Canadians on Canada’s Gun Control Measures: Expensive, Ineffective, Political Posturing

Gun Rights

More than three years have passed since Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban and mandatory confiscation (“buyback”) of what he called “military grade assault weapons,” which was followed by a national handgun “freeze” and other gun control measures.

We’ve tracked these developments as a matter of interest for our members and other readers. Today, we’ll examine recent articles by Canadian commentators on how they view these measures and what they perceive will be the real impact on crime, public safety, and the ultimate costs. 

The 2020 Orders-in-Council criminalized thousands of makes, models and “variants” of firearms, including ordinary semi-automatic firearms used for hunting and sport shooting. Owners of these lawfully acquired but now-prohibited firearms may continue to possess (but generally cannot use) their property until the amnesty expires on October 30, 2023. A government website is clear that, “[w]hen the Amnesty period ends, individuals and businesses [that] remain in possession of prohibited firearms or devices may be subject to criminal liability.” In the meantime, how the government will implement the “buyback” remains TBA.

In June, Gage Haubrich, the prairie director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), wrote an opinion piece in the Financial Post titled, New Zealand’s gun buyback suggests Ottawa’s won’t work. The CTF has consistently opposed Trudeau’s ban and buyback scheme as yet another pointless waste of public money, noting that the “government still hasn’t told taxpayers how much the gun buyback will cost.” Haubrich uses the 2019 government confiscation of firearms in New Zealand and the existing (limited) cost estimates for Trudeau’s gun grab as the basis for recommending that the federal government “scrap the gun ban and buyback.”

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New Zealand initially budgeted $16 million (in Canadian dollars) for just the implementation of the “buyback,” which ended up costing almost twice that amount. Compensation payments added a further $106 million to the bill, working out to a per-firearm price of about $1,800. (Keep in mind that Canada’s population is eight times that of New Zealand’s and it is geographically 37 times larger.) Another factor affecting the bottom line is the federal government’s track record on costing-out gun control: Canada’s failed long-gun registry was initially estimated to cost $2 million, but the final price tag was $2.7 billion, suggesting that a sizeable suspension of disbelief is warranted in relation to an official estimate of the “buyback” cost of $756 million (which excludes any administrative expenses). 

Given that the proffered justification for the ban and “buyback” is to “keep Canadians safer,” the New Zealand experience is illustrative here as well. Haubrich writes that after guns were taken away from law-abiding New Zealanders, violent gun crime in that country increased significantly. The “decade before the buyback[,] violent firearm offences averaged 932 a year. In 2019, the year of the buyback, there were 1,142 offences; in 2020, 1,156; in 2021, 1,338; and last year, 1,444. That’s up almost 55 per cent over the pre-ban decade.” If anything, this squares with the warnings of Canada’s National Police Federation, describing the ban and “buyback” law as not only ineffective to curtail crime, gangs, and the illegal use of firearms, but “divert[ing] extremely important personnel, resources, and funding away from addressing the more immediate and growing threat of criminal use of illegal firearms.”

Another critical aspect of the economics of the ban and “buyback” was analyzed by the Fraser Institute. Federal government plans to confiscate $4 billion worth of private property via gun ban (July 21, 2023) by Gary Mauser (Professor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University), observes that the crackdown on responsible gun owners and “campaign by the Trudeau government to disarm Canadian civilians” has “rendered valueless more than $4.0 billion of private property from law-abiding Canadians while simultaneously bankrupting hundreds of small businesses.”

Besides the mandatory buyback, Mauser points to another Trudeau gun control law announced last year. A “national freeze” that prohibits sales, purchases, and transfers (including through inheritance) of almost all handguns, and that requires their surrender without compensation when the owner dies, “effectively renders approximately one million legal firearms (valued at more than $1.0 billion) worthless.”

The overall result is that the government “has essentially erased the value of more than $4 billion worth of private property (i.e. firearms) by ordering its confiscation. Property that was legally owned and used now must be forfeited to the government to purportedly ‘reduce gun violence,’ but none of the owners have been accused of a violent act. Nor were any likely to commit a violent crime.”

Moreover, these measures have grave and likely irreversible financial consequences for firearm-related businesses. “[M]ore than 4,500 small and medium-size businesses, which employ more than 40,000 people, are now stuck with large amounts of inventory that are suddenly illegal for them to sell or export. These businesses can’t absorb such losses; many will need to cut jobs or close their doors. The Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association estimates the economic loss at between $900 million and $1.06 billion.” Yet another casualty of these government actions is fish-and-game clubs, which face “severe financial pressure because they rely on target sports for much of their income.”

What makes all this even more disastrous – as Mauser sets out in detail – is that none of these measures are likely to make Canadians any safer. Studies have shown that higher gun prevalence levels do not cause higher crime or homicide rates, and “peer-reviewed research shows that previous legislation prohibiting the possession and acquisition of certain firearms made no discernable impact on the rates of homicide, spousal homicide or suicide in Canada or other countries.” Canadians are required to have a valid Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) to purchase a firearm, and “be vetted by the RCMP and checked daily for any violation through the ‘continuous eligibility screening’ program.” PAL holders are “exceptionally unlikely” to be murderers – moose, as Mauser points out elsewhere, kill more Canadians than licensed gun owners.

Another indicator Mauser cites is the homicide rate in America. Despite increases in licensed carry and constitutional carry in the U.S., the homicide rate “has fallen faster than in Canada. By 2021, Canada’s homicide rate had fallen 13 per cent from the peak in 1991 (from 2.69 to 2.06 per 100,000) while the U.S. homicide rate had fallen 31 per cent in the same period (from 9.8 to 6.5 per 100,000).”

Mauser concludes that the government’s gun control measures are nothing more than political window-dressing: “Focusing on guns rather than violent criminals lets Ottawa pose as a protector of public safety while doing very little about criminal violence.”

A much more detailed review of the recent gun control measures is Aiming Off Target: Gun Policy in Canada (August 2023), a 28-page paper by Noah Schwartz and Tim Thurley published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI), a “rigorously independent and non-partisan” public policy think-tank based in Ottawa. The paper examines Bill C-21 (proposing, among other things, a ban on semi-automatic firearms designed to accept detachable magazines), the “assault weapon” ban, and the regulatory freeze on handguns. “These measures,” the authors conclude, “are out of step with the strongest evidence,” “will have little effect on violent crime,” and instead, “distract from meaningful, evidence-based efforts to reduce crime and violence.”

Handguns have been subject to mandatory registration in Canada for almost 100 years. Existing handgun owners must be licensed, satisfy training requirements and have their personal data entered in the Canadian Police Information Centre database, which “amounts to a continual background check as their data is routinely scanned through the system,” including any interactions with law enforcement.  The Liberal government’s national handgun freeze “offers no appreciable public safety benefit” because the “overwhelming majority” of firearms used in crimes are illegally obtained from the United States and are not domestically sourced.

As for the 2020 ban of what the authors call “assault style firearms” (ASF), the paper points out that “true assault rifles” have been prohibited in Canada since 1978. The current “assault weapon” terminology used by the Liberal government is derived from an expansive and imprecise definition invented by gun control advocates in the United States. Besides the makes and models most recently prohibited as ASF, the government “has pledged to complement this with a backwards-looking Order in Council prohibition” of guns, to “include those that do not meet even the new proposed definition of ASF, including the SKS, M1 Garand, and various rimfire rifles.” These measures are not likely to reduce gun crimes for many reasons. Access to these firearms in Canada “has been strictly controlled for decades through a licensing system designed to limit ownership to trained and thoroughly vetted users,” making it “highly unlikely that prohibitions would have further meaningful impacts.”

Instead, in common with the Mauser article, the paper states the actual meaningful impact the law will have will be against Canadian hunters, farmers, trappers, sports shooters, and collectors, including indigenous communities and sustenance hunters, and gun and hunting supply businesses, many of which have already been forced to close.

Significantly, the authors observe that “Canada’s gun policies have been shaped largely by political considerations and wedge politics, not by the government sincerely considering public safety research and concerns.” Accordingly, these measures “will further erode public trust in government amongst gun owners, who interpret them as a politically motivated attack on their way of life.” The way forward is for the government to drop the national handgun freeze, “repeal the costly and ineffective…ban of assault style firearms” (and planned expansion of that ban to other firearms), and revise the existing firearms classification system, which these describe as “confusing, overly bureaucratic, and too easily politicized.”

Overall, though, the “way we think about gun violence prevention as a society requires a paradigm shift.”

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