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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.

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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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