The gun debate: More regulation in the U.S. will result in less gun violence in Canada

David Kilgour

Statistics Canada listed 554 police-reported homicides across Canada for 2010, creating a national homicide rate of 1.62 per 100,000 residents. Among these deaths, about a third involved shootings and almost two-thirds of those were caused by handguns.

This contrasts with a homicide rate of about 4.8 for the same year in our neighbour to the south. As Robert Spitzer puts it in The Politics of Gun Control, "…in recent years, more than thirty thousand Americans have been killed annually as the result of the homicidal, accidental and suicidal use of guns. In all, Americans wielding guns intimidate, wound and kill hundreds of thousands of people every year." The absence of effective gun laws at the national level is no doubt a major cause of this ongoing mayhem.

The Supreme Court of Canada has declared: "All guns are capable of being used in crime. All guns pose a threat to public safety." It might well have added that handguns have no legitimate hunting or other purpose and exist only to threaten or destroy human lives. Obtaining the necessary permits to own or transport handguns and other restricted weapons is at least virtually impossible for mentally-challenged Canadians.

[ David T. Jones: Americans won't surrender their right to bear arms ]

Probably no justice issue divides Canadians and many others from Americans more than the control of handguns, assault rifles and the like because our own nationals are often victims of the virtually toothless federal regulation of guns in the U.S. The measures at the state and municipal level differ so widely that weapons which are declared restricted in Canada and most countries often appear to flow virtually unimpeded from states with weak laws to states with stronger regulations and across international borders.

[ David T. Jones:

This summer, Toronto alone has witnessed four homicides and 30 shooting injuries in normally safe places, such as a primary school playground, a shopping mall, a community barbeque and an ice cream parlour. How many of the firearms involved were acquired in America?

James Holmes of Colorado, now facing 142 criminal charges, was able to obtain more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet. He also acquired a machine-gun magazine capable of holding 100 bullets. Anders Breivik of Norway, who killed 77 people, has described how he bought ten 30-round magazines over the Internet from an American supplier. In Mexico, which has tough gun laws, drug cartels obtained assault weapons from the U.S. and have used them to kill thousands of innocent Mexicans over the past decade alone. In Canada, weapons coming from America are weakening our own strict gun controls.

As The Politics of Gun Control notes, much of the current fury and illogic of the handgun and assault rifle policy gridlock in America stems from sharply differing views of the Second Amendment to the American Constitution. It reads, "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

In 2008, in the case of District of Columbia v. Haller, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment protected an individual's right to own a handgun for personal self-protection in one's home. Until then, all American courts had held that the amendment only protected citizen gun ownership in connection with serving in a government militia. The District of Columbia's 1976 law banned the registration and transportation of handguns. The court majority ruled 5-4 to strike it down as inconsistent with the majority's individualistic view of the Second Amendment. History, however, plainly contradicts the basis for the ruling because the militia-based approach accords with both plain meaning interpretation and historical facts. Bearing arms, notes Spitzer, clearly relates to military use; 'arms' pertain to military service and have nothing to do with the private ownership of weapons.

Spitzer, a New Yorker, concludes that the gun policy struggle across his country is one "in which elephantine political forces battle over policy mice." A new framework for addressing the central problem is needed despite the thousands of regulations at the state and municipal levels. His own state illustrates the problem because its first gun law, passed in 1911, placed strict requirements on the sale, possession and carrying of concealed weapons. Its gun regulations are still considered among the toughest in the country, but its firearms bureau data indicates that 80 to 90 per cent of the guns used in crimes across the state come from outside the state. A study found that half of all guns used in Washington, D.C, crimes were purchased from dealers in Maryland and Virginia.

Responsible gun regulation and the accompanying reduced gun violence can only be achieved nationally in Washington. Candidates for election to every federal office should recognize this reality between now and election day in November.

David Kilgour is co-chair of the Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and a director of the Washington-based Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD). He is a former MP for both the Conservative and Liberal Parties in the south-east region of Edmonton and has also served as the Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific and Deputy Speaker of the House.