Gun Control Essay, Research Paper
The issue of gun control and violence, both in Canada and theUnited States, is one that simply will not go away. If history is tobe any guide, no matter what the resolution to the gun control debateis, it is probable that the arguments pro and con will be much thesame as they always have been. In 1977, legislation was passed by theCanadian Parliament regulating long guns for the first time,restructuring the availability of firearms, and increasing a varietyof penalties . Canadian firearms law is primarily federal, and"therfore national in scope, while the bulk of the firearms regulationin the United States is at the state level; attempts to introducestricter leglislation at the federal level are often defeated".The importance of this issue is that not all North Americansare necessarily supportive of strict gun control as being a feasiblealternative to controlling urban violence. There are concerns with theopponents of gun control, that the professional criminal who wants agun can obtain one, and leaves the average law-abiding citizenhelpless in defending themselves against the perils of urban life. Isit our right to bear arms as North Americans? Or is it privilege? Andwhat are the benefits of having strict gun control laws? Through theanalysis of the writings and reports of academics and experts of guncontrol and urban violence, it will be possible to examine the issuesand theories of the social impact of this issue.Part II: Review of the LiteratureA) SummaryIn a paper which looked at gun control and firearms violencein North America, Robert J. Mundt, of the University of NorthCarolina, points out that "Crime in America is popularly perceived [inCanada] as something to be expected in a society which has lessrespect for the rule of law than does Canadian society…" . In 1977,the Canadian government took the initiative to legislate stricter guncontrol. Among the provisions legislated by the Canadian governmentwas a "Firearms Acquisition Certificate" for the purchase of anyfirearm, and strengthened the "registration requirements for handgunsand other restricted weapons…" .The purpose of the 1977 leglislation was to reduce theavailability of firearms, on the assumption that there is a "positiverelationship between availability and use". In Robert J. Mundt’sstudy, when compared with the United States, trends in Canada over thepast ten years in various types of violent crime, suicide, andaccidental death show no dramatic results, "and few suggestions ofperceptible effects of the 1977 Canadian gun control legislation". Theonly positive effect , Mundt, found in the study was the decrease inthe use of firearms in robbery with comparion to trends in the UnitedStates . Informed law enforcement officers in Canada, as in the UnitedStates, view the "impact of restricting the availability of firearmsis more likely to impact on those violent incidents that would nothave happened had a weapon been at hand"(152).In an article by Gary A. Mauser of the Simon Fraser Universityin British Columbia, he places special emphasis on theattitudes towards firearms displayed by both Canadians and Americans.According to Mauser, large majorities of the general public in bothcountries "support gun control legislation while simultaneouslybelieving that they have the right to own firearms" (Mauser 1990:573).Despite the similarities, there are apparent differences between thegeneral publics in the two countries. As Mauser states that "Canadiansare more deferent to authority and do not support the use of handgunsin self defence to the same extent as Americans".As Mauser points out that "it has been argued that culturaldifferences account for why Canada has stricter gun controllegislation than the United States"(575). Surprisingly enough,nationwide surveys in both Canada and the United States "showremarkable similarity in the public attitude towards firearms and guncontrol"(586). Both Canada and the United States were originallyEnglish colonies, and both have historically had similar patterns ofimmigration. Moreover, Canadians are exposed to American television(both entertainment and news programming) and, Canadians and Americansread many of the same books and magazines. As a result of this, theCanadian public has adopted "much of the American culture" .In an article by Catherine F. Sproule and Deborah J. Kennettof Trent University, they looked at the use of firearms in Canadianhomicides between the years of 1972-1982. There findings firmlysupport the conclusion that gun control is beneficial. According toSproule and Kennett, gun control "may be influencing some suspects tokill by other methods, but it is less likely for these suspects tokill multiple victims". From the study conducted by Sproule andKennett the rate of violent crimes was five times greater in the U.Sthan Canada, and "almost double the rate of firearm use in Americanthan Canadian homicides" (32-33). In short, the use of firearms "inCanadian homicides has declined since the legislative changes in guncontrol in 1977".As mentioned in lectures, Canadian cities have beentraditionally safer, and less vulnerable to ‘Crime Waves’ than ourAmerican neighbours due to our extensive police force and gun controllaws . A factor to be considered, though, is our national heritageor culture which holds traditions of passiveness and peace unlike theAmerican Frontier heritage. From our textbook, Why Nothing Works,Marvin Harris points out that the "American Constitution guaranteescitizens the right to bear arms, and this has made it possible forU.S. criminals to obtain firearms more readily than their counterpartsin countries like Japan…". Marvin Harris indicates that "the highrate of homicide in the United States undoubtedly reflects, to someextent, the estimated 50 million handguns and rifles legally andillegally owned by the American people" (122). As demonstrated in thefilm: Cops, Guns, and Drugs, the problem with controlling urbanviolence in the United States is that it is out of proportion incontrast to the available police force.In his book, The Saturday Night Special, Robert Sherrillexplains the cheap, usually illegal, easily concealed handgun thatplays a part in so many crimes in the United States. He reviews therole of guns in American life-from the shoot-outs of the Old West tothe street violence of today. According to Sherrill, "most murdersoccur in shabby neighbourhoods; of the 690 murders in Detroit in 1971,for example, 575 occurred in the black slums mostly by handguns". As aDetroit sociologist added to this alarming figure: "Living in afrustrating stress-inducing environment like the United States everyday of your life makes many people walking powder kegs" (38). Inagreement with this statement, Sherrill suggests that the hardest hitof all American urban centres is the inter-cities of Los Angeles, NewYork, Detroit, and Washington. These cities largely consist of visibleminorities who are frustrated with the hand dealt to them, and simplyresort to "drugs, guns, and violence" as a way of life . As
discussedin lecture, and viewed in the film: Cops, Guns, and Drugs, many of theyouth in the underclass who become involved in this way of life, "areconsidered to be old if they live past the age of 20" .In another paper by Catherine F. Sproule and Deborah J.Kennett, they compared the incidence of killings by handguns, firearmsother than handguns, and nonshooting methods between the United Statesand Canada for the years 1977 to 1983. In their study they found that"in Canada there were 443 handgun killings per 100,000 people comparedto 4108 in the U.S. over the period of 1977-1983" . They also notedthat the "American murder rates for handguns are higher than the totalCanadian homicide rate"(249). According to Sproule and Kennett,"Canada’s favourable situation regarding murder relative to the UnitedStates is to a large measure the result of Canadian gun control, andCanadians must be vigilant against any erosion of our gun controlprovisions" (250).B) Comparison:The works cited above are based on research done by expertsand scholars in the field of gun control and violence. Examining theabove materials can identify similarities and differences found in thevarious cited sources, such arguments for and against gun controlpolicy in North America. It is clearly evident to see that opponentsof strict gun control will have similar arguments. Firstly, they areusually defending each other against their opponents of the issue, andthey see the benefits as far more greater than the setbacks. Theintroduction of the 1977 legislation by the Canadian governmentstrongly suggests that the country will benefit by having a safersociety, and reduction in crime. According to Robert J. Mundt, abenefit reaped by this legislation has been a "trend away from the useof firearms in robberies has been noticeable ever since the passage ofthe gun control provisions of the 1977 Bill C-51 (Criminal LawAmendment Act)". Mauser mentions that Canadians are "more
supportiveof stricter controls on handguns than are Americans…Moreover,Canadians appear to be less supportive of home owners using firearmsto defend themselves than are Americans" (Mauser:587). This evaluationby Mauser suggests that Canadians do have confidence in gun control,and law enforcement in controlling the safety of their well-being.Similarities can also be cited in the works of Harris andSherrill which discuss the effects of having ‘the right to bear arms’in the United States. According to Marvin Harris, Why Nothing Works,there "has been a steady increase in the availability of firearmssince 1945, this may account for much of the increase in the homiciderate" in the United States. Harris also suggests that America has"developed a unique permanent racial underclass" which provideconditions for both the motive and opportunity for violent criminalbehaviour (123). In Sherrill’s book, The Saturday Night Special , amajor topic of concern is the status structure of the street gang inwhich "success in defense of the turf brings deference andreputation…Here the successful exercise of violence is a road toachievement". As Sherrill mentions, this violence is exercised by themeans of a gun that can be easily obtained in the United States due tothe easy accessibility of guns.There are also some worthwhile differences found in theliterature cited above. For one, Sproule and Kennett , indicate thatgun ownership in the United States is "inversely related toindividuals lack of confidence in collective institutions to protecttheir security of person and property…". Robert Sherrill believesthat the vast majority of people who own guns , "simply own thembecause it is a part of their American heritage, and the constitutiongives them ‘the right to bear arms’"(1973:225). He suggests thatAmericans choose to practice their civil liberties to its entirety.Other notable differences in the literature is Mauser’s viewfor the differences in the gun-control legislation between the twocountries. Mauser states that the cause for this is "the differencesin political elites and institutions rather than in public opinion"(1990:587). Due to Canada’s political structure, it is a lot easier tomake and approve laws in comparison with the United States Congressstructure. Part III: Thesis Statement After researching all the datacollected from the library and the use of course-related materials, Ihave formulated my own theory on the social impact of gun control andviolence in North America. Going back to the introduction, I haveasked the reader two questions 1) Is it our right to bear arms asNorth Americans? Or is it a privilege?, and (2) What are the benefitsof having strict gun control laws? It appears to me that much of theliterature cited above looks at gun control as being a feasiblealternative in reducing homicides and armed robbery. From the authorscited above, there findings undermine the apparent claim of guncontrol opponents in their slogan "people kill, guns don’t". Theintroduction of gun control in Canada significantly shows thatCanadian gun control, especially the provisions pertaining tohandguns, does have the beneficial effect of reducing violent crime,and saving lives.Part IV: Analysis And ConclusionsWhen looking at the 1977 Canadian Legislation of gun control,it is easy to see that there is some bias and assumptions present. Forone, it assumes that left to its own devices the legislation will makeit virtually impossible for a criminal to obtain a handgun. Secondly,there is an assumption that if a person doesn’t have a criminal record(it doesn’t neccessarily mean that they are law-abiding) then they areeligible to obtain a firearm with an FAC (firearms AcquisitionCertificate). With the implementation of Bill C-51, a `Black Market’for illegal handguns has emerged from the United States into Canada,making it extremely easy for the professional criminal to obtain afirearm.It can be agreed that since the implementation of Bill C-51 in1977, Canada has remained relatively safe in incidents involvingfirearms in comparison to the United States. The assumption of manyAmericans, is that having the right to bear arms increases theirsecurity is open to dispute. It is just as reasonable to assume thatrestricting the `right to bear arms’ will increase the safety andsecurity of a society. In accordance with many sociologists beliefs,is that Canada historically hasn’t experienced the problems of crime,that the United States has, because of it’s central police force.In addition, Sproule and Kennett view the significant effectof gun control is the method of killing. Although "gun control may beinfluencing some suspects to kill by other methods, it is less likelyfor these suspects to kill multiple victims". As witnessed by theAmerican media, mass murder in public is much more a common occurrencein the U.S. than Canada. It is safe to say that gun control has savedthe lives of potential innocent victims of crime.Furthermore, as was mentioned in class discussion andlectures, the strength or influences of the mass media to glorifyviolence has had detrimental effects on North American society. Insome ways, the act of violence has been desensitised and glorifiedrather than being displayed as an unacceptable form of behaviour. Thisportrayal by the media, has made handguns and other firearms seemfashionable in the eyes of our youth and general population in NorthAmerica. This unquestionably places our law enforcement agencies at aconsiderable disadvantage, simply because it erodes the confidence andtrust displayed in them by the general public.Presently, Canada does have the advantage of gun controlunlike the U.S. situation. We are now living in an environment thathas seen dramatic increase in violent crime, over a short period oftime. Whether the United States adopts a gun control policy similar toCanada’s, remains to be seen. As for Canadians, we must maintainconfidence in the police and justice system to protect our collectivesecurity as an important means by which to deter gun acquisition.