Will US gun problem become Canada gun problem? | Canada
On a spring evening in 2020, a gunman disguised as a police officer and armed with semi-automatic weapons began a killing spree in rural Nova Scotia that killed 23 people.
Days after Canada’s worst mass shooting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged swift action and announced an immediate ban on some 1,500 makes and models of military and “assault” weapons in the country.
“These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time. There is no use or place for such weapons in Canada,” he said. “With immediate effect, it is no longer legal in this country to buy, sell, transport, import or use military offensive weapons.”
Trudeau’s actions sparked minimal debate and met relatively little political opposition — in stark contrast to the United States, where the recent mass shootings have once again highlighted the fossilized nature of the gun control debate in a country that is unwilling or unable to confront firearm violence.
However, experts and gun control advocates warn that Canada’s relatively strict laws do not fully protect it from violence that is widespread in the United States.
Canada is a nation where hunting is widespread and has one of the highest per capita gun ownership rates in the world. According to the 2018 Small Arms Survey, there are an estimated 34.7 firearms per 100 residents. Canada still lags far behind its southern neighbor in both gun ownership rates and firearm-related incidents.
Part of this is attributed to a gun ownership regime that mandates extensive background checks and requires guns to remain locked and unloaded. There are no comparable open carry laws in the country, gun owners must be licensed and all handguns and most semi-automatic guns must be registered with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“If you look at us next to the United States, which is so heavily armed it’s almost unbelievable, we look pretty good. But compared to other democratic countries, we could do a lot more to fill loopholes in the system,” said Ken Price, a gun control advocate whose daughter Samantha was injured in a 2018 mass shooting in Toronto that killed two and wounded 13 .
And the Nova Scotia shooting of 2020 adds to a list of incidents that prove even Canada’s relatively strict restrictions have not fully shielded it from the horrors of gun violence.
In 1989, a gunman attacked women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, killing 14 and injuring 14 others.
In 2017, a young man armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun entered a Quebec City mosque, killing six and injuring 19. Even the man behind the Toronto van attack that left 10 dead was inspired by an American mass shooter.
But unlike tragedies in the United States, these events are largely isolated — and have led to changes in the country’s gun laws.
After the École Polytechnique massacre, Parliament passed legislation that led to the establishment of a nationwide gun registry. And Trudeau’s ability to ban certain guns with little political opposition underscores the disparate way guns are perceived by much of the Canadian public.
“The Second Amendment plays a large role in the public discourse arena in the United States. Americans are generally suspicious of governments that limit their freedoms or tell them what they can and cannot do,” said Jooyoung Lee, associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto’s Center for the Study of the United States.
But advocates like Price say loopholes remain in the Canadian system, allowing for events like the Nova Scotia shooting.
Neighbors had previously raised concerns about the behavior of gunman Gabriel Wortman, to the point that police had previously investigated him. Officers also knew he had a history of domestic violence and possessed a number of firearms.
“You don’t just need laws telling you what types of guns and ammunition you can own. They also need institutions that are able to investigate and intervene,” Price said. “Police should be able to act quickly and confiscate weapons if they suspect there is a risk.”
And while headlines often focus on mass shootings, most shootings in Canada involve handguns in major urban centers.
“The majority of incidents occur in racially excluded communities. So in Canada, just like in the United States, marginalized people are bearing the brunt of gun violence,” Lee said.
A recent survey found that a majority of Canadians, particularly in urban centers, are concerned about rising gun violence in their communities — a reality reflected in Statistics Canada data. The number of firearm incidents in 2020 was twice as high as in 2010.
While straw buying and gun store thefts are a problem in Canada — the gun that injured Price’s daughter was stolen at a location across the country — experts say a significant number of firearms testified across the border illegally came to Canada from the United States.
“America’s gun problem is increasingly becoming Canada’s gun problem in many ways,” Lee said. “Though the US has become an international poster child for gun laws gone awry, there’s a lot more common ground here in Canada than people might care to admit.”