The issue of gun control and violence, both in Canada and the United States,
is one that simply will not go away. If history is to be any guide, no matter
what the resolution to the gun control debate is, it is probable that the
arguments pro and con will be much the same as they always have been. In 1977,
legislation was passed by the Canadian Parliament regulating long guns for the
first time, restructuring the availability of firearms, and increasing a variety
of penalties . Canadian firearms law is primarily federal, and "therfore
national in scope, while the bulk of the firearms regulation in the United
States is at the state level; attempts to introduce stricter leglislation at the
federal level are often defeated".
The importance of this issue is that not all North Americans are necessarily
supportive of strict gun control as being a feasible alternative to controlling
urban violence. There are concerns with the opponents of gun control, that the
professional criminal who wants a gun can obtain one, and leaves the average
law-abiding citizen helpless in defending themselves against the perils of urban
life . Is it our right to bear arms as North Americans ? Or is it privilege? And
what are the benefits of having strict gun control laws? Through the analysis of
the writings and reports of academics and experts of gun control and urban
violence, it will be possible to examine the issues and theories of the social
impact of this issue.
Part II: Review of the Literature A) Summary
In a paper which looked at gun control and firearms violence in North America,
Robert J. Mundt, of the University of North Carolina, points out that "Crime in
America is popularly perceived [in Canada] as something to be expected in a
society which has less respect for the rule of law than does Canadian
In 1977, the Canadian government took the initiative to legislate stricter gun
control. Among the provisions legislated by the Canadian government was a
"Firearms Acquisition Certificate" for the purchase of any firearm, and
strengthened the "registration requirements for handguns and other restricted
The purpose of the 1977 leglislation was to reduce the availability of
firearms, on the assumption that there is a "positive relationship between
availability and use". In Robert J. Mundt's study, when compared with the United
States, trends in Canada over the past ten years in various types of violent
crime, suicide, and accidental death show no dramatic results, "and few
suggestions of perceptible effects of the 1977 Canadian gun control legislation".
The only positive effect, Mundt, found in the study was the decrease in the use
of firearms in robbery with comparion to trends in the United States .
Informed law enforcement officers in Canada, as in the United States, view the
"impact of restricting the availability of firearms is more likely to impact on
those violent incidents that would not have happened had a weapon been at
In an article by Gary A. Mauser of the Simon Fraser University in British
Columbia, he places special emphasis on the attitudes towards firearms displayed
by both Canadians and Americans. According to Mauser, large majorities of the
general public in both countries "support gun control legislation while
simultaneously believing that they have the right to own firearms" (Mauser
1990:573). Despite the similarities, there are apparent differences between the
general publics in the two countries. As Mauser states that "Canadians are more
deferent to authority and do not support the use of handguns in self defence to
the same extent as Americans".
As Mauser points out that "it has been argued that cultural differences
account for why Canada has stricter gun control legislation than the United
States"(575). Surprisingly enough, nationwide surveys in both Canada and the
United States "show remarkable similarity in the public attitude towards
firearms and gun control"(586). Both Canada and the United States were
originally English colonies, and both have historically had similar patterns of
immigration. Moreover, Canadians are exposed to American television (both
entertainment and news programming) and, Canadians and Americans read many of
the same books and magazines. As a result of this, the Canadian public has
adopted "much of the American culture" .
In an article by Catherine F. Sproule and Deborah J. Kennett of Trent
University, they looked at the use of firearms in Canadian homicides between the
years of 1972-1982. There findings firmly support the conclusion that gun
control is beneficial. According to Sproule and Kennett, gun control "may be
influencing some suspects to kill by other methods, but it is less likely for
these suspects to kill multiple victims". From the study conducted by Sproule
and Kennett the rate of violent crimes was five times greater in the U.S than
Canada, and "almost double the rate of firearm use in American than Canadian
homicides" (32-33). In short, the use of firearms "in Canadian homicides has
declined since the legislative changes in gun control in 1977".
As mentioned in lectures, Canadian cities have been traditionally safer, and
less vulnerable to 'Crime Waves' than our American neighbours due to our
extensive police force and gun control laws . A factor to be considered, though,
is our national heritage or culture which holds traditions of passiveness and
peace unlike the American Frontier heritage. From our textbook, Why Nothing
Works , Marvin Harris points out that the "American Constitution guarantees
citizens the right to bear arms, and this has made it possible for U.S.
criminals to obtain firearms more readily than their counterparts in countries
like Japan...". Marvin Harris indicates that "the high rate of homicide in the
United States undoubtedly reflects, to some extent, the estimated 50 million
handguns and rifles legally and illegally owned by the American people" (122).
As demonstrated in the film: Cops, Guns, and Drugs, the problem with controlling
urban violence in the United States is that it is out of proportion in contrast
to the available police force.
In his book, The Saturday Night Special , Robert Sherrill explains the cheap,
usually illegal, easily concealed handgun that plays a part in so many crimes in
the United States. He reviews the role of guns in American life --from the
shoot-outs of the Old West to the street violence of today. According to
Sherrill, "most murders occur in shabby neighbourhoods; of the 690 murders in
Detroit in 1971, for example, 575 occurred in the black slums mostly by
handguns". As a Detroit sociologist added to this alarming figure:"Living in a
frustrating stress-inducing environment like the United States every day of your
life makes many people walking powder kegs" (38). In agreement with this
statement, Sherrill suggests that the hardest hit of all American urban centres
is the inter-cities of Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, and Washington. These
cities largely consist of visible minorities who are frustrated with the hand
dealt to them, and simply resort to "drugs, guns, and violence" as a way of life
. As discussed in lecture, and viewed in the film: Cops, Guns, and Drugs, many
of the youth in the underclass who become involved in this way of life ,"are
considered to be old if they live past the age of 20" .
In another paper by Catherine F. Sproule and Deborah J. Kennett, they
compared the incidence of killings by handguns, firearms other than handguns,
and nonshooting methods between the United States and Canada for the years 1977
to 1983. In their study they found that "in Canada there were 443 handgun
killings per 100,000 people compared to 4108 in the U.S. over the period of
1977-1983" . They also noted that the "American murder rates for handguns are
higher than the total Canadian homicide rate"(249). According to Sproule and
Kennett, "Canada's favourable situation regarding murder relative to the United
States is to a large measure the result of Canadian gun control, and Canadians
must be vigilant against any erosion of our gun control provisions" (250).
The works cited above are based on research done by experts and scholars in
the field of gun control and violence. Examining the above materials can
identify similarities and differences found in the various cited sources, such
arguments for and against gun control policy in North America. It is clearly
evident to see that opponents of strict gun control will have similar arguments.
Firstly, they are usually defending each other against their opponents of the
issue, and they see the benefits as far more greater than the setbacks. The
introduction of the 1977 legislation by the Canadian government strongly
suggests that the country will benefit by having a safer society, and reduction
in crime. According to Robert J. Mundt, a benefit reaped by this legislation has
been a "trend away from the use of firearms in robberies has been noticeable
ever since the passage of the gun control provisions of the 1977 Bill C-51
(Criminal Law Amendment Act)". Mauser mentions that Canadians are "more
supportive of stricter controls on handguns than are Americans...Moreover,
Canadians appear to be less supportive of home owners using firearms to defend
themselves than are Americans" (Mauser:587). This evaluation by Mauser suggests
that Canadians do have confidence in gun control, and law enforcement in
controlling the safety of their well-being.
Similarities can also be cited in the works of Harris and Sherrill which
discuss the effects of having 'the right to bear arms' in the United States.
According to Marvin Harris, Why Nothing Works , there "has been a steady
increase in the availability of firearms since 1945, this may account for much
of the increase in the homicide rate" in the United States. Harris also suggests
that America has "developed a unique permanent racial underclass" which provide
conditions for both the motive and opportunity for violent criminal behaviour
(123). In Sherrill's book, The Saturday Night Special , a major topic of concern
is the status structure of the street gang in which "success in defense of the
turf brings deference and reputation...Here the successful exercise of violence
is a road to achievement". As Sherrill mentions, this violence is exercised by
the means of a gun that can be easily obtained in the United States due to the
easy accessibility of guns.
There are also some worthwhile differences found in the literature cited
above. For one, Sproule and Kennett , indicate that gun ownership in the United
States is "inversely related to individuals lack of confidence in collective
institutions to protect their security of person and property...". Robert
Sherrill believes that the vast majority of people who own guns , "simply own
them because it is a part of their American heritage, and the constitution gives
them 'the right to bear arms'"(1973:225). He suggests that Americans choose to
practice their civil liberties to its entirety.
Other notable differences in the literature is Mauser's view for the
differences in the gun-control legislation between the two countries. Mauser
states that the cause for this is "the differences in political elites and
institutions rather than in public opinion" (1990:587). Due to Canada's
political structure, it is a lot easier to make and approve laws in comparison
with the United States Congress structure.
Part III: Thesis Statement
After researching all the data collected from the library and the use of
course-related materials, I have formulated my own theory on the social impact
of gun control and violence in North America. Going back to the introduction, I
have asked the reader two questions :(1) Is it our right to bear arms as North
Americans? Or is it a privilege?, and (2) What are the benefits of having strict
gun control laws? It appears to me that much of the literature cited above looks
at gun control as being a feasible alternative in reducing homicides and armed
robbery. From the authors cited above, there findings undermine the apparent
claim of gun control opponents in their slogan `people kill, guns don't '. The
introduction of gun control in Canada significantly shows that Canadian gun
control, especially the provisions pertaining to handguns, does have the
beneficial effect of reducing violent crime, and saving lives. Part IV: Analysis
When looking at the 1977 Canadian Legislation of gun control, it is easy to
see that there is some bias and assumptions present. For one, it assumes that
left to its own devices the legislation will make it virtually impossible for a
criminal to obtain a handgun. Secondly, there is an assumption that if a person
doesn't have a criminal record (it doesn't neccessarily mean that they are law-
abiding) then they are eligible to obtain a firearm with an FAC (firearms
Acquisition Certificate). With the implementation of Bill C-51, a `Black Market'
for illegal handguns has emerged from the United States into Canada, making it
extremely easy for the professional criminal to obtain a firearm.
It can be agreed that since the implementation of Bill C-51 in 1977, Canada
has remained relatively safe in incidents involving firearms in comparison to
the United States. The assumption of many Americans, is that having the right
to bear arms increases their security is open to dispute. It is just as
reasonable to assume that restricting the `right to bear arms' will increase the
safety and security of a society. In accordance with many sociologists beliefs,
is that Canada historically hasn't experienced the problems of crime, that the
United States has, because of it's central police force.
In addition, Sproule and Kennett view the significant effect of gun control
is the method of killing. Although "gun control may be influencing some suspects
to kill by other methods, it is less likely for these suspects to kill multiple
victims". As witnessed by the American media, mass murder in public is much more
a common occurrence in the U.S. than Canada. It is safe to say that gun control
has saved the lives of potential innocent victims of crime.
Furthermore, as was mentioned in class discussion and lectures, the strength
or influences of the mass media to glorify violence has had detrimental effects
on North American society. In some ways, the act of violence has been
desensitised and glorified rather than being displayed as an unacceptable form
of behaviour. This portrayal by the media, has made handguns and other firearms
seem fashionable in the eyes of our youth and general population in North
America. This unquestionably places our law enforcement agencies at a
considerable disadvantage, simply because it erodes the confidence and trust
displayed in them by the general public.
Presently, Canada does have the advantage of gun control unlike the U.S.
situation. We are now living in an environment that has seen dramatic increase
in violent crime, over a short period of time. Whether the United States adopts
a gun control policy similar to Canada's, remains to be seen. As for Canadians,
we must maintain confidence in the police and justice system to protect our
collective security as an important means by which to deter gun acquisition.
"Society must place limits on culture's appetites"
- Durkheim -
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