Robyn Benson, PSAC

Guns and the government


Canada does not have a “gun culture.” The US is another matter entirely. The “right to bear arms,” even in the wake of Sandy Hook, is solidly entrenched. Anyone can buy a gun on the Internet, or at a gun fair. The US Senate recently voted down a measure that would merely have called for background checks for these purchasers. No wonder the homicide statistics south of the border are so appalling.

That Senate vote, which received articulate rebukes from President Barack Obama and from Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (herself a victim of gun violence), reminds me that we have no reason to be complacent here in Canada. 1,385 people die of gunshot wounds every year in this country. 183 of those deaths are homicides.

Most people recognize that law-abiding Canadians own firearms for lawful purposes. In the countryside, a long gun is a tool, not a weapon. But gun crime, particularly involving the use of handguns (which account for two-thirds of gun homicides), remains a serious problem—32% of all homicides are due to firearms.

The now-abolished gun registry, which had been established by a previous Liberal government, was always controversial. It was an attempt to take the problem of gun homicide seriously, but it was deeply resented in rural Canada, and, as set up, was arguably an expensive and ineffective approach to the problem. Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau, for one, preferred harsher penalties for gun crime (although for some reason he emphasized long guns), no access to firearms for those with a history of spousal abuse or gang involvement, and better interdiction at the Canadian border.

That last point is important. Given the strict controls on the possession and use of handguns in Canada, it is safe to say that most handguns used in crimes are illegal ones, smuggled into the country. The Harper government talks tough on this, but turns out to have been ineffectual in stemming the tide.

Shamefully, we have done no better on the world stage. At a UN-sponsored meeting last year on the illegal arms trade, Harper government representatives offered nothing constructive to the discussions. Instead, they spoke only of gun-owners’ rights.

Curbing the illegal flow of firearms across borders isn’t an attack on responsible, lawful gun ownership. But our government doesn’t seem to see things that way. The approach we took at the UN would have received an approving nod from American gun cultists. “Tough on crime,” Mr. Harper? Making it harder to commit in the first place might be a good place to start.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on April 22, 2013 1:10 PM.

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