Opinion: The evidence simply doesn’t support calls for gun bans in Canada

According to gun control advocates’ logic, Australia’s buyback should have been followed by a sudden drop in firearm homicides and suicides. After all, access to legal guns ought to have been greatly diminished.

It seems obvious: ban guns and there won’t be any gun crime.

After two people were killed and 13 injured in a July shooting in Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered his government to assess the idea of “a full ban on handguns and assault weapons in Canada.” They are scheduled to finish the assignment by the end of the year.

Here is a simple question for Canada to answer: has a single place, anywhere in the world, ever seen its murder rate decline after banning all handguns or all guns?

We can’t find such a place. Every single time that guns have been banned, murder rates have gone up — often several-fold.

Handgun homicides continued to rise after Canada’s 1995 ban on more than half of all legally registered handguns. Americans tried to completely ban handguns in Chicago and Washington D.C., and saw murder and violent crime soar. Gun control advocates argued that these aren’t fair test cases because criminals could bring in guns purchased outside of city limits. But that argument can’t account for why rates of violence exploded in both places.

Murder rates have increased even when all guns or all handguns are banned in entire countries, even entire island nations. Murder rates more than tripled after Ireland’s 1972 ban. In Jamaica, they went up six-fold after a 1975 ban.

The reason is simple. When guns are banned, it is law-abiding citizens rather than criminals who turn in their firearms. And criminals can continue buying arms from drug gangs. If governments can’t enforce drug bans, there’s no reason to think that they can enforce gun bans.

Australia is a favourite example of gun control advocates, but guns weren’t banned there. The country’s buyback program caused more than 700,000 firearms to be handed in and destroyed, reducing the number of legally owned guns from 3.2 to 2.5 million between 1996 and 1997. But since then, the increase in privately-owned guns has outpaced population growth by a factor of three. The number now stands at 5.8 million.

According to gun control advocates’ logic, Australia’s buyback should have been followed by a sudden drop in firearm homicides and suicides. After all, access to legal guns ought to have been greatly diminished. Gun control advocates would then have predicted a slow increase in firearm deaths as the ownership rate increased again. No such thing occurred. Firearm homicides and suicides were falling for 15 years prior to the buyback, and fell more slowly after the buyback. So there is no evidence that the buyback actually caused the fall, but it may look that way in the absence of historical context. Armed robbery rates rose after the buyback, and then slowly fell back down to pre-buyback levels as gun ownership increased. This is the exact opposite of what gun control advocates predicted.

The evidence for gun control is no more hopeful when it comes to preventing mass public shootings.

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a mass public shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot to death in a public place, excluding gang fights and guerilla warfare. The murders also cannot have occurred in the commission of another crime such as robbery.

Compared to the average country, Canada has been pretty safe from these attacks. Canada has just half a percent of the world population, but it has had an even much smaller share of the world’s mass public shooting deaths. From 1998 to 2012, it had just 0.03 per cent of such fatalities. The same numbers for the U.S. were 4.6 per cent of the population and 1.1 per cent of the mass shootings, so it is also much safer than the average country.

Whether we look at all countries or only at developed ones, we find that nations where gun ownership is more common tend to have lower homicide rates and lower rates of death from mass public shootings. That’s because armed citizens are able to defend themselves and stop attacks in crowded, public places. Every single mass public shooting on record in Canada has occurred in areas with gun prohibitions. In the United States, that’s true of 98 per cent of attacks. It’s no wonder, since many mass killers intentionally pick targets where people can’t defend themselves.

Police are important in the fight against crime, but they almost always arrive after the crime has occurred. Depriving law-abiding citizens of firearms leaves us all more vulnerable to attacks.