3. Firearm Control and the Justice System

3.1 Legal or Illegal

Despite the assertions of prohibitionists, there is no solid evidence available in Canada on the "legal" status of firearms used in violent crime; i.e., did the person using the weapon during the commission of a violent offense acquire it through "legal" channels. In 1992, a Justice Department study concluded that because the police had recorded no prior knowledge of any gun violations for over 80% of the rifles/shotguns used in 93 domestic killings during 1989-1992, they were considered "legally owned" [1]. Using similar criteria, over 55% of all the handguns were considered "illegally owned".

Unfortunately, this methodology provides no real evidence as to whether the guns were "legally owned" or not, only that police had no information to the contrary. As the vast majority of shotgun/rifle (and illegal handgun) acquisitions in Canada do not involve the police in any way, this is hardly surprising. Nonetheless, prohibitionists have seized this figure and routinely apply it to every shooting incident. Not only is this patently incorrect, it's deliberately misleading as domestic homicide by firearm represents only 11% of all the homicides in Canada [2].

A little-known aspect of the Canadian firearm control system is that while the Commissioner of the RCMP is responsible for maintaining a registry of all refusals of Firearm Acquisition Certificates, no one maintains a registry of the FAC's that are actually issued. An FAC is only required at the moment of acquisition, not for subsequent possession of the firearm. As a result, a police officer who finds a criminal in possession of an unrestricted rifle or shotgun is, in practical terms, quite often unable to accurately determine whether that firearm had been legally acquired.

The only published indication as to the extent of registered restricted firearms in Canadian homicide is contained in a Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics database for the period 1961-1990 [3]. It revealed that less than 1% of all homicides involved restricted firearms (primarily handguns) legally registered in Canada. The fact that a firearm is registered is no indication that it was used by the registrant. This information is somewhat compromised by a significant "unknown" category where the registered status of the gun could not be determined; nonetheless, given the previous criminal history of the majority of accused murderers it is hardly surprising that so few homicides appear to involve legally registered firearms [4].

It is unfortunate that so much discussion on the "gun" issue centres on a firearm's legal status or lack thereof. All cutting and piercing instruments used in violent crimes are "legally owned", as are blunt instruments and a person's hands and feet (non-firearm methods account for almost 70% of all Canadian homicides and 95% of all violent crimes); therefore, the entire issue is moot [5]. Public safety in our communities isn't compromised because people commit crimes specifically with firearms or any other weapon. It's compromised because people commit crimes.

"There are obvious costs to imposing controls that are aimed at an unduly wide segment of the population. People who consider themselves law-abiding citizens are angered when treated like criminals. Some would withdraw respect for the law and those who make and enforce it. Many would resist the controls... Further, to the extent that law enforcers feel that controls are imposing unwarranted costs on the law-abiding, they will be less committed to enforcing the law. 'Throwing the net widely' may ensure that the law theoretically covers everyone who might commit a gun crime, but it may also make it harder to catch anyone at all, even those you most needed to catch." [6].

Kleck, Point Blank