Vahan Kololian is chairman of the The Mosaic Institute.
Most Canadians are shocked to hear that Canada has the fourth highest level of gun violence amongst OECD nations. A revealing comparison is with Japan, which has an absolute ban on firearms. Japan reports an average of 0.005 firearm homicides per 100,000 people per year. Canada, by the same measure, averages 0.48, nearly 100 times that of Japan. The United States, at 3.65, is at almost 730 times the Japanese statistic.
The carnage of shootings in Toronto, Fredericton, Quebec City and Montreal’s Ahuntsic-Cartierville are painful examples of gun violence’s tragic effects. In the wake of these incidents, the common reaction is “thoughts and prayers.” Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. Our objective must be to eradicate gun violence by addressing its primary cause: the ease of access to guns. We must criminalize possession of all firearms in Canada.
This is a justifiably pragmatic policy recommendation, not an overreaction. There are some clear exceptions: licensed hunters, gun clubs, sports shooters and law enforcement. Barring these, there is absolutely no justifiable reason for an individual to be carrying a firearm.
Toronto has already witnessed 50 per cent more shootings in 2018 than the whole of 2014.
Some incorrectly suggest that banning firearms will not reduce overall levels of violence. The sheer numbers of guns available enables these crimes to occur. Canada has the second-highest rate of gun possession in the developed world at 34.7 guns per-100-people, compared to the U.K.’s 5.03.
Attempts have been made to reduce gun violence through legislation. First there was the gun registry system, which the then Conservative government abolished in 2011. This year, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has proposed Bill C-71, which extends background checks and requires vendor registries. Toronto Mayor John Tory has proposed a complete ban on handguns in the city. And last week the federal government announced it is dedicating $86-million over the next five years on measures to tackle gun violence. These proposals are constructive, but we need to be bold and go further.
The problem of illegal gun possession is compounded by the problem of illicit firearms trade from the U.S. In 2016, law enforcement confiscated more than 25,000 illegal firearms and out of which, 20,000 were non-restricted. These are weapons that do not need to be registered. A law-enforcement officer cannot just confiscate these firearms unless they were found through a specific investigation; there is no assumption of guilt. With a complete criminalization on possession, there would be. Current proposals do not address this problem and only burden the RCMP.
Criminalizing possession of all guns has not been seriously considered by our government for fear of political backlash from the electorate. However, according to a recent Ekos poll, 69 per cent of Canadians believe in a “strict ban” on guns in urban areas. Those supporting gun bans do not belong to one side of the political spectrum. 86 per cent of Liberal respondents, 56 per cent of Conservative respondents and 75 per cent of NDP respondents supported the ban.
To effectively criminalize the possession of all firearms, we at the Mosaic Institute have three recommendations:
- Classify any gun not listed as Non-Restricted, Restricted or Prohibited as Restricted. Currently, any gun not listed is classified as Non-Restricted in the Canadian Criminal Code. This essentially legalizes undocumented firearm possessions. This should be added as an amendment to Bill C-71.
- Creating a special buyback fund for firearms. Australia in 1996 instituted a buyback program through the National Firearms Agreement. This initiative bought over 650,000 firearms for approximately US$230-million, removing them permanently from circulation. There was a dramatic reduction in gun violence after the buyback scheme.
- Ratification of the United Nation Firearms Protocol. Canada has signed but not ratified the protocol which seeks to control the illicit arms trade. Out of the 125 countries, only 10 have not ratified.
The shooter in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood this past summer used a gun which might have been sourced from the United States. This is indicative of a broader problem of illicit gun-flow from the U.S., which is not a party to the UN Protocol. And so less likely to prioritize mitigation of illicit gun trafficking.
There is the usual opposition from the small but vocal gun lobby, claiming that this is an “unnecessary response” to gun violence and that banning guns is unjustified “civil disarmament”. Criminalization of possession is civil disarmament, they argue, but amidst growing public concern, increasing fatalities and rampant trafficking, it is our moral imperative to push for criminalizing possession. Anything less would be a compromise on protecting lives, and that is unjustifiable.