimed.
Perhaps most damaging to gun control efforts was the admission by the Minister of Justice that he could not identify any crimes that had been solved because of Canada's previous sixty four years of handgun registration.
Several important political forces are now arrayed against the Liberal Party on this issue. A majority of the Provincial Governments are opposed to the new law and are fighting it in the courts. The Canadian Police Association has called for a full review of the law and three of Canada's major political parties have announced their opposition. Political observers feel that the Liberal Party will suffer significant losses in the next elections.
There are many interesting similarities with gun control efforts in the United States. Our Justice Department has been caught fudging statistics on the success of the Brady Bill. Police chiefs promote gun control which rank and file officers do not support and feisty gun owners vow civil disobedience.
American politicians would do well to observe these events North of the border. Calling for gun control in the name of public safety is an easy way to generate media attention. Administering real gun control is likely to be a political disaster.
Copyright, Michael S. Brown, O.D., November 1999
May be distributed and reproduced freely in its complete form with author's name attached.
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