The Canadian gun debate

The Canadian gun debate

An argument about firearms will strongly contribute in shaping next year’s elections.

Canada’s gun debate differs from that in the United States. Canadians, unlike Americans, have no constitutional right to bear arms.

When a man with a rifle charged into Canada’s Parliament in 2014, Michelle Rempel, a Conservative politician, was among the people who fled from a caucus room as gunfire rang out around them. Security guards killed the intruder, who had shot a sentry outside.

Deeply unsettled by the attack, Ms Rempel pondered a friend’s claim that a ban on guns could have prevented it. She delved into regulations, studied crime data, and came to an unexpected conclusion.

The young politician from Alberta bought a handgun, joined a sports-shooting club and became Canada’s most prominent proponent of gun ownership—as a responsible pastime, she says.

City councils in Toronto and Montreal have asked the federal government, which regulates firearms, to ban all handguns and assault rifles. Justin Trudeau, the Liberal prime minister, instructed Bill Blair, a security minister, to examine the possibility of a “full ban,” and the former police chief is currently consulting Canadians. At the same time, Parliament is considering a bill, c-71, that would tighten background checks and record-keeping. The argument over these proposals will help to shape the country’s parliamentary elections of October 2019.

Currently, gun sales and possession of firearms are permitted but tightly restricted. Buyers must undergo background checks, take safety courses and get a separate permit to transport firearms. The process often takes months. The purchase of a gun for self-defense is allowed only if buyers can show adequate proof that the police cannot protect them. Canada has issued just two such permits.

How many guns are there in Canada? 

•      Canadian individuals own more than 795,358 so-called “restricted” firearms (e.g. revolvers, pistols, AR-15 rifles.)

•      They bought almost 1,200 “restricted” guns each week on average in 2017.

•      The military, police, and law-enforcement own hundreds of thousands more shotguns, rifles, and handguns. 

How many target ranges are there in Canada?

•      Canada has an estimated 1,400 shooting ranges across the country.

Which big cities have the most legal gun owners?

•      Montreal has the highest number of licensed shooters among Canada’s five-biggest cities, but Calgary has the highest rate of gun owners per capita.

The two parties are already testing anti-crime arguments for next year’s vote. On November 8, the Liberal government announced US$65m of additional spending on border security and law enforcement intelligence to fight gangs and gun crime. Meanwhile, the Conservatives want to lengthen jail terms for gang members and make it harder for them to be released on bail or obtain parole.


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