Blue Byline

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Apples and oranges: The Canadian perspective on American gun control

Post by Brian O'Neill on Aug. 1, 2012 at 6:45 am with 24 Comments »
April 2, 2013 1:40 pm

For many years I have spent a week each summer visiting family in Vancouver, B.C., a uniquely picturesque Canadian city enveloped in mountains and floating on tidal waterways.

Its citizens and businesses are much the same as our own, even if their clothing is more fashionable and the prices a notch higher, but for all its familiarity, the Vancouver situated 180 miles north is more European than American. It is, in essence, distinctly Canadian, and nowhere is that more obvious than its restrictions on the private ownership of firearms.

Picture courtesy of

For proof, one need look no further than the city’s daily newspaper, The Vancouver Sun. Like most dailies, The Sun had extensive coverage on the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, including which practically vibrated with Canada’s measured opinion on the topic of gun control which.

To put it nicely (i.e. the Canadian way), their view is fundamentally different from our own.

One of The Sun’s editorial writer went straight for the American jugular: – the American right to bear a whole lotta arms – by asking, “When are our American neighbors going to wake up and realize that gun production, gun rights and loose legislation are the real reason for these atrocities?”

As it turns out, he’s not the only one up north harboring that same opinion. Canada’s comparatively strict gun regulations and statutes are widely popular (with the exception of a vocal but largely ignored minority) suggesting a country in lockstep with the writer’s rhetorical plea.

Not to suggest that Canada does not have violent crime. In fact, handgun related homicides have increased dramatically in recent years. The Toronto area has weathered two recent shootings (the first June 2 and the other July 16) which left a total of four people dead and more than twenty injured. These incidents also have a tragically surreal connection to Aurora’s recent shooting: Jessica Ghawi, 24, survived the June shooting in Toronto uninjured only to die in a hail of bullets in Colorado.

Still, all the crime scene tape surrounding all the homicides in Canada (605 in 2006) would not cover a quarter of the tape strung in California, a state of comparative population (2,483 for that same year). Our streets are simply more violent than those in Canada, and the reason for that is as endemic to the American experience as was the violent birth of our country.

America is a country created out of war. Rough men armed with rifles – explorers, soldiers and frontiersmen - pushed our borders to the western shore. Our combative system of government and deeply competitive capitalist nature is the adversarial byproduct of our uniquely American lifestyle. We love our independence. But a strong national government? Not so much.

While America fought to exist, Canada was released with the blessings of our common mother. No surprise it has maintained many of its British traditions and ties, nor has it felt the need to fight more than a handful of military actions at home or aborad. Canada’s reputation as an introverted and courteous country is the polar opposite of the colossus on its southern border.

I am, of course, speaking in generalities. Exceptions abound. There are Canadians who advocate for fewer gun restrictions just as there are Americans who want to see the 2nd Amendment go away. Yet our separate pasts somehow stand between useful discussion on an epidemic that threatens lives in both countries.

Dying by gunfire is a problem without boundaries. It would be a welcome change if we were to stop pointing fingers and pay attention to our common problem.

Leave a comment Comments → 24
  1. Talk about apples to oranges, why are you including total homicides and not just firearm related homicides? That seems kind of important since roughly 2/3 of homicides in Canada ARE NOT firearm related, and 2/3 of homicides in the USA ARE firearm related.

    The numbers for Canada in 2010 are .50 per 100,000 population or roughly 171. The numbers for USA in 2010 are roughly 2.84 per 100,000 population or 8,775.

    Data source: FBI Uniform Crime Reports and Statistics Canada.

  2. Chippert says:

    pawl is right. You might also mention that 87% of the firearms that were used in gun-related crimes (including homocides) in Canada that were traceable had their origin in the U.S.

  3. NewDragon says:

    Guns are the great equalizer! Stats never show, nor will they ever, how many lives are saved each day by guns. What are the numbers?

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    Although no one can answer your rhetorical question, newdragon, logic suggests that the number of lives saved by guns will never equal the number taken.

  5. Brian O'Neill says:

    If chippert and pawl’s comments are meant to highlight an even greater difference between Canada’s gun restrictions and gun crimes (vs. the U.S.), then I would agree. However, there’s simply not enough room in a single column to produce all the relevant data. Instead, I made the assertion that our shared border should give us sufficient reason for a broader discussion on this common problem.

    We can’t wish guns out of the hands of criminals. That will require concrete action.

  6. wyecoyote says:

    Yes the question that some Canadian’s ask is when are we going to give up our 2A. This is kinda funny coming from a country that doesn’t have a 1A.

    Although no one can answer your rhetorical question, newdragon, logic suggests that the number of lives saved by guns will never equal the number taken

    Could be if we look at logic there might be more saved by guns. DOJ’s 97 study found that showing of firearms stopped between 850,000 to 1.2 Million crimes yearly in the US.

  7. The wish to own multiple guns is just childish nonsense.

  8. smokey984 says:

    Your statistics are way off boys….Go ahead and buy a copy of, “More guns, less crime – by John R. Lott (An economist by trade). An excellent book if you want to start sparking off some stats on gun crime.

    For example: (and not from the book previously mentioned) There are billions of cartridges manufactured each year. For .22 rimfire alone, the number is around 4 billion rounds per year. So with of all these cartridges made, what percentage of them are used in violent crimes? The violent crime rate is 403 per 100,000 people. So we are talking about a lot of decimal places filled with zeroes. To venture a guess, perhaps 0.00001 percent. So our elected representatives plan to make life miserable for those of us buying the other 99.99999 percent of cartridges? That is Severe Myopic Statism for you. If they succeed, in more weapons/ammo legislation, we’ll have more government, less freedom, fewer buying options, and higher prices, to boot.

  9. NotPoliticallyCorrect says:

    Vancover B.C. I believe is a bad example of a place to use as an example. And Canadians wonder why Amercians hold on to their guns (See Below).

    Here are a few examples:

    18th Street, Big Circle Boys, Hell’s Angels, MS-13, ‘Ndrangheta, Redd Alert, , Triads (various groups), United Nations, 14K Triad, Born To Kill, Brown Side Thugz – Indo Canadian gang in the Surrey, BC area. According to user sources, significant members have operated in the drug trade, sex trade, gun smugling, kidnapping, and murder ., Daku Killaz – according to user sources, a violent Indo-Canadian gang located in East Vancouver, with close ties to the Independent Soldiers. The gang has allegedly been involved in kidnapping Indo Canadian business-men, home invasions, murder, and cross border human trafficking.

  10. Brian O'Neill says:

    Your information appears accurate, NPC, however…

    When I was a gang investigator I could have listed that many gangs and outlaw motorcycle groups (and more) for several local communities, all much smaller than the population of Vancouver, B.C. More importantly, the gun related incidents involving the Canadian gangs are far less than the American equivalent. Far less.

    Again, this column was not meant to touch off the gun control debate. Canada is a country with a different history, perspective and mindset on firearms. What might work for them (less guns = less gun crimes) may not work for us.

  11. NotPoliticallyCorrect says:

    Brian, I agree with the related incidents as you mentioned. But they more than make up for it with knives, baseball bats, pipes etc. I don’t think this is a gun control debate either. I am getting at the part you wrote above.

    “To paraphrase the implied sentiment, “When are our American neighbors going to wake up and realize that gun production, gun rights and loose legislation are the real reason for these atrocities?”

    In 2006 there were over 8,100 violent crimes committed in Vancouver. There were a total of 1,691 in Tacoma for in 2010. Los Angeles is projecting approximately 12,000 violent crimes for 2012. As you know Los Angeles has a population of approximately 3.8 million compared to the approximate 603,000 of Vancouver. I bet if you did the math, the violent crime stat percentage would be a lot higher for Vancouver. Besides Vancouver is ranked 5th, in the most dangerous cities of Canada.

    Violent crime, whether it is committed with a gun, knife, pipe or anything else, is still a violent crime. There view on the matter means nothing to people like myself.

  12. SkinnyChef says:

    Responsible gun laws are not the only thing Canada and the European coutries are decades ahead of us in. Japan as well. It’s too bad more of us can’t visit abroad to see first hand how much the same we are (the people), yet so different politicly.

  13. rterry65 says:

    The problem with the anti-gun folks is simply, the outlaws (in Vancouver check out the motorcycle gangs, the asian gangs) will have guns and the general public has no ability to defend itself.
    Canada’s “central government” has problems allowing inter-provincial pipe lines, commerce and more. As a born Canadian, I love and am proud of my birth country but it is very similar to the USA; it has it’s problems and to suggest otherwise is to be blind to reality. Guns kill people when people do bad things, so do mass murders like the pit farmer in Vancouver and many other examples.
    To blame guns is to be foolish.

  14. SafewayOrangeSoda says:

    Here’s a little “statistic” for ya, Brian.

    Your beloved Canada has a total population of about thirty million people, covering a square mileage of just about 4 million square miles. Following yet?

    The USA has got 3.79 million square miles of space, so just about the same amount of land… yet stuffs into that space…

    THREE HUNDRED and eleven million people.

    Think about that, good ole’ Brian.

    You wonder why people in US step on each other so much more frequently? It’s got nothing to do with “perspectives on gun control”, it has to do with the fact that you’re going to get, as a matter of statistics, a lot more crime, violence, murder, and yes, shootings, when people are practically tripping over each other every single dang day.

    But of course, in your little article, you never mention THAT fact. No, it’s because Canada is so ENLIGHTENED, yessir. So progressive.

    I would bet that if you took your enlightened Canada, stuffed another several hundred million people into it, stirred it around a little bit, added a dollop of economic woe into the mix and sprinkled in some bath salts, your happy little paradise would start looking a little different.

    Lots of places are pristine when there aren’t any people around.

  15. Brian O'Neill says:

    That’s an interesting perspective, Safeway. I would have thought that your well researched information would also have uncovered the fact that approximately 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the United States. As a result, Canadians are clumped into a small geographical area (about 250,000 square miles), leaving the majority of the population to live in urban areas like Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

    I certainly don’t mind another perspective on this issue (writing columns would be boring otherwise), but if you’re going to adopt a demeaning tone you should at least make sure your facts line up.

  16. scott0962 says:

    “Solutions should not get stopped at the border”? Correction: that’s exactly what borders are for. Canadians have every right to run their country as they see fit and even look down their noses at their rough and tumble neighbors but we will solve our own problems in our own way thank you very much. Canadians would surely take offense at us offering unsolicited advice on how to solve theirs.

    As for Japan and European countries being “decades ahead” of us as one poster asserted, have you looked at their suicide rates? Japan, most of Europe, Canada and even laid back New Zealand have higher suicide rates than we do. Apparently all that social and cultural enlightenment is not without costs of its own.

  17. SafewayOrangeSoda says:

    That’s an interesting perspective, Brian,

    Except that your little “rebuttal” doesn’t mean jack squat when you look at population densities, which is what you THINK you are being clever about. But, again, as USUAL, you fall flat on your face- because Canada’s population density is STILL at a paltry 9 people psqm, while the US has a density of close to a hundred times that.

    I certainly don’t mind another perspective on this issue (reading columns would be boring otherwise), but if you’re going to adopt a demeaning tone you should at least make sure your facts line up.

  18. Brian O'Neill says:

    In case you didn’t understand my point the first time, Canada’s population density is based on land that is mostly vacant. Canadians are concentrated in a very small area: 250,000 SM as previously stated. Whether or not this side issue you raised is even important, the fact remains that Canada’s cities – places much like American cities in size and population density – are where the vast majority of Canadians live. It is in those places where their shootings related crime stats are lower.

    I’m not sure how this even relates to the column, because the point was never that Canada was superior or that its gun laws were better. The point is that both countries have different approaches to a similar problem. I have shared that perspective with many colleagues across the border and those have been productive conversations.

    Lastly, your derogatory use of the word “little” to describe any opinion other than your own, or to use other people’s words against them (whether or not the comparison even makes sense) does you no credit when it comes to making a credible argument.

  19. SafewayOrangeSoda says:

    It’s not that I “don’t understand” your little point…

    It’s that you don’t HAVE a point.

    You have absolutely no clue as to how population densities in a nation really work, and are just floundering around, trying desperately to hold onto a semblance of your little article’s basis, even though it’s been proven to you that it’s been thoroughly debunked.

    Just like so much of your unfounded drivel, as soon as it comes under scrutiny it sloughs away, leaving nothing but a pale, quivering little attempt at staving off mediocrity.

    And it doesn’t work. As NotPoliticallyCorrect already pointed out, when you bring out the example of Vancouver, your saddening lack of research just falls out onto the street and flops about.

    It would be less humorous to see you blab on about “credible arguments” if you didn’t create so many ridiculously discredited articles.

  20. Brian O'Neill says:

    This column was obviously not suited to Mr. Soda’s tastes and I suggested he find one in which he could not be more civil. His last response, which I have deleted, was devoid of any content save personal insult. That response prompted me to block his access to comment on this column, an action I have taken on just one previous occasion in the last year.

    I would rather put up with a little pushback just so long as it arrives strapped to a diverse opinion. Please keep the conversation going.

  21. BlaineCGarver says:

    I offer as an exhibit the fact that the cities with the very worst crime stats have the most strict gun laws. Lots of legal gun owners = less crime (at least for the owners). Sarcasm on: I don’t suppose you’ve noticed that legal gun owners are not the ones committing crimes.

  22. BlaineCGarver says:

    Please check out Kennesaw, GA. A medium sized, very diverse city that passed a law requiring heads of household to own a gun if they are legally entitled to. You will be surprised. When BGs have a reasonable expectation of being hurt or killed, they will cease to ply their trade.

  23. As is true with any and all studies and comparisons, it is impossible to include all confounding variables. While a comparison of Canada’s gun laws and gun-based crime to the US provides some undeniably important information, perhaps a more direct look would compare the two countries’ gun ownership ratio: the US is the most armed country with nearly 9 guns per 10 citizens, while Canada comes in with 3 per 10 people.

    I don’t think we will ever get any meaningful control over this domestic arms race until we figure out WHY Americans feel the need to be armed.

  24. normajean says:

    Safeway, Safeway, Safeway your demeaning attitude is clouding your logic. I live in your country & feel unsafe for the most part. Should we discuss what has happened in Lakewood over the last 3 years? I am in favor of gun control; it seems that everywhere you turn there is a drive by shooting or a child who kills a parent or mass killings etc. I also question why Americans feel that they need to be armed. I forced my American husband to get rid of his guns & when I asked why the attachment, he stated it was his right to bear arms. A response that I believe masks the real reason which i think is fear of the unknown.

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