A ban on guns won’t reduce violent crime
Despite limited press coverage, Border Security Minister Bill Blair continues his countrywide consultations on a possible national firearms ban. While the federal government’s interest in a gun ban is dubious, the demand for such legislation is not.
For ban proponents, their credibility hinges on two case studies: the 1996 Australian gun buyback and the 1997 British gun ban. These events are touted as success stories — examples of how strict gun control can reduce crime.
But have these initiatives actually proven successful?
Following the murder of 35 people by a gunman in Port Arthur in 1996, the Australian government introduced sweeping gun laws under the National Firearms Agreement.
In addition to banning all semi-automatic rifles and implementing a strict licensing system for handguns, the NFA introduced a mandatory buyback, requiring all Australians to trade in their firearms for fair compensation.
The claim made by gun-control activists is that a causal relationship exists between Australia’s gun laws and declines in gun deaths. But as is often noted by social scientists, correlation does not imply causation.
Consider the rates of firearm and non-firearm suicides following the implementation of the NFA. According to the American Medical Association, the decline in total non-firearm suicides between 1997 and 2013 was greater than firearm suicides during the same period. As such, it is not possible to attribute changes in firearm suicides to the NFA.
What about gun homicides?
Both a 2007 study and 2008 report revealed that the NFA had no observable effect on firearms homicides. What’s more, a systematic review of research on the NFA reported that no study found evidence of a statistically significant impact on firearm homicide rates.
Based on the evidence, the high cost of the Australian gun buyback has not translated to noticeable reductions in firearm deaths. And the statistics tell a similar tale in Britain.
Six weeks before the Port Arthur massacre, 16 schoolchildren and their teacher were killed by a gunman in Dunblane, Scotland. In response, the UK government banned the private ownership of firearms under the 1998 Firearms Act. The results were less than encouraging.
As Joyce Lee Malcolm details in her book, Guns and Violence: The English Experience, “armed crime rose 10 per cent in 1998, the year after the ban on handguns.” In fact, Home Office figures from April 1999 to March 2000 revealed a 16 per cent increase in violent crime and a 28 per cent increase in muggings. Between 1996 and 2000, violent crime more than doubled, with mainland British police forces introducing armed foot patrols for the first time.
A 2001 report from the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College, London, concluded that “the shortterm impact strongly suggests that there is no direct link between the unlawful use of handguns and their lawful ownership.”
The missteps of British and Australian gun control should inform the current Canadian debate. But this isn’t to suggest that Canadians are unfamiliar with the follies of gun control.
In 1995, the Chretien government implemented a gun registry under Bill C-68, requiring Canadians to both obtain a licence to purchase or keep their firearm and register their weapon by providing the government with a serial number and a description.
It took the Canadian government six years to implement the 1995 legislation at a cost of over $2.7 billion. The RCMP later reported error rates of 43-90 per cent in applications and registry information.
In addition, more than half of all legally registered handguns were banned through a reclassification process.
Unfortunately, gun homicides increased from 46 to 51 per cent of all homicides over the next decade.
Ultimately, the Canadian experiment with owner licensing and registration has proven ineffective in reducing violent crime.
In truth, there is a tendency among policy-makers to only see the immediate effects of a policy.
Unlike Britain and Australia, Canada is not an island with strict border controls. It’s a country that shares a long and porous border with the most gun-saturated nation on the planet.
Although some have estimated that 50 per cent of the firearms used in crimes are from domestic sources, the claim that there has been an increase in domestically-sourced firearms is not supported by Statistics Canada.
Still, let’s assume for a moment that a gun ban successfully reduced the number of domestically-sourced illegal firearms. What happens next?
According to Queen’s University crime policy researcher, Christian Luprecht, this would likely result in a displacement effect where international gun supply lines expanded to compensate for the lack of domestically-sourced firearms.
It’s important to keep in mind that the majority of firearms smuggled into Canada are part of the drug trade. Guns and drugs go hand in hand because the competitive nature of the drug trade demands violence. This increases the need for firearms.
In fact, one study found strong ties between drug and gun trafficking networks operating inside Canada. In this case, several Toronto gangs were leveraging contacts in the U.S., South America and the Caribbean to simultaneously smuggle guns and drugs into Canada.
And as it turns out, a large portion of gun violence in Canada is gang-related. Gang violence has risen relentlessly since the 1990s, increasing from under 10 per cent of all homicides in 1999 to 24 per cent in 2016. In fact, the 20 per cent increase in homicides between 2013-16 was driven by an astonishing 68 per cent increase in gang-related homicides over that period.
By reducing the availability of domestically-sourced weapons, a gun ban is likely to expand international gun supply lines which might create further opportunities for drug trafficking. More drugs equate to more drug deals. And more drug deals yield additional gang violence.
While this might seem like conjecture from two criminologists, it’s the sad reality in Mexico where 250,000 U.S. firearms cross the Mexican border every year, despite a firearms ban.
Before calling for a ban on firearms, Canadians should carefully consider the empirical evidence as well as the secondary consequences. Gun laws must be proven to reduce violent crime or they’re nothing more than hollow promises.