The recent mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado have stirred considerable discussion and action about gun laws, as well as boosting firearms sales. A rush to action is often not the wisest move on such a complex subject, for as criminologist Dr. Gary Mauser of Vancouver, British Columbia observes, “gun laws are typically passed during periods of fear and/or political instability,” which leads to “the slippery slope of gun control,” which is based on emotional reactions rather than solid research.
Dr. Mauser holds joint U.S. and Canadian citizenship and has taught at Simon Fraser for some 35 years. He has lectured all across North America, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe and published numerous papers on firearms. He has served as a Member of the Canadian national Firearms Advisory Committee, Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and been a member of the advisory group to the Canadian delegation to the United Nations on Small Arms and Light Weapons.
Gary and I met at an international firearms scholars symposium that was held at the Tower of London in 2003, which was sponsored by the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities. My son and I filmed a documentary about the symposium, A Question of Balance, which you can learn more about here.
A history of gun control in Canada
According to Dr. Mauser, historically Canada has had stricter gun control legislation than the U.S., lower rates of criminal violence, and a higher rate of suicide. In 1913, a fear of immigrants prompted the first national serious handgun legislation, requiring civilians to obtain a police-issued permit to acquire or carry handguns. Non-British immigrants found it difficult to get a permit.
In 1934, fearing labor unrest as well as American rum-runners, Ottawa mandated handgun registration that created separate permits for British subjects and everyone else. In 1941, concerned about possible Japanese sabotage, the government prohibited all “Orientals” (including Chinese) from owning firearms. This was ironic, as China was a wartime ally of Canada.
Canada had a gun registry during the Second World War, when all people were compelled to register their firearms out of fear of enemy subversion. This registry in Canada was discontinued after the war; however, all handguns continued to be restricted. Handguns are classified as “restricted weapons,” and so must be registered and are tightly controlled–they can only be taken to the range for example.
Terrorism in Quebec in the 1960s and 70s spurred Ottawa to limit handgun permits for “protection” to a handful of people, such as retired police, judges, geologists, and prospectors.
In 1977, a Firearms Acquisition Certificate (FAC) was introduced as a requirement to obtain ordinary rifles and shotguns. Gary Mauser notes: “The police decided to refuse an FAC to anyone who indicated a desire for self-protection. This is shocking given that in a typical year, tens of thousands of Canadians use firearms to protect themselves or their families, mostly from wildlife.”