Annie, Don’t Get Your Gun

Gun control in the United States is one of those issues that, as a Canadian, I almost feel uncomfortable commenting on. It’s not my country, and so I understand that I don’t really have any say on what happens inside it. That’s up to American citizens to work out together. However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t care. I have many American friends, and I care about their safety. Also, I’m a human being, and a parent. When I hear news of mass shootings, I’m every bit as devastated regardless of what country they occur in.

When I watched Bowling for Columbine I was surprised by Michael Moore’s assertion that gun ownership rates are similar in Canada and the US. It contradicted my preconceptions, and I doubted it. I decided to do some digging of my own. On Wikipedia I found a list of countries by per capita gun ownership. On that list, the US is first with 89 guns per 100 people, and Canada is thirteenth (behind Switzerland and Finland, among others), with 31 guns per 100 people. NBC News says that there were 310 million guns for 314 million Americans in 2009, which is about 99 guns per 100 people. The National Post says that in 2010 there were 7.6 million guns in Canada, when the approximate population was 34.1 million. That’s about 22 guns per 100 people.

It seems clear that Canadians own fewer guns than Americans. Even if we didn’t, though, there are other significant differences between the two countries. Of the 310 million firearms in the US in 2009, 114 million were handguns. In contrast, handguns are tightly controlled in Canada. As restricted weapons, owners must have a special license, above and beyond the license that any gun owner must possess. In order to transport a handgun, you need authorization, and the gun must be unloaded and stored in a secure case. Carrying a concealed weapon is simply not allowed. As a result, the rates of handgun ownership are much lower on my side of the border.

gun control canada vs. united states

In order to own any type of gun in Canada, you must go through background checks and safety training to get a license. You need this license in order to purchase ammunition. Restricted and prohibited weapons require additional licensing, and the guns themselves must be registered. While you can own a gun in Canada, and I have family members who do, there are real controls in place. I wouldn’t say that Canadians are all on the same page about this, but I would say that most of us agree that the need for public safety outweighs any individual’s desire to own a firearm. And, since our constitution does not protect our right to bear arms, the result is that we have nationwide restrictions on who may own a gun, what type of gun they may own, and where and how they may carry it.

Canadian gun control laws do not make me feel as if my liberty is being infringed upon. On the contrary, the knowledge that the people I encounter on a daily basis are not likely to be armed makes me feel more free. For me, it’s similar to imposing car safety laws. I don’t think my freedom is impinged upon when I buckle up, or when I strap my children into their car seats. I feel safer, and therefore less afraid. Freedom from fear is more important to me than individual liberty at all costs. And, in the case of both gun laws and seat belt laws, I’m safer because of the controls.

The statistics support my belief that gun control laws lead to greater public safety. Deaths by firearm are almost 80% lower in Canada than the US on a per capita basis. The homicide rate is three times higher in the US than Canada. Rates of rape, robbery and assault are also higher in the US. The idea that I am somehow less safe because I’m not armed doesn’t hold up.

gun control canada vs. united states

Certainly, there are a number of factors at play here, beyond gun laws and gun ownership rates. There are cultural differences, socio-economic factors, and a whole lot of other things that influence crime rates. Although I should point out that Canadians watch the same TV shows and movies, and play the same video games, as their American neighbours. What’s more, we’ve had mass shootings in Canada, too. There’s no such thing as perfect safety, regardless of where you live. And yet, if we can bring more safety even as popular media glorifies gun violence, isn’t that worth investigating?

While I recognize that there is some complexity around guns and gun violence, in my mind it’s pretty clear that the NRA’s executive vice president was wrong when he said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Gun control laws, when they’re enforced, make us safer. Arming more civilians does not, statistically speaking. I believe that the difference in gun laws explains the difference in rates of gun violence between Canada and the US, at least in part. As a result, I’m glad to see that there is now a real conversation about guns happening in America.

As I wrote at the outset, it saddens me when people die. It saddens me even more when I believe that, with some well thought-out laws, it would be less likely to happen. This is why, in spite of the fact that I’m not an American, I continue to hold a strong opinion about the gun control debate. Too many people have died already.

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  1. Thank you for articulating so well my position on gun control. I suspect it’s the prevailing Canadian opinion so that probably helps. (See, I’m not nearly as articulate as you are.)

  2. Dang 2nd amendment
    Betsy (Eco-novice)’s last post … Easy Steps for a Healthy & Safe Nursery: a Fantastic Free Resource from HCHWMy Profile

  3. Maybe you just have less uneducated, white trash assholes in Canada?

    The gun control issue frustrates me beyond belief. That people put their own desire to own something big and “fun” over safety and human life… Baffling.

    I think that Canadians should speak out on all American issues, especially the ones where you have it right and we have it so wrong.
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  4. Rebecca B. says:

    I’m an American, living in the wild west (of Utah). I totally, whole-heartily agree with you, but I feel that I can’t discuss it with anyone because most of my family members and (I assume) neighbors think differently. Here in Utah we made national news with the fact that teachers spent one of their days off, during Christmas break, learning about guns (some getting their concealed gun license) from police officers in a large conference/sporting center. Recently a picture of a man walking through a Utah department store slinging an assault rifle on his back also went viral. It makes me uneasy to see all this frenzy over guns and also all this new interest from novices.

    I saw on “20/20” that it’s actually less safe to arm more people (as you were saying) because 1). in mass shooting situations [they used a school setting] classmates and teachers were shooting innocent people because they were not properly trained and 2). in a case with home intruders, those who were confronted with a gun were more violent than with homeowners who didn’t have guns.

    Now what irks me is when I hear people (“experts” on guns) givng scare tactics by testifying to the Senate that a Mom would feel safer with a semi-automated gun or a 30+ magazine in case of an intruder (actually telling a story of a woman hiding in the closet with her children and actually shooting an intruder 4/5 times but the man drives off anyway.) I’m sure that this stuff does unfortunately happen every day. About 30 deaths a day happen in Chicago, according to the governor (from a TV interview), caused by gun violence. However, to say that because a mother-of-four may be more safe using an assault weapon with a 30+ magazine in case of a home intrusion- and that justifies everyone to own one, even if they get into the wrong hands (which is the real problem right there!) is clearly illogical. I know that that hypothetical situation could very well happen- a Utah father, living in a more rural area, shot and killed a home intruder defending his family. But to assume that every mother would be safer is not a sound reason to protect assault weapon laws.

    I have to agree with you and Betsy- dang 2nd amendment! There are more important rights in the US constitution (right to privacy) that are worth fighting for. It seems that all conservative Americans and some that aren’t so conservatives are just hell-bent on this gun stuff. I have had several Facebook friends say that they have never owned a gun in their life and now they are going to buy one and learn how to use it. Why? There is no way that even if Obama was able to change (or add) some gun laws that they could take away all guns [maybe they want the military guns?] I’m not one to be afraid of going to public places in the rare chance of there being a mass shooting (there was one in Salt Lake City in 2007) but with all this uncertainty I’m getting a little paranoid. Sorry for writing my own little, at times erratic, post on this… I appreciate a safe place to vent. 🙂

    • I would frankly be terrified to have an assault rifle in my home. As I understand it, the odds of one of my family members accidentally being shot is far higher than the odds I would actually defend myself against an intruder. But, I also understand that as a fairly left-leaning Canadian I’m unlikely to see eye-to-eye with, say, the NRA.

      And please, vent away!

  5. Great post Amber, and comments too. You can talk about American stuff anytime! The NRA and the crazy stuff they say drives me nuts. I also can’t stand when people use this argument against stricter gun laws: “if someone wants a gun badly enough they’ll get one whether it’s legal or not” – well, sure, some might, but why not make it harder?!? I don’t see any reason for moms or hunters to need access to weapons that the military uses. And when the second amendment was written the arms they mentioned were muskets, not ones with magazines worth of ammunition.

    Here’s hoping the US follows Canada’s lead on this.
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  6. I wholeheartedly agree with you on this issue, Amber. My husband and I were awakened at 4:00 am last week by a HUGE crash and our house alarm blaring. It sounded like somebody had thrown a boulder through our sliding glass door. Turns out that one of our kitchen cabinet shelves had collapsed and all of our plates and bowls had broken–they were in a huge heap on the floor. Afterward, my husband said, “Can you imagine if we had a gun in the house and thought the crash was an intruder? We could barely get our acts together to punch in the alarm code [took us four tries before we got it straight–this can happen at 4 in the morning when you’re suddenly jolted awake],so we probably would have ended up shooting each other by accident!” Guns definitely create more problems than they solve.

    Anyway, glad to have found your blog through a link at Lori’s groovygreenlivin. Will be subscribing!
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  7. Awesome post. Must share.
    Heather’s last post … Just Like My MomMy Profile

  8. When the most recent gun massacre occurred I was at work (I teach in an elementary school) and a colleague who read about it on twitter as it was breaking told me what was happening. I was horrified as I looked out at the faces of my young students. Obviously I did not bring this up with my students, but the following week, after all the stories started coming out, my students (who are 10 and 11) wanted to talk about it. One of the things I talked to them about was that they had to remember that this occurred in the United States, far away, and that their culture and laws surrounding gun ownership and gun control are very different. I felt (and still do) feel safer because I live in Canada. I’m not naive about violence (I was attacked one night in the Downtown Eastside in my twenties and had to go to court) but I am grateful that there are laws regulating gun ownership, just as there are laws regulating and licensing drivers and cars.
    Christy’s last post … One Little WordMy Profile

    • Exactly. I was thinking after I wrote this that in order to drive a car I need a license, which is renewed every five years. I also need to register and insure my car. Why should guns be exempt from the same kind of basic requirements?

  9. One of the things I miss a lot about Canada.

  10. I think people should have the right to own a gun – though I personally would not – the idea of maintaining a thing which was designed PRIMARILY to kill goes against my personal philosophy. But, because many things in life have multiple purposes, and the secondary purposes of guns can change based on the individual – collecting antique weaponry, target shooting, hunting for sport (*shudder*), for sustenance, personal protection – perhaps based on violence that was done to them in the past (which is, perhaps a whole other issue interwoven here – our CULTURE OF VIOLENCE that is so prevalent) – an all-out gun ownership ban doesn’t seem particularly fair nor necessary – and I don’t think that’s even on the horizon (though that’s the doomsday scenario gun rights advocacy groups would have you believe gun control laws would lead to).

    That said, I see NO REASON not to keep track of who owns which weapons via registries, to do background checks in an effort to prevent even a portion of violent minded folks from easy access to tools which could increase their propensity towards acting out that violence, and to stiffen penalties for those who purposefully evade the registration and background check laws. Gun violence is decreased when laws are in place to keep track of guns & gun owners.

    There are many things that are done in a civilized society which may infringe slightly on personal rights, but which are done in the name of greater public safety – like licensing drivers or restricting smoking/cigarette access for example – that I CAN’T see why gun ownership should continually be allowed to slip under the radar.

    If you own an item who’s primary function is killing, you should be held accountable for that item.
    kelly @kellynaturally’s last post … A Stroke of InsightMy Profile

    • We certainly don’t ban gun ownership in Canada. I have a hard time imagining that the US would enact stricter laws than we have. As you say, it’s about balancing personal rights with public safety. And I don’t think anyone can dispute that in some cases guns pose a very real risk to public safety.

  11. i agree wholeheartedly, and i grew up in a household where my father, brother and all men in my life went hunting. My dad owns a half dozen hunting guns- pays money to keep them registered along with the upkeep in taking firearms safety (you can’t own a gun in canada without taking your firearms safety course). The guns are locked, unloaded in a cabinet (including chained to the cabinet).

    What surprises me that is lacking from this debate is the very loosening of Canada’s gun registry by the Harper government. The very fact that our government allowed him to get rid of the long gun registry is scary. I definitely see Canada slipping towards the US on this one, and it’s sad.
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    • I have concerns about that, as well. It didn’t seem directly pertinent to my discussion, so I didn’t bring it up. But I dislike the way that the Harper government seems to want to emulate so many US social policies.

  12. I am American and this is quite similar to how I feel

  13. Thanks for the thoughtful article, Amber. No matter what the laws, the underlying factors causing people to use guns in a destructive manner must be addressed.
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  1. […] week I shared my views on gun control, which can be summed up by saying I am in favour of tight controls on firearm use and ownership. […]

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