Thursday, July 07, 2005


The gun controls implemented by the federal Liberal government in 1995 appear to have had little if any effect on gun-related deaths, despite a $1.3-billion price tag and the government's extravagant claims that the measures would produce "a culture of safety" and dramatically reduce crime.

Last fall, Statistics Canada declared that "the specific impact of the firearms program or the firearms registry" on Canada's declining homicide rate could not "be isolated from that of other factors." On Tuesday, following the release of her paper, Deaths Involving Firearms: 1979 to 2002, StatsCan researcher Kathryn Wilkins explained, "there have been gun-control laws for most of this last century, of one sort or another," so it is difficult to identify a single cause of Canada's shrinking rate of firearms deaths (a category that includes murders, suicides and accidents).

The decline in hunting as a recreational activity might explain some of the drop, as may urbanization, or the declining percentage of the population under 25 -- typically the most violent segment. The controls implemented by Brian Mulroney's government in 1991, following the Ecole Polytechnique massacre of 14 female engineering students -- involving better screening of potential owners and stronger safe-storage regulations -- seem also to have accelerated the decline in firearms deaths slightly beyond the decline seen in the 1980s.

What is remarkable, however, is that the Liberals' 1995 controls -- requiring all owners and guns to be licensed -- seem to have had no discernable impact. Following implementation of those regulations, firearms deaths simply continued at the rate of decline begun in 1991.

There are other indications of the most recent controls' uselessness. "In each year," Ms. Wilkins writes, "about four-fifths of all firearms-related deaths were suicides." And while in the past decade and a half firearms suicides have been cut in half, the overall rate of suicides has dropped just 15%, all of which is likely explicable by the ageing Canadian population. (Nearly every Western country has experienced a similar decline in suicides in cases where the average age of its citizens has risen.) While firearms suicides went from 4.5 per 100,000 population in 1979 to 2.0 in 2002, "suicide by suffocation/hanging ... rose from 3 to 5 deaths per 100,000." While gun controls may have helped reduce the number of firearms suicides, they did not lower the overall rate of suicides, meaning, at best, controls merely encouraged troubled Canadians to find other methods for taking their own lives.

Also, while "the rate of homicides involving a firearm fell from 0.8 deaths per 100,000 in the early 1980s to 0.4 in 2002 ... the share of homicides in which a firearm was used remained fairly stable." In other words, firearms murders may have gone down during the years in which Ottawa has sought to impose greater controls on guns, but they have declined by no more than murders with bats, knives, poisons and other uncontrolled weapons. And as Ms. Wilkins and others have pointed out, "handguns accounted for two-thirds of firearm homicides in 2002, up from about one-half during the 1990s," and handguns have been subject to mandatory registration since 1934.

We can understand Statistics Canada's reluctance to come right out and pronounce Ottawa's gun controls to be irrelevant: They're statisticians. But taxpayers and laymen are not similarly constrained.


Texas robber lucks out: "A convenience store owner turned the tables on a would-be armed robber, leading to some deadly consequences. It happened at the Sunny's food store on Synott near High Star in southwest Houston just after 9pm Sunday. Police say the suspect walked into the store, jumped the counter, and demanded money while pointing a gun at the owner and another customer in the store. The owner was able to produce a gun to protect himself. "The store owner fired two shots and the suspect was later found dead behind the store," said Officer Philip Yochum with the Houston Police Department. Police say the owner has not been charged, and that the case will be turned over to the Harris County District Attorney's Office".

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