2. Firearm Violence

2.1 Firearm Accidents and Injuries

Accidental death and injury by firearm in Canada is an extremely infrequent occurence. In 1991, one person out of every 400,000 Canadians died as a result of a fatal gun accident, compared to one person out of 360 who died as a result of circulatory system diseases, one out of 7,500 killed in motor vehicle accidents, and one out of every 14,000 killed in falls [1]. Statistics Canada reports that in 1987, one out of every 20,000 Canadians was injured in a firearm-related accident, compared to one out of every 36 injured in motor vehicle collisions, one out of 133 injured by accidental poisoning, and one out of every 191 injured as a result of an accidental burn or scald [2].

Accidental deaths by firearm, like homicide and suicide by firearm, has historically occurred much more frequently among Canadian males. Between 1921-1991, men outnumbered women over ten to one in fatal gun accident statistics [3].

When describing accidental deaths and injuries by firearm, whether in Canada or the US, prohibitionists typically include everyone over nine years of age as "children", and as with homicides or suicides, reference raw numbers calculated over long periods of time as "evidence" that fatal gun accidents are a growing safety concern and that firearms should not be kept in the home. This deliberately deceptive practice serves no purpose other than to propagandize people into believing that accidental gun deaths are common among small children.

Analysis of fatal gun accidents in the United States could not find one instance where a child victim or shooter discovered a locked gun, unlocked it, and shot themselves or someone else [4]. Keeping a gun locked, whether loaded or not, stored away or not, is described as near-absolute protection against a shild gun accident [5].

Gun injury and fatality data provides no indication of whether the victim or shooter was in legal possession of the firearm when the incident occured. These data do show that individuals with a history of criminal behaviour and/or alcohol abuse are more likely to be involved. Studies on the subject document that adult victims and shooters displayed a history of previous high-risk activity, characterized by disproportionate involvement in motor vehicle accidents and licensing violations including prior arrests for violent acts and alcohol-related offenses [6]. At least one-half of all firearm injury and fatality victims/shooters had been drinking alcohol prior to the "accident" [7].

While the level of firearm ownership in Canada has increased, the accidental injury rate by firearm declined 27% between 1982-1991, with the rate of fatal firearm accidents dropping 80% between 1966-1991 [8]. The age-specific accidental death rate by firearms for Canadians under the age of nineteen declined 78% between 1966-1991; dropping from over 70 deaths per year to less than 20 [9]. While this number is considered too high by the shooting organizations in Canada, out of a total 1991 population of 27,000,400 the number is, nonetheless, extremely small. Despite similar per capita civilian ownership of firearms, Canada has an accidental death rate by firearms less than one-half that of the United States [10]. In 1985, there was one accidental gun injury for every 18,000 Canadians, compared to one for every 1300 Americans [11].

These dramatic reductions were largely the result of privately funded and developed firearm safety training courses pioneered by the shooting organizations in Canada over 30 years ago [12].

Very few safety issues have displayed such a dramatic improvement without substantial amounts of private and public funding. Firearm prohibitionists advocate the introduction of severe gun controls with the added bureaucratic costs these measures entail, as a remedy to a situation that has not been an overriding public health issue for some time. This is especially significant when one considers that in 1990 and 1991, 6 children under 9 years of age were fatally injured in firearm accidents compared with 235 killed in drowning and suffocation accidents and 345 killed in motor vehicle accidents [13]. During the same period, 31 yougn adults between the ages of 10 and 19 were killed in firearm accidents compared with 1,153 fatally injured in motor vehicle accidents [14].

The safety record of Canadian firearm owners and the infrequency of firearm injuries and deaths is reflected in the fact that the shooting organizations provide $2 million in liability insurance to all their members for approximately $5 per person per year.

Typical insurance policies offeref by organizations such as the Ontario Handgun Association and the National Firearms Association provide $2 million liability coverage. It is offered to any member of any firearm-related club, using any type of small arms for any recreational purpose. It covers the insured while hunting, fishing, shooting on ranges, bowhunting, or shooting on an archery range, anywhere in Canada and the continental United States. After years of insuring tens of thousands of people, there has never been a claim of any kind against that insurance.

Prohibitionists often state that firearms-related injuries in Canada cost $30 million in additional health care costs. This figure is unsubstantiated. Statistics Canada does not maintain any record on the severity of firearm injuries in Canada so this figure is speculative. If the accidental death rate by firearm has declined by 80%, then it is reasonable to assume that in the long term, injuries involving guns have also declined by a similar percentage.

Even if this estimate is accepted, it is important to consider that the health care costs associated with other sports-related injuries easily exceed anything incurred by firearms; e.g., ice hockey, cycling, skiing, basketball, and baseball are responsible for a total of 8,700,000 activity-loss days and 1,500,000 bed-disability days in Canada annually [15]. Ice hockey is a sport with a high injury rate often involving spinal or neurological injury [16].

Motor vehicle accidents alone are responsible for an estimated 762,000 hospital days every year, 37% of all the hospital days attributable to accidental injuries [17]. The hospital costs associated with automobile accident injury total over a quarter of a billion dollars every year [18].

The health effects of other non-essential consumer items such as alcohol and tobacco are much more onerous on out medical support systems; e.g., treating alcohol and drug dependance costs Canadian hospitals over $120 million dollars annually [19]. It has been estimated that excessive alcohol consumption is a social, health, and economic burden that costs Canadian society $5.25 billion every year [20].

Wildlife hunting in Canada - the overwhelming majority of which is done with firearms - contributes $6 billion dollars annually to the economy of this country. [21]. The revenue produced by this one firearm-related activity more than compensates for any alleged health care costs attributed to firearm injuries and fatalities.

During periods of strong and consistent economic growth as evidenced during the 1950's, 1960's, and early 1970's, it may have been considered appropriate for government to throw huge sums of public money at a particular public health issue in the hope that at least a few dollars would accomplish something worthwhile. With Canada's natinal debt at over half a trillion dollars and all government agencies competing for the dwindling public funds, portraying firearm accidents as a severe social problem and creating a complex and expensive gun control bureaucracy - at the expense of more useful social programs - will in the long run cost more lives than it will save.