Go out and Google for unbiased gun stats for Canada. The landscape out there sucks; it’s all strong pro-gunners or strong anti-gunners, both of which have no problem ignoring inconvenient stats if they run counter to their beliefs. My desire to write this article came about listening to pro-gunners spouting off facts that were unabashedly cherry picked, out of context, or completely uncited. Just as I expect gun owners to have better knowledge of the related laws around firearms, I also want us as a group to be using better, more factually correct stats. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Garbage stats are used on both sides, so I thought I’d write this article with any well-cited facts I could find and take things into context. Keep in mind that I am biased and my bias will show, but I really hate garbage stats more than anything.
Why do people feel so strongly about gun control?
On both sides of the argument, I believe it comes down to liberty. Proponents of gun control want to feel safe and don’t want to be robbed, raped, or murdered at gunpoint, and gun owners want the liberty of enjoying their property, the ability to defend themselves, and to enjoy their gun-related hobbies. Conflict comes from opinions on how best to address these issues.
Firearms Suicide in Canada
The first thing is to consider is what stats and statements are important to the conversation and which aren’t. An important variable to consider with firearms and deaths is suicide because there are about 3 suicides with guns to every murder here in Canada (it’s about 2:1 in the US). Gun suicides take about 600 lives each year in Canada, and they account for ~17% of all suicides. There are already measures in place in Canada designed to get firearms out of the hands of mentally ill, but I think these stats really say that mental illness is an issue in our society and that those measures don’t work all the best. Even though we have licensing, which should enable police to un-license mentally ill people, that ability doesn’t seem to have any impact on reducing gun-born suicides. Too often, mentally ill people can do their own thing without any touchpoints with mental health professionals. While an important topic all by itself, the conversation around Canadian gun control typically does not revolve around suicides because it doesn’t impact the liberty standpoints from above.
If you know a relative struggling with depression who also has access to firearms, raise a safety concern with the CFP.
Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be a correlation between firearms availability and suicides: (ref)
The observed correlation between firearm availability and suicide in general (Killias, 1993; 1993a; 1993b; 1996; Gabor, 1994; 1995) is not as solid as some might expect. In Canada, provincial comparisons of firearm ownership levels and overall rates of suicide found that levels of firearm ownership had no correlation with regional suicide rates (Carrington and Moyer, 1994a: 172). Furthermore, the Canadian rate of firearm suicides has dropped without evidence of a similar reduction in the rate of firearm ownership.
Firearms Sport Use
Proponents of gun control love to say “guns are designed to kill people”, and discount their use in sport or recreation. That’s too bad, because there’s 1.96 million licensed gun owners in Canada.
That’s a lot! Depending on your province, that number varies between 4% and 19% of the total population. Sure, on the face of it it looks like gun owners only make up 6% of the population, but that’s not taking into account:
- Unlicensed, but otherwise law abiding gun owners. Canada’s bill C-68 came in 1995, a short 20 years ago. Bolt action rifles last hundreds of years if kept in good condition and some rural residents wouldn’t see the point in paying $60 every few years to license a hunting rifle or shotgun.
- Household sharing. It’s common practice in some areas for only 1 member of the family to be licensed, and others in the household to have use of the other firearms.
Given those two points, how do you go about guessing how many “gun people” there are in Canada? It’s tough, and anyone giving a guess is likely to insert their own bias. Household sharing in particular is tough, because it has the potential to double or triple the number, but some families may have multiple owners and may all be licensed. In any case, Canada averages 2.5 people per household, so there’s some multiplier at work there.
Because there are no decent stats on the two points above, you’ll have to come up with your own wild-ass guess as to how many gun people there are in Canada. My wild ass guess is 10%, what’s yours?
Where does that fit in, in terms of other recreational activities in Canada?
- Licensed Gun owners: 5.7%
- Golf: 5.2%
- Hockey: 4.4%
- Soccer: 3.5%
- Baseball: 2.1%
So if “gun stuff”, if it included hunting, sport shooting , and other legitimate firearms activities were included as a single sport, it’d be the top. I couldn’t find accurate numbers on hunters in Canada, because licensing is mostly run at the provincial level.
Guns are not designed to kill people
I’m going to stray from statistics on this one, because lots of people get stuck on potential for damage rather than intent, and there are precious few stats to use in this argument. If we’re still stuck on the “guns are designed to kill people” bit and can’t see the sporting applications, remind ourselves that bows were originally designed to kill as well, are much more accurate than a standard issue pistol, and have no regulations on silencing equipment 😉 Female Olympic-level archers using recurve bows can make hits at 70 meters outdoors. Without much wind, even amateur archers using standard hunting bows can make solid hits at 40+ meters. They’re not as compact as a handgun, but as a weapon, you’re giving up nothing in accuracy or lethality with a bow. That silly comparison is important, because it shows how stupid it is to compare potential for harm. Bows are accurate machines of death that junior girls could use to headshot anyone within 20 yards, but no one bats an eye. Potential for damage with an inanimate object and intent are different things. That said, if the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m looking for avid archers to join my team.
Knives don’t really have as popular a sporting following as rifles, handguns, or bows for that matter, yet knives and swords have few regulations, and no licensing in Canada. Keep that in mind for lower down in this article.
Gun Related Accidents
Cheerleading incidence of injuries causing paralysis or disability: 2.68 per 100k. That’s right, the leading sport for young women is pretty damned dangerous. If our 2 million Canadian gun owners instead spent their idle time cheerleading instead (ha!), we’d expect 53.6 paralyzed or disabled per year from their fabulous new hobby. Canada had 205 unintentional wounds from firearms in 2003 (newest data I could find), which with about 2 million owners, gives us an incidence of injury of 10.25. That’s not paralyzed or disabled, just hospital admissions, but these are the best stats I could dig up. Rates of disabled compared with hospital admissions could be up to 5X higher, but it’s so dependent on sport that it’s almost worthless using rules of thumb to try to come up with a fair comparison. **Update** Rangebob from CGN forwarded me this chart that shows we’re down to the high teens for gun related accidents, putting us at 0.9 deaths per licensed owners. Within a sport context, those numbers are high, but not out of this world. If anything, I believe it says we can all improve in safe cleaning of our [unloaded] firearms, and following proper use training. And keep in mind that these stats are for known numbers only: licensed owners. If we flubbed a guess at unlicensed users to get an apples to apples comparison, accidental death rates for firearms usage could be recalculated to a rate within reach of some of the more vigorous sports.
Firearms vs other weapons of crime
Want to know the most popular tool used in violent crime? None at all. Physical force or threats are used in 76% of all violent crime. 18% are committed with a weapon, and the clear weapon of choice is the knife at 6% of all violent crime. Clubs and blunt instruments are up next at 3%, and guns are at 2%. Where guns and knives meet up is in % of total homicide victims. This is heavily biased due to high use of guns in gang-related killings. Gang homicides are way out of proportion with the rest of homicides, with 73% using a firearm vs 16% using a knife. Of those firearms used, handguns are 3 times as likely to be used as a rifle/shotgun. Simply put, gangs are better equipped with illegal handguns smuggled from the US compared with other murderers, who are much more likely to use a knife, club, or other weapon. It’s easy to smuggle handguns over the border and with 75% of Canadians within 100 miles (161 kilometers) of the US border, it’s downright convenient for gangs to be well equipped with inexpensive handguns smuggled from America. These insights start to show up when filtering for firearms related homicides, especially when combined with filters for gang activity. Given the knowledge that gangs are using illegal handguns to make up for a huge chunk of firearms-related homicides, should you do something about guns or do you do something about gangs, or do you do something about smuggling?
Mass Murders with Guns in Canada
The prospect of a deranged killer showing up in a public area and shooting the place up is another primary reason many give for gun control. The thing is, try to research Canadian gun massacres. It quickly devolves from one based on statistics to a case by case study, there just that few. There’s Ecole Polytechnique in 1989, the Dawson College shooting that took 2 lives, there’s a handful of workplace shootings, some gang executions and more than a handful of nuts that took out their family or estranged family. Here’s a link to a gun control website’s study of all modern Canadian gun massacres where more than 5 people died.
Are we safer because of our gun laws, like this CBC article claims? No! The part they glossed over on the Newtown killings was that the gun was stolen from a relative the shooter lived with. There are few effective laws to deal with that issue. And the 60 days to obtain a firearm in this country part is only to get the license. The Canadian advantage on licensing is that we can buy a non-restricted firearm and walk out of the store with it that day because we’re licensed and automatically background checked every day. Yet. . .our mass murders are so much fewer and far between than the US. It’s almost like much more important variables are doing the real influencing…
As a PSA for Canadians who are somewhat worried about that spouse or co-worker with access to firearms and have seen signs of mental health issues: contact the CFP and raise a safety concern.
Examples of shitty, cherry picked stats by biased outlets:
Establishing causal relationships between complex factors is difficult. However, firearm deaths in Canada have declined with stricter controls on firearms, particularly with controls on rifles and shotguns, introduced in 1977, 1991 and 1995. [continued:] The rate of death involving guns is the lowest it has been in over 40 years. In fact, nearly 400 fewer Canadians died of gunshots in 2009 (730) compared to 1995 (1,125).-Guncontrol.ca (This website sucks. They cite themselves rather than the reports that they purport to get their stats from and use lots of proverbs instead of citations. Check out this article, which is cited as a source multiple times on other articles they have, and only has 1 stinking outbound link to another study.)
There is a huge difference between a causal relationship and a correlated one. The website above shows their ignorance and/or bias by confusing the two. Correlated links are OK if you have a strong established cause and effect going on. In the case of firearms controls to homicide, it’s laughable. I can make a better case showing how Internet Explorer was the cause of all those murders:
Not a close enough graph? I’ll pull out my favorite correlation: autism vs organic food.
Whoa. . .we should ban organic food right? Or maybe. . .just maybe. . .correlations need some sort of proven cause and effect before you can pull shit out like the impact of gun control on Canadian homicides. Homicides in total have been on the downswing for a while for countries with strong gun control laws and those without.
Gun control laws don’t appear to have an appreciable impact on crime (for better or worse)
Some people say more guns = less crime, others say that guns are the problem. The reality is way less interesting: guns have a very minor impact on crime. Because of that, you can’t flat-out compare crime between countries or states and come up with any valid conclusions: there are other, more important variables at play. Because we’re right next to the MOST gun-rich country, the US, comparing us with commonwealth islands like the UK or Australia is a total waste of time. Gun smuggling from the US muddies facts and makes it difficult to apply what others have found successful to ourselves. And because it’s not a major variable in crime, comparing across time is also difficult. Rates of murder for any particular city, province, or state vary wildly year to year, so you need decades of time to find impact for variables like this, and with other, more impactful changes taking place during the same time period, it becomes incredibly difficult to tease out impact of gun control legislation.
To quote a research panel from the US NRC on impact of right to carry in some states:
The committee found that answers to some of the most pressing questions cannot be addressed with existing data and research methods, however well designed. For example, despite a large body of research, the committee found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime, and there is almost no empirical evidence that the more than 80 prevention programs focused on gun-related violence have had any effect on children’s behavior, knowledge, attitudes, or beliefs about firearms. The committee found that the data available on these questions are too weak to support unambiguous conclusions or strong policy statements.
That particular study was on the impact of “right to carry”, the availability for law-abiding citizens to apply for a permit to carry a concealed firearm. Their findings are frustrating, but that’s probably because they’re true. They’re essentially saying that even though they have tons of data, teasing out insights on effectiveness one way or the other was . . . not really possible. Even on what appears to be a huge swing in policy, enabling licensed citizens to carry [generally] concealed handguns, impact one way or the other was elusive.
So, for all our strong feelings on the issue, all the gut knowledge that it’s important, do you accept that gun control one way or the other doesn’t really matter all that much when it comes to crime? I do. A gun is a tool, nothing more. How could it influence crime?
Bonus round: Canadian Gun Laws that do nothing to impact what they’re supposed to impact
I’m going to do these rapid fire since this article is already over 1800 words and no one should have to endure that amount of my writing:
- 5 round magazine limit in semi auto centerfire rifles: the intent here is to prevent mass killings with firearms. The reality is that magazines can be modified to return to standard capacity and that any self-respecting deranged lunatic would do so in preparation for their killing spree. They’d break the law by doing so, but I’m not sure they’d care.
- Ban on converted auto rifles: we just got nailed on the CZ 858 and Swiss Arms rifles on this one. The intent is to prevent “dangerous” full-auto rifles from getting into the hands of civilians. The point of banning converted autos is to keep rifles that can be easily converted back to full auto out of civilian hands. Applied in a shitty way, we got the Swiss Arms and CZ858 ban. The CZ858’s in question were factory rebuilt to make reassembly to factory full auto completely impossible by using hard faced welding. No matter, banned. The Swiss Arms hadn’t had any examples converted to full auto, and had never been used in a crime when the RCMP decided to prohibit them a decade after making their initial findings that the rifle was non-restricted. Again, this wasn’t due to a risk to the public: tens of thousands of these rifles were in civilian hands without incident.
- ATTs (Authorization To Transport) are supposed to add another level of control for the gov’t on restricted firearms. In reality, they make selling a handgun or AR15 a minor nuisance, but are otherwise a superfluous bit of paperwork that’s already covered by the additional licensing level in an RPAL. They also add cost to the CFO offices since they’re administered at the provincial level.
- No Suppressors. At some point in the past, Canadians must have been worried about legally purchased suppressors being used by silent assassins. Probably watched too many Bond movies. Suppressors are used throughout Europe and are available with a tax stamp in the US in most states. They reduce the potential for hearing damage to hunters and make plinking much more enjoyable. Any assassin worth their salt could build one of these from plans on the internet anyways.
- AR-15’s named as Restricted firearms. I’d so love to use my AR to hunt coyotes. It’s accurate, ergonomic, and modular. Its predecessor, the M14, is non restricted and its modern contemporaries like the Tavor, T97, ACR, XCR are all non-restricted as well. If we haven’t seen a bloodbath with modern firearms designed last year compared to the ancient AR-15, which was designed in 1957, where’s the risk?
Pissed off about these crappy laws?
So, this is my best researched article to date on this website. Let me know if I missed anything in the comments, and if you can cite it, I’ll probably add it.