Desperate Liberals: Changing Gang Control to Gun Control
Date: Thursday, January 19 2006
Desperate Liberals: Changing Gang Control to Gun Control
by Bruce Gold
The recent announcement of a handgun ban by Paul Martin has been a hotly debated political issue. The debate, like many such debates, alternates between moral posturing and “will it work” policy arguments. The “moral absolutist” position is typified by Vince Bevin, the Ottawa police chief. He admitted he doesn't know if gun control had saved any lives but felt that "If this legislation saves even one life, it will have proven its worth”. As a moral absolute this is hard to criticize. Its political appeal to non-gun owning suburbanites and the emotions generated by public shootings is obvious. However, one might question whether this attitude towards a $2 billion gun registry is a proper cost/benefit analysis for a police chief in charge of allocating scarce law enforcement resources.
The “will it work” policy debate is a more pragmatic approach to crime fighting. It raises the question of how - exactly – a further crackdown on law-abiding gun owners will control criminals with illegal guns. The speculative nature of the related media commentary reflects our media's lack of sophistication or perhaps their desire to present this as a “personal opinion” debate.
The exact nature of Paul Martin's proposal is also interesting from a “rational policy” viewpoint. Logically, it rests on the assumption that more guns equals more crime, i.e. guns (inanimate objects) “cause” crime. Accordingly, if one accepts the assumption, heavily regulated law-abiding owners are a problem because they “have guns”. Since it is both empirically and logically obvious that law-abiding people are not a crime problem, the theory is given a half twist to – “they are a problem because their guns will be stolen”.
The gun ban policy, fuzzily defined, is contradictory to the point of becoming incoherent. The handgun ban is:
utterly important and necessary to stop criminal violence and save lives, but will be offered on a province by province opt-in basis, a condition that implies it's not critical after all;
guns stolen from Canadian owners are the source of the problem, except when America's “loose gun laws” and smuggling are the source of the problem. No evidence is offered to justify either claim;
the handgun ban will apply to everyone except “some” “strictly regulated” target shooters and collectors. This last condition is especially curious since the current law already restricts handgun ownership to “strictly regulated” target shooters and collectors and has for decades.
The unsophisticated nature of the policy debate is highlighted by its lack of empirical detail. At a time when the effectiveness of gun control as crime control is being increasingly questioned and largely disproved, the Canadian media continues to treat it as an “unknown.” Both recent scholarship and the actual results of handgun ban policies argue that Paul Martin's agenda is based on a purely political calculation. He ignores an increasing body of empirical evidence on the effectiveness of gun bans:
New York, Washington DC and Chicago have had total handgun bans in effect for decades, yet compete for the title of gun crime capital of the US.
The British government's increasing restrictions, leading to an absolute ban on handguns in 1997, did not reduce crime. Gun crime in England and Wales nearly doubled in the four years from 1998 to 2003, and homicide rates jumped 50% between 1990 and 2000.
Australia instituted strict gun control in 1996 only to find that violent crime rates increased by 32% from 1997 to 2002 (on average from 1995), and armed-robbery rates increased 74 %;
Statistics Canada’s “Homicide in Canada 2000” revealed that despite 67 years of mandatory handgun registration, the use of handguns in firearms related homicides has been steadily increasing since 1974, from 26.9% to 58.5% in 2000. Conversely, firearms homicides with rifles and shotguns that weren’t registered dropped steadily over the same 27-year period, from 63.6% to 30.6%;
In 2000 the American, Center for Disease Control commissioned a two year study headed by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services which systematic reviewed the scientific literature to determine the effectiveness of firearms laws. They were unable to find any clear scientific proof that firearm bans prevented gun related violence.
Totally absent from the debate are the benefits of gun ownership including handgun ownership. A curious omission considering the Library of Parliament did a major study “THE BENEFITS OF FIREARMS OWNERSHIP in April 2004. The study addressed both self-defence and the deterrent effect of gun ownership on crime rates.
Gun Law Targeting
One of the most surprising areas of Liberal gun laws is how they tend to target gun owners rather than criminals. The recent proposal, that confiscating the property of the law-abiding would be an effective way to address criminal drug gang violence is an example of this trend. Another example is that law-abiding gun owners must report a change of address within 30 days or risk a two-year jail sentence. They must also submit to searches without a search warrant. These requirements do not apply to the 176,000 convicted criminals who do not have the legal right to own a gun or to 37,000 restraining orders with a prohibition on gun ownership. We can also note that the Correctional Service lacks the funds to track parolees who fail to report and that in 2004 there were 199,553 outstanding warrants in Canada.
Past Liberal Policies and the Need to Focus on Handguns
A re-visiting of Liberal policies, many directly tied to Paul Martin, helps explain this sudden desire to focus on inanimate objects as the critical element in the gang problem (gang violence predates the election campaign).
Scot Wortley, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, points out that much of the poverty experienced by black gang members in Toronto is a direct result of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris’s social cutbacks from 1995 to 2003 that saw the decimation of education and recreational programs. These policies were directly related to Paul Martin's offloading of federal debt onto the provinces. Wortley also identifies Ontario's zero-tolerance Safe Schools Act as a cause of youth unemployment and a source of gang members.
The federal government's unwillingness to deal with illegal immigrants has also been noted as a factor in the formation of gangs. There may be as many as 400,000 illegal immigrants working illegally in sub-standard job conditions. Some commentators have cited this as a major source of resentment. Immigration Canada has lost track of over 30,000 people it has ordered deported. Some may actually have left, but how many is unknown. It is believed that this culture of lawlessness and the resentment of economic exploitation are major factors in gang formation.
Law Enforcement Funding
The art of government is largely the art of establishing priorities and the allocation of scarce resources. The Liberals made a major policy commitment to reduce deficits and debt at the same time they poured $2 billion into regulating law-abiding gun owners with a maze of administrative requirements. Much of this money came directly out of law enforcement budgets:
the government reduced the 1996-97 funding levels for the anti-smuggling initiatives by 65% despite the fact that larger sophisticated criminal organizations were being detected;
in 1999 it shut down the RCMP training facility in Regina for several months due to lack of funding;
in 2000 the Conference Board of Canada reported that over the past decade, the RCMP had lost 2,200 positions and close to $175 million in funding. The report found the results of these cuts were heavy workloads and inadequate operating budgets in the field. In British Columbia the RCMP closed dozens of commercial crime files because of a lack of resources;
in 2001 the Canadian Police Association passed a resolution calling on the federal government to increase funding. The resolution stated the RCMP budget had been reduced to the point the force could not meet its obligations or its federal and national responsibilities. At the same time the RCMP had 161 staff working on the firearms program;
in 2004 Manitoba reported that of the 629 authorized RCMP positions in Manitoba only 600 positions were funded and only 550 were filled. Of these positions approximately 50 officers are on stress or other leave;
in 2005 the RCMP were losing 1650 officers a year to attrition. They needed to graduate 1,400 officers a year from their Regina Training Centre but its capacity was only 1,200 annually and they did not have the resources to increase that number;
the government disbanded the Ports Police early in the 1990's;
1,600 vehicles ran the border in 2004. The border guards' union blames a cutback on RCMP officers at the border for the increasing number of people simply not stopping for inspection;
Grant Obst, President of the Canadian Police Association, stated that “Things are going out of control and it is time to do something about it. The biggest problem organized crime has is they have too much money. And our biggest problem is we do not have enough”;
The Solicitor General for the Province of Ontario has stated that a billion dollars (half the cost of the gun registry) would put more than 10,000 additional police on the streets;
the Coast Guard states it no longer has the funding to defend our shores against terrorists;
The Gun Registry
The promise of the gun registry was that “Registration will reduce crime and better equip the police to deal with crime in Canadian society by providing them with information they often need to do their job. Registration will assist us to deal with the scourge of domestic violence. If a firearm is not readily available, lives can be saved.” Allan Rock (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Hansard, June 13, 1995).
It is now known that many of the “facts” used to justify the registry were fraudulent and the statistics of gun violence misstated to make gun violence seem more prevalent than it actually was. As we can see from Allan Rock's statement above, the legislation was explicitly based on the discredited “more guns equals more crime” assumption. The promise of a cheap, effective $2 million registry has become the reality of an ineffective $2 billion registry.
It has become painfully clear that it is hard to stop increasingly sophisticated criminal gangs from getting guns, but easy to force law-abiding citizens to disarm. An agenda of gun banning has about as much chance of “drying up” the sources of criminal guns as the drug laws have had in “drying up” the sources of illegal drugs. The Liberal policy of regulating, restricting and reducing the number of law-abiding gun owners has not stopped gang activity or gang violence, both of which have increased through the 1990s.
Gang violence typically involves handguns even though handguns have been registered since the 1930s and are available to the law-abiding only under strictly controlled conditions. The pessimistic predications of some criminologists that the firearm registry would not reduce homicide rates and would be particularly ineffective against gang activity have proven true. The increase in firearm use by criminal gangs is not consistent with the hypothesis that firearms crime would decrease with a decline in the number of law-abiding firearm owners.
It seems no matter were you grab the increasing gang violence problem in Canada, you are led back to a Liberal policy that failed. Having bet the farm that a rigorous crack down on inanimate objects and the law-abiding would reduce crime, the Liberals have a great many policy and funding decisions they would rather not talk about. No wonder Paul Martin is desperate to shift the gang problem debate onto inanimate objects and the easy to regulate law-abiding.
[Editor's note; I can't find this anywhere on the Web. Can I assume that because you're a new user with a similar name (& no comments, no stories) that this is entirely your original composition? Please let me know in a comment. Thanks - DrC]