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. 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 Jan. 1, 2001. All
firearms must be individually registered by Jan. 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 five 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 Department indicate an error rate
between 20 and 100 percent in the current
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 frontline 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 six involved a firearm, another indication that criminal misuse of
firearms was not the major problem that the Liberal Party politicians
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 64 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.
Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist and
moderator of an Internet list for discussion of gun issues in Washington