By: Gillian Davis
Written On: 2022-06-19
When it comes to understanding Canadian gun crime and firearm laws the first step is to separate Canada from the United states. This seems to be a problem our Prime Minister has when he used the Uvalde,Texas tragedy to give credence to new firearm laws here at home. Gun laws which will do nothing to fight gun crime. That brings us to the second step in tackling these issues – There are law-abiding firearm enthusiasts and then there are criminals and their criminal behaviour using firearms. Unfortunately, these new laws target the most highly monitored citizens in Canada and probably the world but do nothing to fight crime. Step three is understanding that despite the highly publicized shootings in Canada over the last several years, we need to get a grip on how bad gun crime actually is in Canada and what could possibly prevent these tragedies from happening in the future?
Step One – Canada is NOT the United States
This seems pretty obvious but the lines seem to have become blurred. In Canada we get a lot of American news, programs, and the cultural influence is strong – but we are NOT the same. In the United States constitution it states clearly that the citizens have the right to bear arms, Canada has no such law. In Canada, gun ownership is pretty onerous, especially since January 2001 when firearms owners were required to be licensed.
The firearm Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) and Restricted Possession and Acquisition License (RPAL) programs have strict requirements. To obtain a license you must:
- Take a mandatory RCMP-designed firearm-safety course for each designation;
- Pass a written exam and an in-class practical exam with a minimum passing score;
- Submit a licence application and payment to the RCMP;
- Pass a very thorough background check which includes; mental health, spouse approval, criminal-record check and reference checks;
- Obtain and always carry your PAL/RPAL photo licence identification card;
- Submit to an automatic daily criminal-record check called the “continuous-eligibility screening”. This check ensures that you have not been involved in ANY violent criminal activity.
Canada’s gun laws are far more restrictive than any found in the United states. The culture here is different as well with most gun owners seeing their firearms as tools or sporting equipment – not a right to self-defence as in the United States. Canadians cannot look at American tragedies and relate them to what happens here. Guns in Canada are not as easy to acquire for your average citizen. It is not legal gun owners who are committing crimes in Canada. The guns that are being used by criminals are smuggled over the border from the United states.
When Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government brought in the ban on “assault style weapons” in May of 2020 through an order in council and more recently announced the “handgun ban” this year, he effectively criminalized the most law-abiding members of Canadian society. Punishing legal gun owners in Canada while ignoring the real causes of gun crime seems absurd, but that is exactly what these new laws do.
Step Two – Fighting Criminals not Law Abiding Firearms Owners
Fighting crime is difficult. There are no easy answers and solutions are generally long-tail programs with societal or community involvement.
The latest report out of StatsCan show that violent crime is usually committed by males under the age of 25, and in 2020, police reported a total of 743 homicide victims in Canada or a rate of 1.95 per 100,000 population. For 277 of these victims, a firearm was used to commit the homicide (for a rate of 0.73 homicides per 100,000 population). More than six in ten (63%) of the firearm-related violent crime in urban areas involved handguns. In rural areas, the firearm present was most commonly a rifle or shotgun. Over four out of five (83%) victims of violent crime where a firearm was present were either not injured (61%) or they sustained a minor injury that required no professional medical treatment or only some first aid (22%). Victims of firearm-related violent crime were less likely to be injured than victims where no firearm was present, but were more likely to sustain a serious injury or die. Firearm-related violent crime typically represents less than 3% of police-reported violent crime in Canada; nevertheless, it has a significant emotional and physical impact on victims, families and communities.
In April 2020, 22 people were killed in a mass shooting in Nova Scotia, the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history. In particular, the Nova Scotia shooting led to a ban on assault-style firearms and renewed discussions around gun control and access to illegal weapons.
Unfortunately, the emphasis is on gun control and not access to illegal weapons. On May 30, 2022 the federal government announced that it is preparing to criminalize licensed gun owners who buy, sell or give away any handgun and will begin confiscating their legally owned and handled handguns. It must be pointed out that in researching this article I could not find one incident where a legal, licensed handgun owned by a PAL or RPAL holder was used in any violent crime. To the contrary, every violent crime where the firearms were able to be traced back to their origin, came from the United States and were smuggled into Canada.
Step Three – Crimes, Punishments, and Maybe Some Solutions
Now we know that crime involving firearms is less than 3% of violent crime in Canada. We know that it is young men under the age of 25 who are most likely to commit these crimes. We also know that the weapons used are being smuggled into Canada illegally. We know that it is not licensed gun owners or their firearms that are committing these offenses.
Conclusion: these punitive gun control laws are completely missing the target. If you want to stop crime, you have to look at who is committing the crime, how and why they are doing it. Blaming law-abiding, heavily regulated members of society, seizing their property, and turning them into criminals with the flick of a pen is not really fighting crime.
We have to ask, what is going on in these young men’s lives that they resort to violent crime? Disadvantaged communities, social stresses, and gangs play a part. Mental health issues are certainly one of the roots and we know that in Canada we have a devastating mental health crisis along with serious substance abuse problem.
Securing resources to support communities and individuals with mental health care, social and economic provisions and a a robust substance abuse rehabilitation program would be a good start in facing these issues. Securing our borders to ensure illegal guns are not crossing into Canada along with heavy penalties for anyone caught with an ILLEGAL firearm would also be helpful.
And here’s an idea to really rock the boat – more education and promotion for Canadians to obtain their PAL! Nobody says you have to own a firearm, but if you know the laws and understand how to handle a firearm, you’re going to be able to discern facts from the sensational rhetoric surrounding gun control in Canada.
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