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 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.