Gun Control


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 society..." . 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 weapons..." .
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 hand"(152).
In an article by Gary A. Mauser of the Simon Fraser

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). B:Comparison:
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

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
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
And Conclusions
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"

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