It’s a commonplace in the pro-gun community, but it bears repeating: gun laws primarily affect law-abiding citizens who would never commit the crimes those laws are supposedly designed to address.
Apparently, the Canadian government agrees.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unilaterally banned “assault weapons” in Canada and has continued his crusade for a handgun ban following last month’s mass murder in which 22 people died. But a 2018 report from Trudeau’s own government found that “most gun crimes are not committed with legally-owned firearms” and “any ban of handguns or assault weapons would primarily affect legal firearms owners.”
The report also investigated “assault weapon” and handgun bans in the United States and found that “the data does not conclusively demonstrate that these handgun or assault weapon bans have led to reductions in gun violence.”
“At least the government staff who wrote that report cared about facts and fairness, unlike the politicians who just launched a sudden and sweeping assault on honest gun owners and stores across Canada,” Nicolas Johnson told GunsAmerica. Johnson, a civil-liberties advocate who runs TheGunBlog.ca, was one of the people consulted in a follow-up report seeking feedback on gun bans among experts and stakeholders.
There is no constitutional right to own a firearm in Canada, so the gun control debate differs significantly from the debate in the U.S. Currently, that debate centers on where criminals acquire their firearms.
Proponents of Trudeau’s gun ban argue that if criminals acquire their firearms from domestic sources (theft and straw purchases are the most common), then drying up the domestic supply for legal gun owners will limit that illicit trade.
There are a few problems with this line of thinking.
First, there is some evidence to suggest that most of the crime guns used in Canada actually come from the United States. In December of 2019, Toronto police chief Mark Saunders reported that about 82 percent of crime guns had originated in the United States. If this is the case, banning handguns and “assault weapons” in Canada isn’t going to significantly dry up that trade.
Second, as in the United States, “assault weapons” are rarely used in crime. The exact percentage is unclear because Canada’s national database lumps rifles and shotguns into the same category, which combined accounted for 22 percent of all gun-related homicides in 2018. But Johnson said that “assault weapons” are only rarely used in any type of violent crime.
Finally, the Canadian government doesn’t have any nationwide data on where crime guns come from. Toronto is an outlier in its ability and willingness to track the source of guns used in crime. Johnson explained that most law enforcement agencies don’t bother tracing a firearm’s source because the process is expensive and rarely bears fruit.
“If Calgary spends the budget to run a trace, and they find, ‘Lo and behold, this gun was stolen 10 years ago from a store or individual in Quebec.’ Now what? The crime was in Quebec, so it doesn’t help Calgary’s prosecution rate. It’s ancient. Good luck finding the person who committed the crime,” he said.
A 2019 Globe and Mail investigation wasn’t able to find crime gun source information when it asked 36 police forces across the country.
Trudeau, in other words, is flying blind. He doesn’t know whether his gun bans will stop violent crime, and even the data he does have (from Toronto) suggests that they won’t.
But that lack of information isn’t stopping him. The gun control debate may be different in Canada, but, in one way at least, the gun controllers are exactly the same.
Note: This article has been amended with an updated statement from Nicolas Johnson.