Public Safety and Firearms

It’s very wrong to assume that gun owners do not care about public safety. We care very much, because we benefit the most from responsible ownership. All Canadians want to save lives, but sometimes we disagree on the best way to do it. Practical experience with guns and gun regulations is a critical contribution to the debate.

Why not regulate guns like cars?
You may have heard a statement to the effect of “We license drivers and register cars, why not license gun owners and register guns?” Let’s put aside the difficulties of making a car analogy when it comes to guns and compare the two sets of regulations (source).

In Ontario, the Highway Traffic Act applies only to driving on public roads. Off-road use, and use on private property in particular, is not covered. This means that in those cases:

  • You do not need a license, registration, or insurance
  • There are no speed limits
  • You cannot violate traffic regulations
  • The vehicle does not have to be street-legal (mirrors, turn signals etc)
  • You are still liable for dangerous or criminal operation (injury, property damage)

Have you seen a car parked in a driveway without a license plate? Legal if it stays there. Have you seen a racecar or racing motorcycle moved to a racetrack on a trailer? Same thing.

Now let’s look at what how that would apply that to guns:

  • You could buy a gun without needing a license
  • The gun you bought wouldn’t need to be registered
  • You could transport the gun, unloaded and in a box, to target shoot or hunt
  • You could get a license to carry a loaded gun in public (concealed or openly)
    • After passing appropriate safety exams of course (like a driving test)
  • You would only register the gun that you would be carrying
  • In all cases, you would still be liable for dangerous or criminal use

However, in Canada you need a license just to own guns, and restricted firearms must always be registered. It’s impossible to get a permit to carry a loaded handgun unless your occupation demands it (armored car driver, wilderness prospector etc). A non-restricted gun can be loaded when hunting or target shooting, but never while walking on Main Street downtown.

The truth is that when imperfectly comparing guns to cars, guns are more strictly regulated. Where cars and drivers are licensed, equivalent gun use is usually illegal in Canada.

Why do you need a gun?
The question of “why” often comes up when discussing firearms. There are several answers to that:

  • Because we are a “Free and Democratic Society,” and legally owning a gun doesn’t harm anyone
  • Because target shooting is a fun and safe hobby
  • Because hunting is an ethical way to get meat
  • Because a parent wants to spend quality time with their son or daughter at the range or in the field
  • Because guns are fascinating mechanical devices
  • Because guns often have historical value
  • Because someone may have an abusive ex-partner
  • Because someone is at risk of hate crime
  • Because someone may live or work in a dangerous area, but cannot afford a change
  • Because having to justify guns means justifying big cars, fast motorcycles, personal privacy, digital encryption, the right to protest, and many other “dangerous” things.

The 'Gun Deaths' misdirection
Opponents of lawful gun ownership often bring up a figure called “gun deaths.” This figure consists of these numbers, highest to lowest: suicides, homicides, accidents, and police shootings. According to StatCan, in 2016 (source):

  • Suicides by firearm: 570
  • Homicides by firearm: 143, although a different (source) table shows 223 shooting homicides
  • Accidental deaths: 15
  • Legal interventions (police shootings): 10

Using the larger homicide number, the total is 818 gun deaths in Canada in 2016, making intentional homicide only 27% of total gun deaths. It is not clear if self-defense is included in the homicide figure.

Every suicide is a tragedy. However, it is highly unlikely that reducing lawful gun ownership will improve the suicide rate. The last few years in Canada reveal two unrelated trends:

Similarly, comparing worldwide suicide rates (source) and worldwide gun ownership rates (source) does not reveal any correlation. The top countries by suicide do not resemble top countries by gun ownership, and vice-versa. Suicide is a mental health issue. Attacking a particular method of suicide will only make another method more popular, and have little effect on the overall rate.

A more detailed analysis can be found here.

The “gun deaths” figure consists of multiple components, only a portion of which is criminal misuse of firearms. “Gun deaths” does not mean “gun killings.”