James LeGallais, Queens University.
The Liberals recently released a new gun policy platform following this election. The policy has been proposed In light of the recent Danforth shooting in Toronto. The liberals pledge to, if re-elected, ban all assault weapons in Canada, stating that Canada currently “has no clear classification for assault rifles—making it legal to buy multiple military-style weapons”.
The point of this policy is to address the surgency in gun related crimes as well as toprevent “criminals [from getting] their hands on assault rifles”. However, this policy raises an important question: would these measures lower gun-related crime in Canada, and is this a realistic policy to adopt? The first question hinges on the argument that there is a link between legal gun ownership and gun related crime in Canada. I argue that this policy does not address the question and would be unlikely to lead to a decrease in gun related crimes comparative to our current firearms policy. Instead, this policy would serve to punish legal owners for the actions of those who have illegally obtained guns from the United States. Furthermore, this policy does not economically and logistically make sense.
Adding Context to the Debate
Currently, Canada’s gun policy categorizes firearms into one of three sections:Prohibited, Restricted and Non-Restricted. Prohibited weapons include certain handguns, fully automatic rifles, and sawed-off rifles. Restricted weapons include handguns, certain rifles and semi-automatics, and finally, Non-Restricted Weapons include standard hunting rifles and shotguns. In order to receive a Personal Acquisition Licence (PAL) in Canada, an individual must attend a fire arms safety course. During this, they are required to have scored above an 80% on the test, then have a background check conducted by the RCMP (which requires a minimum process time of 45 days). Once you have your PAL, you can purchase non-restricted weaponsand ammunition. However, to purchase restricted weapons, one must receive a Restricted Personal Acquisition Licence (RPAL) that involves a second weekend safety course. This alsorequires scoring above 80% on an additional test. This information is then sent to the RCMP,who complete a second background check of the individual. Additionally, if individuals seek to transport restricted firearms, they require an Authorization to Transport, issued by the Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) of their provincial or territorial jurisdiction. Furthermore, these license require renewal every five years and that individuals undergo a continuous daily screening process using an automated system. This system ensures that firearm licence owners have not been the subject of an incident report in the Canadian Police Information Centre.
Policy and Purpose Misalignment
This policy’s purpose is to ban all assault rifles, prevent criminals from accessing firearms, and create a clear classification for assault rifles. However, it fails to deliver on all three fronts.
The policy’s objective to stop criminal gun violence over exaggerates the use of gun violence in Canada. A special request to Statistics Canada in 2014 revealed a gun was present in only 2% of violent crimes in 2013, and of those violent crimes, a gun caused injury in 1,194 violent crimes or 0.5% of violent crimes.
This domestic policy as it is meant to deal with gun related violence by dealing with Canadian bought and sourced firearms, yet the large portion of them are from the US. Ananalysis of guns “recovered from criminal activity in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and the Prairie Provinces show that between two-thirds and 90% of these guns involved in violent crime had been smuggled into Canada”. This means that to deal effectively with the gun violence in Canada, the government should direct their focus at halting the flow of restricted weapons crossing the border. This has been echoed by the police chief of Vancouver, who has stated that in the “majority of cases involving gun violence, the handguns used are already illegal”. and that In regards to the discussion on the hand gun ban stated, we shouldn’t “be naive to the realities of how it works with organized crime and smuggling”.
Furthermore, the policy doesn’t effectively address its purpose to ban automatic rifles. It dismisses the already existing classification for them. This is because automatic weapons are already covered under prohibited fire arms, and Canadian gun owners are largely prohibited from owning them (except for a small group of those who owned them before the current policy was implanted in 1996). Even Federal Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair stopped using the term ‘assault rifle’, deeming it ‘misleading’. Following recent backlash towards the ambiguity of this term, the liberals amended the statement to say ‘semi-automatic rifles’. However, as stated above, prohibiting Canadian gun owners from owning semi-automatic weapons would not foreseeably decrease the likelihood of criminals possessing these weapons nor would it be likely to decrease gun violence. Furthermore, despite Trudeau’s stating that he “will protect the rights of hunters”, this would drastically affect hunters as well as those who live in Canada’s north who require fire arms to feed themselves, and protect their crops and livestock.
The Policies Economic Reality
Finally, the economic realities of this policy would result in a cost of up to 600 million for the government. As Blair states, there are nearly a quarter-million assault style weapons averaging $1,500 each. Additionally, non-restricted weapons are not registered, meaning the RCMP would have to go door to door asking legal gun owners for their weapons following the proposed two year grace period. The costs of this would also be burdened by the government, as they sound out RCMP members to check on over two million personal acquisition license holders in Canada.
This policy’s inability to address its primary purpose of ridding criminals of firearms in Canada should be enough to oppose its implementation. Notwithstanding this, its lack of practicality and economic costs to the government should also be taken into consideration even if one does believe it is necessary for our country.
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