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Issue of Gun Control and Violence


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 University 

 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 
of 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 entirety.

 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 

 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.



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