Gun ControlPart I:IntroductionThe 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 matterwhat the resolution to the gun control debate is, it is probable that thearguments 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 thefirst time, restructuring the availability of firearms, and increasing a varietyof penalties . Canadian firearms law is primarily federal, and “therforenational in scope, while the bulk of the firearms regulation in the UnitedStates is at the state level; attempts to introduce stricter leglislation at thefederal level are often defeated”.
The importance of this issue is that not all North Americans are necessarilysupportive of strict gun control as being a feasible alternative to controllingurban violence. There are concerns with the opponents of gun control, that theprofessional criminal who wants a gun can obtain one, and leaves the averagelaw-abiding citizen helpless in defending themselves against the perils of urbanlife . Is it our right to bear arms as North Americans ? Or is it privilege? Andwhat are the benefits of having strict gun control laws? Through the analysis ofthe writings and reports of academics and experts of gun control and urbanviolence, it will be possible to examine the issues and theories of the socialimpact of this issue.Part II: Review of the Literature A) SummaryIn 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 inAmerica is popularly perceived in Canada as something to be expected in asociety which has less respect for the rule of law than does Canadiansociety…
“In 1977, the Canadian government took the initiative to legislate stricter guncontrol. Among the provisions legislated by the Canadian government was a”Firearms Acquisition Certificate” for the purchase of any firearm, andstrengthened the “registration requirements for handguns and other restrictedweapons…” .The purpose of the 1977 leglislation was to reduce the availability offirearms, on the assumption that there is a “positive relationship betweenavailability and use”. In Robert J. Mundt’s study, when compared with the UnitedStates, trends in Canada over the past ten years in various types of violentcrime, suicide, and accidental death show no dramatic results, “and fewsuggestions of perceptible effects of the 1977 Canadian gun control legislation”.
The only positive effect, Mundt, found in the study was the decrease in the useof 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 onthose violent incidents that would not have happened had a weapon been athand”(152).In an article by Gary A. Mauser of the Simon Fraser University in BritishColumbia, he places special emphasis on the attitudes towards firearms displayedby both Canadians and Americans. According to Mauser, large majorities of thegeneral public in both countries “support gun control legislation whilesimultaneously believing that they have the right to own firearms” (Mauser1990:573). Despite the similarities, there are apparent differences between thegeneral publics in the two countries. As Mauser states that “Canadians are moredeferent to authority and do not support the use of handguns in self defence tothe same extent as Americans”.As Mauser points out that “it has been argued that cultural differencesaccount for why Canada has stricter gun control legislation than the UnitedStates”(575).
Surprisingly enough, nationwide surveys in both Canada and theUnited States “show remarkable similarity in the public attitude towardsfirearms and gun control”(586). Both Canada and the United States wereoriginally English colonies, and both have historically had similar patterns ofimmigration. Moreover, Canadians are exposed to American television (bothentertainment and news programming) and, Canadians and Americans read many ofthe same books and magazines. As a result of this, the Canadian public hasadopted “much of the American culture” .In an article by Catherine F.
Sproule and Deborah J. Kennett of TrentUniversity, they looked at the use of firearms in Canadian homicides between theyears of 1972-1982. There findings firmly support the conclusion that guncontrol is beneficial. According to Sproule and Kennett, gun control “may beinfluencing some suspects to kill by other methods, but it is less likely forthese suspects to kill multiple victims”.
From the study conducted by Sprouleand Kennett the rate of violent crimes was five times greater in the U.S thanCanada, and “almost double the rate of firearm use in American than Canadianhomicides” (32-33). In short, the use of firearms “in Canadian homicides hasdeclined since the legislative changes in gun control in 1977”.As mentioned in lectures, Canadian cities have been traditionally safer, andless vulnerable to ‘Crime Waves’ than our American neighbours due to ourextensive police force and gun control laws . A factor to be considered, though,is our national heritage or culture which holds traditions of passiveness andpeace unlike the American Frontier heritage. From our textbook, Why NothingWorks , Marvin Harris points out that the “American Constitution guaranteescitizens the right to bear arms, and this has made it possible for U.S.criminals to obtain firearms more readily than their counterparts in countrieslike Japan.
..”. Marvin Harris indicates that “the high rate of homicide in theUnited States undoubtedly reflects, to some extent, the estimated 50 millionhandguns and rifles legally and illegally owned by the American people” (122).
As demonstrated in the film: Cops, Guns, and Drugs, the problem with controllingurban violence in the United States is that it is out of proportion in contrastto 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 inthe United States. He reviews the role of guns in American life –from theshoot-outs of the Old West to the street violence of today. According toSherrill, “most murders occur in shabby neighbourhoods; of the 690 murders inDetroit in 1971, for example, 575 occurred in the black slums mostly byhandguns”. As a Detroit sociologist added to this alarming figure:”Living in afrustrating stress-inducing environment like the United States every day of yourlife makes many people walking powder kegs” (38). In agreement with thisstatement, Sherrill suggests that the hardest hit of all American urban centresis the inter-cities of Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, and Washington. Thesecities largely consist of visible minorities who are frustrated with the handdealt 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, manyof the youth in the underclass who become involved in this way of life ,”areconsidered to be old if they live past the age of 20″ .
In another paper by Catherine F. Sproule and Deborah J. Kennett, theycompared the incidence of killings by handguns, firearms other than handguns,and nonshooting methods between the United States and Canada for the years 1977to 1983.
In their study they found that “in Canada there were 443 handgunkillings per 100,000 people compared to 4108 in the U.S. over the period of1977-1983” . They also noted that the “American murder rates for handguns arehigher than the total Canadian homicide rate”(249). According to Sproule andKennett, “Canada’s favourable situation regarding murder relative to the UnitedStates is to a large measure the result of Canadian gun control, and Canadiansmust be vigilant against any erosion of our gun control provisions” (250).B:Comparison:The works cited above are based on research done by experts and scholars inthe field of gun control and violence. Examining the above materials canidentify similarities and differences found in the various cited sources, sucharguments for and against gun control policy in North America.
It is clearlyevident to see that opponents of strict gun control will have similar arguments.Firstly, they are usually defending each other against their opponents of theissue, and they see the benefits as far more greater than the setbacks. Theintroduction of the 1977 legislation by the Canadian government stronglysuggests that the country will benefit by having a safer society, and reductionin crime. According to Robert J. Mundt, a benefit reaped by this legislation hasbeen a “trend away from the use of firearms in robberies has been noticeableever since the passage of the gun control provisions of the 1977 Bill C-51(Criminal Law Amendment Act)”. Mauser mentions that Canadians are “moresupportive of stricter controls on handguns than are Americans…
Moreover,Canadians appear to be less supportive of home owners using firearms to defendthemselves than are Americans” (Mauser:587). This evaluation by Mauser suggeststhat Canadians do have confidence in gun control, and law enforcement incontrolling the safety of their well-being.Similarities can also be cited in the works of Harris and Sherrill whichdiscuss the effects of having ‘the right to bear arms’ in the United States.According to Marvin Harris, Why Nothing Works , there “has been a steadyincrease in the availability of firearms since 1945, this may account for muchof the increase in the homicide rate” in the United States. Harris also suggeststhat America has “developed a unique permanent racial underclass” which provideconditions for both the motive and opportunity for violent criminal behaviour(123). In Sherrill’s book, The Saturday Night Special , a major topic of concernis the status structure of the street gang in which “success in defense of theturf brings deference and reputation.
..Here the successful exercise of violenceis a road to achievement”. As Sherrill mentions, this violence is exercised bythe means of a gun that can be easily obtained in the United States due to theeasy accessibility of guns.
There are also some worthwhile differences found in the literature citedabove. For one, Sproule and Kennett , indicate that gun ownership in the UnitedStates is “inversely related to individuals lack of confidence in collectiveinstitutions to protect their security of person and property…”. RobertSherrill believes that the vast majority of people who own guns , “simply ownthem because it is a part of their American heritage, and the constitution givesthem ‘the right to bear arms'”(1973:225). He suggests that Americans choose topractice their civil liberties to its entirety.Other notable differences in the literature is Mauser’s view for thedifferences in the gun-control legislation between the two countries.
Mauserstates that the cause for this is “the differences in political elites andinstitutions rather than in public opinion” (1990:587). Due to Canada’spolitical structure, it is a lot easier to make and approve laws in comparisonwith the United States Congress structure.Part III: Thesis StatementAfter researching all the data collected from the library and the use ofcourse-related materials, I have formulated my own theory on the social impactof gun control and violence in North America. Going back to the introduction, Ihave asked the reader two questions :(1) Is it our right to bear arms as NorthAmericans? Or is it a privilege?, and (2) What are the benefits of having strictgun control laws? It appears to me that much of the literature cited above looksat gun control as being a feasible alternative in reducing homicides and armedrobbery. From the authors cited above, there findings undermine the apparentclaim of gun control opponents in their slogan ‘people kill, guns don’t ‘. Theintroduction of gun control in Canada significantly shows that Canadian guncontrol, especially the provisions pertaining to handguns, does have thebeneficial effect of reducing violent crime, and saving lives.
Part IV: AnalysisAnd ConclusionsWhen looking at the 1977 Canadian Legislation of gun control, it is easy tosee that there is some bias and assumptions present. For one, it assumes thatleft to its own devices the legislation will make it virtually impossible for acriminal to obtain a handgun. Secondly, there is an assumption that if a persondoesn’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 (firearmsAcquisition Certificate). With the implementation of Bill C-51, a ‘Black Market’for illegal handguns has emerged from the United States into Canada, making itextremely easy for the professional criminal to obtain a firearm.It can be agreed that since the implementation of Bill C-51 in 1977, Canadahas remained relatively safe in incidents involving firearms in comparison tothe United States. The assumption of many Americans, is that having the rightto bear arms increases their security is open to dispute.
It is just asreasonable to assume that restricting the ‘right to bear arms’ will increase thesafety and security of a society. In accordance with many sociologists beliefs,is that Canada historically hasn’t experienced the problems of crime, that theUnited States has, because of it’s central police force.In addition, Sproule and Kennett view the significant effect of gun controlis the method of killing.
Although “gun control may be influencing some suspectsto kill by other methods, it is less likely for these suspects to kill multiplevictims”. As witnessed by the American media, mass murder in public is much morea common occurrence in the U.S. than Canada.
It is safe to say that gun controlhas saved the lives of potential innocent victims of crime.Furthermore, as was mentioned in class discussion and lectures, the strengthor influences of the mass media to glorify violence has had detrimental effectson North American society. In some ways, the act of violence has beendesensitised and glorified rather than being displayed as an unacceptable formof behaviour. This portrayal by the media, has made handguns and other firearmsseem fashionable in the eyes of our youth and general population in NorthAmerica. This unquestionably places our law enforcement agencies at aconsiderable disadvantage, simply because it erodes the confidence and trustdisplayed 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 increasein violent crime, over a short period of time. Whether the United States adoptsa 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 ourcollective security as an important means by which to deter gun acquisition.”Society must place limits on culture’s appetites”- Durkheim –