“Propaganda does not deceive people, it merely helps them to deceive themselves.”
– Eric Hoffer, US Philosopher, 1955.
In the last week of September 2000, the Canadian Firearms Centre mailed to millions of Canadian households a multi-page brochure entitled Important Information for all Canadians about responsible firearm ownership.
It is a masterful piece of propaganda created by Liberal government strategists desperate to avoid a potential election scandal over severe financial mismanagement, bureaucratic blundering and mediocre civilian compliance with their 1995 gun control legislation, Bill C-68 (The Firearms Act).
While recent government estimates suggest that there are at least 8.5 million firearms in Canada, as of 1 September 2000, the Canadian Firearms Centre had registered just 1.62 million. Seventy-one per cent of these were restricted guns, primarily handguns, already registered by the RCMP before the passage of Bill C-68.
Government estimates claim that there are at least 3.5 million gun owners in Canada. The government knows that the Act is decidedly unpopular among many of them. Academic and government surveys estimate that non-compliance with the Act will range between 30 per cent and 70 per cent.
Despite the fact that drastically reduced fees for possession-only licenses, combined with aggressive media campaigns, have been in effect since June 2000, just 872,396 Canadians obtained, or applied for, firearm licenses by 1 September. Of this number, approximately 242,000 licenses are actually Firearm Acquisition Certificates issued before Bill C-68!
Appealing to gun owners through radio/television advertisements and informal personal appeals is obviously not working to the government s advantage.
The Liberals need license numbers, and lots of them, if they are to avoid a Human Resources-type scandal. At the same time, it must convince non-gun owning Canadians, especially in urban areas, that the Liberal government s hideously expensive and much maligned gun control legislation is actually doing something worthwhile. Once this is accomplished, Canadians will be less likely to support politicians (particularly the Canadian Alliance) who oppose the Act, and who would dismantle the financial and administrative mess that is the CFC.
Manufacturing consent for The Firearms Act among non-gun owners has the added benefit of serving as a kind of social shaming, persuading recalcitrant gun owners to buy into a program most of them regard with little enthusiasm, and who legitimately fear licensing and registration as the prelude to eventual widespread confiscation.
The CFC s response to mediocre compliance levels is this flashy, and obviously expensive, promotional brochure. On the surface, it appears designed to remind gun owners that we must all have a license (or valid FAC) by 31 December 2000. But the brochure s image of smiling middle-class white folks doing what Canadians do best – fill out government forms has been deliberately contrasted with gloomy and misleading statistics on domestic murders and gun-related mortality.
It is not a coincidence that the photographs displayed in the brochure show a teenage boy and girl looking over their father s shoulder as he fills out his gun license application. Neither is it a coincidence that the brochure shows an older white man filling out the form, not a young person, woman, aboriginal or ethnic minority.
The family photographs in the brochure are cleverly packaged with factoids about domestic killings, spousal homicides, and suicides. Readers are told that the majority of family homicides involve rifles and shotguns, and without any confirming evidence, that registration will reduce crime, halt the flow of long guns to criminals, and make it easier to track firearms. The brochure erroneously advises Canadians that declining gun mortality rates resulted from gun legislation introduced in 1977 (Bill C-51) and 1995 (Bill C-68), and promotes the Act s mandatory penalties for violent gun crimes.
While the brochure is supposed to be about responsible gun ownership, there are no photographs of family members engaged in the shooting sports, or even handling a firearm.
Given the apparent intent of the brochure, it should come as no surprise that nowhere does it state that:
- Less than a tiny fraction of one per cent of all the guns in Canada are ever used in personal or interpersonal violence. Gun-related deaths in Canada represent just 0.5 per cent of all deaths, and just 8 per cent of all externally-caused deaths. Firearm homicides in Canada are relatively rare, typically representing barely 0.05 per cent of all violent crimes recorded by the police.
- Firearms, of all types, are used in less than 2 per cent of all violent crimes in Canada. The simple reality is that with so few violent crimes involving guns, even if every firearm was immediately confiscated from every legitimate Canadian gun owner it is unlikely to have any significant effect on the violent crime rate.
- The most common gun-related violent crime in Canada is not homicide, but robbery. In 1999, firearm robberies outnumbered gun homicides by a ratio of 32 to 1. Typically, more than 80 per cent of all reported gun robberies are committed with handguns, making handguns, not rifles and shotguns, the most common firearm used in violent crime in Canada.
- The following conditions must exist before gun registration can accomplish anything worthwhile:
- a) A gun is actually used in a crime, a condition absent in 98 per cent of all violent crimes in Canada.
- b) The gun is left at the scene of the crime, or is lost by the offender somewhere else.
- c) The police actually recover the crime gun, with its serial number intact. Evidence suggests that police recover firearms in less than 10 per cent of all gun-related violent crime. At least 20 per cent of these firearms are untraceable because the serial number has been removed.
- d) The criminal is not arrested at the scene of the crime, or on the basis of information unrelated to the firearm, in which case the gun is redundant in identifying a suspect.
- e) The offender registered the gun, using his or her real name or some other uniquely identifying attributes, or the registered owner could somehow lead police to the offender. Even if such a crime occurs, the accused can simply claim that his or her gun was stolen and had been used by someone else. Although criminal incidents involving all of these elements have probably occurred, they appear to be extremely rare.
- The Department of Justice Canada admits that criminals will not register their guns.
- Justice Department officials cannot identify a single instance where Canada s handgun registration system has actually been used to solve a crime.
- International statistics consistently show that authorised gun owners do not commit the overwhelming majority of firearm homicides.
- Just 0.2 per cent of all violent incidents recorded between family members in Canada involves the use of a firearm.
- Ninety-six per cent of all incidents of violence against a female spouse, and 99 per cent of all sexual assaults against women, do not involve guns.
- More than two-thirds of all Canadian homicides are not domestic; i.e., family-related, killings. In fact, domestic homicide by firearm represents just 11 per cent of all Canadian homicides. It is also extremely rare. Approximately 25 female Canadian spouses (married, common law, and separated) are shot to death by their male spouses every year, from a total population of more than seven million female spouses. In comparison, four times as many Canadian women are killed by their doctors in surgical/medical misadventures than are shot to death by their spouses.
- Consistent with data on the criminal histories of violent gun criminals, research shows that three-quarters of men who kill their spouses have prior criminal records, and long histories of violent behaviour and drug/alcohol abuse. These people are the least likely to worry about obtaining licenses or registering guns.
- Despite being registered since 1913, three-quarters of all violent gun crimes in Canada (and more than 80 per cent of all armed robberies) are not committed with ordinary rifles and shotguns but with handguns, most of them unregistered. Since rifles and shotguns are present in less than 8 per cent of all violent gun crimes, even if licensing and registration somehow stopped the flow of long guns to Canada s criminals it would have little impact on violent crime rates.
- Academic research supports a conclusion that criminals prefer and use illegal handguns, not ordinary long guns. These data show that the overwhelming majority of criminals do not acquire their guns from licensed gun dealers or any other person likely to be concerned about the legality of the transaction.
- Research finds no strong evidence that any of the gun control legislation introduced in Canada between 1977 and 1995 has had any significant impact on fatal gun accidents, suicides, homicide, or robbery. The best available evidence shows that levels of civilian gun ownership appear to have no significant effect on rates of homicide, robbery, sexual assault, aggravated assault and suicide. Gun availability among the civilian population may affect the rate of gun violence, such as violent crime and suicides involving guns and the percentage of violent acts that involve firearms, but it does not affect the total rate of either violent crime or suicide.
- The rate of all gun-related deaths, suicide in particular, has declined significantly during the last quarter century. But as shown in the accompanying chart, any drop in gun-related death rates, particularly firearm suicide, has simply been displaced by the use of other equally lethal methods.
- Fatal gun accidents in Canada declined from 0.66 deaths per 100k population in 1971 to 0.17 per 100k population in 1995; a drop of 75 per cent. It is one of the greatest, yet unrecognised, public health success stories in Canadian history. It is also the direct result of firearms safety-training courses pioneered, not by the government, but by Canadian shooting organisations.
- Most persons denied firearm licenses are often refused not because they are criminals, but because their names erroneously appear on a hastily and poorly conceived police database. The FIP (Firearms Interested Person) cannot distinguish between actual criminal offenders and persons who have been reported as crime victims, or who were simply recorded by the police as witnesses at the scene of a violent crime.
- For all intents and purposes, there are no mandatory minimum penalties for violent gun crimes in Canada. Research shows that two-thirds of these charges are typically stayed, withdrawn or dismissed. A comparison of sentencing patterns for violent gun crimes found that the percentage of offenders sentenced to significant jail time after the passage of The Firearms Act was unchanged from the pre-C-68 period. The average length of time a criminal actually spends in jail for violent gun crimes in Canada is typically less than sixty days!
Obviously, the CFC and the Liberals gain no political mileage if they tell non-gun owning Canadians that it is criminals, particularly armed predators carrying illegal handguns, who commit the bulk of Canada s gun-related violent crime. What Canadian in their right mind would support spending $500 million to $1 billion on a licensing and registration scheme that scofflaws will continue to ignore and that targets only legitimate owners?
This is where the CFC s brochure kicks in. They do not discuss the complex realities of gun-related crime, suicide and accidents, but simply reinforce a concept, especially among non-gun owning urbanites, that it is good ole dad who represents the most serious threat to the family s safety, and that only the CFC and the Liberal s brand of responsible gun ownership will save them.
The brochure is not about advising good ole dad of his legal obligations under the Act. Its purpose is to manipulate non-gun owning family members, particularly married women who will react with particular alarm to statistics on domestic homicide, into believing that firearms and civilian gun ownership, especially by men, is inherently dangerous. The brochure s subliminal message is that firearms should not be kept in the home. Any unlicensed family member who refuses to obtain a license or register their guns is a criminal; a potential killer of women and children.
This imagery is both fraudulent and needlessly alarmist. It insults the millions of Canadian gun owners who will never do anything remotely violent with their firearms. It is part of a campaign designed by the Liberal government, not to promote their version of responsible gun ownership, but to discourage Canadians from owning guns. It is an integral component of a government policy of intolerance against a segment of the population whose political and social values are considered incompatible with those of Canada s urban educated elite, who form the core of the Liberal Party s constituency.
It is indeed ironic that rather than recognising our gun subculture as a legitimate and benign form of self-expression existing within Canada s multi-cultural mosaic, the Canadian government appears committed to ensuring that our cultural heritage disappears.