The number of restricted Firearms in Canada has doubled since 2004, with the largest increases occurring right after former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party formed majority government.
The 795,854 restricted weapons registered to Canadians dwarfs the 384,888 weapons owned in 2004, just twelve years ago. These firearms include short-barrelled semi-automatic rifles, handguns and several shotguns.
What exactly has caused this massive jump in gun ownership?
A Gallup poll from 2005 found the most common reason people want to own guns is protection; people are scared. The sentiment that “the world is getting worse” is shared by many. In a time of rampant terrorist attacks across the western world, and a media cycle saturated with violent crimes and death, it’s hard to blame them.
In reality we’re safer than we’ve ever been. The rate of violent crimes has fallen drastically in the last two decades. It’s half of what it was in 1993. Homicide has fallen by 51 per cent, forcible rapes by 35 per cent and robberies by 56 per cent.
Still, people’s perceptions have worsened. They feel less safe today than they did two decades ago, when they were twice as likely to be the victim of a violent crime. This may be a driving factor in gun ownership; people want to feel safe and a firearm may provide that sense of security.
A.J. Somerset, author of Arms: The Culture and the Credo of the Gun, links the rise in firearm ownership to our southern neighbours.
“The trend in the United States with this growing market, with all kinds of marketing and advertising and so on, is naturally just pushing the same trend in Canada and we see growth in restricted firearms licenses as a result,” writes Somerset.
What does this growth in gun ownership mean for Canadian culture and Canada itself?
Decades of research shows that guns often serve as aggravating factors. The mere presence of a gun makes people behave more aggressively.
In 1967 Berkowitz and LePage conducted a study, Weapons as aggression-eliciting stimuli, in which they discovered that the presence of a firearm in a controlled situation may cause strangers to act more aggressively towards each other.
The test involved participants who were intentionally angered by another researcher masquerading as a participant. Later on in the test, the participant would have a chance to administer an electric shock to whoever angered them. One group of participants had a gun in the testing room, which the researchers would explain was from a previous experiment, while the control sample had sporting equipment.
Participants who saw the guns were more likely to administer larger shocks, and were thus deemed to be more aggressive. This was dubbed the “weapons effect” and occurs in a variety of different circumstances.
While Canada has a much lower rate of gun-related killings than the U.S., at only two deaths per 100,000 people, we are exponentially higher than other countries like the U.K., with a rate of 0.2 deaths per 100,000 people, potentially due to the increased difficulty in obtaining a firearm in the U.K.
In the United States, more people kill themselves with a gun than all other means of suicide combined. They are both the most lethal form of suicide and the most easily accessible. Because of this, people are much more likely to kill themselves if their household contains a gun.
Research suggests most suicides occur in brief moments of intense vulnerability. Having a firearm within easy access during these moments exaggerates the problem, leading people to make impulsive decisions they wouldn’t have otherwise.
All guns belong to one of three categories in Canada: prohibited, restricted or unrestricted. Prohibited weapons are those deemed unfit for ownership and include most automatic weapons as well as smaller handguns. Restricted weapons require a license, and have certain prohibitions such as where and how they are stored.
Any other firearm is considered unrestricted and does not have to be registered.
It is unknown how many of these unrestricted guns there are in Canada as the reporting program was shut down in 2011 under the Conservative government. The final report from the program showed 7.1 million non-restricted guns in Canada.
Gun laws in Canada have always been a delicate balancing act between keeping people safe from the misuse of firearms and placating gun-owners, who often feel as though their rights are respected.
In 1993 the Supreme Court ruled that gun ownership in Canada is a privilege, not a right, as there is no constitutional basis for the ownership of firearms, as there is in the U.S.
“Canadians, unlike Americans, do not have a constitutional right to bear arms,” stated the court during a decision over the possession of convertible semi-automatic weapons.
“Indeed, most Canadians prefer the peace of mind and sense of security derived from the knowledge that the possession of automatic weapons is prohibited.” the statement continued.
Public safety Minister Ralph Goodale touched on this in a recent statement.
“Our government believes in balanced, effective gun control that prioritizes public safety while ensuring law-abiding firearms owners do not face unfair treatment under the law,” said Goodale.
Luiz Brasil, External News Editor