2. Firearm Violence

2.5 Robbery

The majority of robberies in Canada do not involve firearms. Between 1976-1992, 69% of all robberies did not involve firearms [66]. In 1962, one person out of every 3,700 Canadians was a robbery victim [67]. By 1992, the robbery rate in Canada was 348% higher than it had been in 1962, and one out of every 800 Canadians was a victim of robbery [68]. In 1992, robbery by non-firearm methods such as personal weapons and sharp/blunt intruments victimized one person out of every 1,100 compared to one out of every 3,100 Canadians robbed by what was recorded by police as a "firearm" [69].

Firearm prohibitionists consider the federal government's 1977 gun laws responsible for the subsequent decline in both the number of robberies and percentage of robberies involving firearms shich occured during the 1980's; however, robbery in the United States declined by a similar amoung during the same period [70]. In any event by 1992, the overall robbery rate was over 40% higher than it had been prior to 1977, and the firearm robbery rate had returned to its pre-1977 level [71].

It is a popular misconception that robbery by firearm is inherently more "dangerous" than robbery by physical force, sharp, or blunt intruments. It has been well established that robberies which do not involve firearms frequently result in serious injury to the victims, who are more likely to resist when a robbery attempt does not involve a gun [72]. As robbery by firearm also results in a bigger monetary "take" with less chance of resistance by the victim, using a gun allows the criminal to rob locations such as banks, trust companies, etc., where the potential income will be much greater [73]. In the absence of firearms, criminals victimize "soft" targets such as the elderly and the very young, where resistance is less likely but the "take" is much less, resulting in more robberies in order to make the same amount of money [74].

In light of this, it should be no great mystery as to why criminals use firearms in robbery. The dreary side of this complex social calculus is that even in the unlikely event a "no guns in robbery" situation could be achieved, the side effect would be more robberies against individuals less likely to resist, particularly the elderly, who would also sustain more serious physical injuries as a result.

"...robbers arm themselves with firearms not because they have relatively more lethal intentions with respect to their eventual victims, but because they expect to be robbing relatively more lucrative targets and need a high level of intimidation in order to be successful. The death of the victim, when it occurs, is not the intention of the robber in most cases." [75].

Wright, et al., Under the Gun.

"In robberies, the robber's use of a gun ensures compliance with his demands for money and deters the victim from resisting, convincing the victim that the robber has the capacity to inflict death or serious injury. Without a gun it would often be impossible for the robber to acheive this without actually attacking. Threat with a gun can thereby serve as a substitute for actual attack, rather than its vehicle. In short, possession of a gun can make a physical attack unnecessary. Supporting this idea, at least nine major studies found that robbers armed with guns are less likely to injure their victims than robbers without guns." [76].

Kleck, Point Blank

It is important to consider that any firearm control policy which dramatically reduces the number of handguns used in violent crimes such as robbery can result in an increase in the use of rifles and shotguns (often sawed-off to concealable length). Rifles and shotguns are far more lethal than handguns, and the victim's death would become more likely in the event of a shooting [77]. Attempting to change the tool of determined criminals is a very serious, and dangerous, enterprise.
"In sum, gun control policies that managed to reduce gun possession among robbers would have the desirable effects of increasing the rate at which robbers failed to get their victims' property and possibly reducing the number of robbery victims killed. On the other hand, gun scarcity would also probably increase the number of robbery injuries and the shift the burden of victimization to victims less able to bear the burden, without recuding the number of robberies. Therefore, it is difficult to say whether the overall set of social consequences of gun scarcity would make an effective gun control policy a success with regard to robbery." [78].

Kleck, Point Blank