5. The Politics of Panic - A History of Canadian Firearms Control


On 20 June, 1934, Bill No. 114 was given first reading. Only ten days later in received second and third readings in the House of Commons and was passed without amendment the very same day.

Bill No. 114 ordered the registration of all handguns in Canada 25 .

The bill was not debated. There is nothing in Hansard which indicated why Guthrie changed his position so quickly.

One possible reason was that in 1934, the United States government passed the National Firearms Act (NFA). As originally drafted, the NFA would have required the registration of all handguns; however, this section was eliminated in the final legislation (Sherill, 1973, pp.57-58). Like the 1933 Canadian prohibition on the carrying of concealed firearms, registration may very well have been motivated by a concurrent "gun control" proposal under consideration in the United States.

It is important to remember that a system of Uniform Crime Reporting did not begin in Canada until 1961. When politicians made reference to increasing crime, whether alleged to have been committed by citizens or immigrants, there was absolutely no statistical evidence to support their statements of increasing firearm-related crime or increasing involvement of "aliens" in crime.

As illustrated in the accompanying graphs, except for a brief rise in the number of homicides in the period 1926-1930, homicide in Canada was practically unknown; homicide by firearm even more so. The level of both firearm and non-firearm suicide was also significantly lower that it is today.

The rate of accidental death by firearm, in both Canada and the United States, was significantly higher in comparison to recent times; however, the 1930s and 1940s would see a gradual decline in fatal gun accidents which became even more substantial with the introduction of civilian firearm and hunter safety training courses in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In all probability, "fear of crime" was deliberately exaggerated to mask the real motive behind increasing gun controls. Herman and Chomsky (1988, p.32) indicate that the print media, especially in the period 1919-1920, was especially attuned to elite, corporate interests and helped to create a propaganda campaign which forced the government to crack down on the union organizing drives of the post World War One era.

Whatever the reason, Bill No. 114's expeditious passage provides an insight into how unstable the domestic situation was viewed by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Bennet.

"Getting tough on guns" didn't save Bennet's party on election day. In October of 1935, they were defeated by the Liberals under William Lyon Mackensie King.

King's government ignored firearm control until the Second World War.