Gun Control 2.2
November 10, 2017
Gun Control 2.4
December 15, 2017
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The third episode of our series on gun control and gun violence looks at the UK and Canadian experiences. They both had a significant mass shooting some decades ago, both tightened up their gun laws, and their experiences since then have been quite different in some ways – but quite similar in others.


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Theme music: Holy Deep by The Passion HiFi

Show Notes:

  • England’s history of gun laws dates back to the assassination of William of Orange in 1584 with a concealed wheellock pistol.
  • Queen Elizabeth I, who, like me, feared assassination by Roman Catholics, banned possession of wheellock pistols near a royal palace in 1594.
  • The country has one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world.
  • There were 0.05 recorded intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants in the five years to 2011 (15 to 38 people per annum).
  • Gun homicides accounted for 2.4% of all homicides in the year 2011.
  • handguns were effectively banned after the Dunblane school massacre in Scotland in 1996 with the exception of Northern Ireland. Dunblane was the UK’s first and only school shooting. There has been one spree killing since Dunblane, in June 2010 involving a legally owned shotgun.
  • On 13 March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, a 43-year-old former scout leader who had been ousted by The Scout Association in 1974, shot dead sixteen young children and their teacher, Gweneth Mayor, in Dunblane Primary School’s gymnasium with two Browning Hi-Power 9×19mm pistols and two Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolvers.
  • He then shot himself.
  • The four handguns used in the attack were legally owned.
  • Nine years before Dunblane, there had been Hungerford, where Michael Ryan went on a rampage through the Berkshire town, killing 16 people in a series of random shootings before turning the gun on himself.
  • He had been carrying a handgun and two semi automatic rifles, for which he had firearms certificates.
  • Public petitions after Dunblane, most notably by the Snowdrop Campaign, founded by friends of the bereaved families, called for a total ban on the private ownership and use of handguns in the UK.
  • Signed by 750,000 people it was symbolic of the weight of public opinion.
  • But John Major’s Conservative government went one step further and banned all handguns, with the exception of .22 caliber single-shot weapons, in England, Scotland and Wales.
  • The Labour government that followed banned the .22 caliber guns as well.
  • After both shootings the government called a gun amnesty, compensating owners for their weapons.
  • After Dunblane, more than 162,000 handguns were surrendered.
  • There has been only one mass shooting in the country since the laws were tightened.
  • Derrick Bird killed 12 people in northern England’s Whitehaven in 2010.
  • Fully automatic (submachine-guns, etc.) are “prohibited weapons” and require explicit permission from central government to permit ownership.
  • Generally, such permits are not available to private citizens.
  • Today there are about 3.78 guns per 100 people.
  • In Northern Ireland, possessing a firearm with a Firearm Certificate issued by the Police Service of Northern Ireland is legal.
  • The laws there are less restrictive.
  • But unexpectedly, after the 1997 gun laws were introduced, there was a 105% increase in recorded handgun crime  between 1998 and 2003.
  • Although in Scotland, handgun offences fell by almost 80% in the five years after Dunblane.
  • On the surface, crime statistics in the years after the ban was introduced appear to support the theory that it had little impact at least in terms of crime.
  • Gun crime rose sharply, to peak in 2003/4.
  • But researchers found that a large proportion of “armed robberies” were carried out by offenders with imitation or non-functioning firearms.
  • The rise in handgun crime had nothing to do with the handgun ban and everything to do with the rise of non-firing “realistic imitation” firearms.
  • After that the number of crimes in which a firearm was involved fell consistently, to 4,779 offences in 2013.
  • There is general public consensus against ownership of handguns, which is enforced under strict legislation.
  • Annual crime figures show that the homicide rate has fallen steeply over the last decade, from a high in 2002 when 172 deaths were identified as likely to have been caused by the family GP and serial killer Dr Harold Shipman.
  • More broadly, overall crime dropped to it’s lowest figure in two decades.
  • This might have something to do with a significant increase in police added in the early 2000s.
  • But the numbers of police have significantly DECREASED in the last 7 years, and the crime rate has stayed down, so it’s not that simple.
  • I sometimes read that “In the UK there are 2,034 violent crimes per 100,000 people. …The US has a violent crime rate of 403 [violent] crimes per 100,000 residents.”
  • Which makes it sound like the UK has five times as much violent crimes as the US.
  • But again this is misleading.
  • The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports defines a “violent crime” as one of four specific offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
  • By contrast, The British Home Office has a substantially different definition of violent crime.
  • The British definition includes all “crimes against the person,” including simple assaults, all robberies, and all “sexual offenses,” as opposed to the FBI, which only counts aggravated assaults and “forcible rapes.”
  • And Britain doesn’t just have fewer gun-related homicides – it has a dramatically lower murder rate all around.
  • In 2010, the US had an average murder rate of 4.8 murders per 100,000 people – 4 times higher than the UK’s rate of 1.2 per 100,000.
  • What about suicides in the UK?
  • As in Australia, they were already in decline before the gun laws and they have continued to trend downwards.
  • So on the basis of all of this, what can we say about UK experience?
  • Like Australia, it’s hard to say if the gun laws really had an impact on homicides or suicides or crime.
  • There has been only one mass shooting since 1996, and again this must have an effect on the national psyche.
  • What about Canada?
  • They have pretty strict gun laws.
  • But they also have a lot more guns per household than Australia or the UK.
  • Although not as many as America.
  • As of 2004, there were firearms in 15.5 per cent of Canadian homes, compared to 34.7 in the U.S.
  • About 25 guns per 100 population.
  • Compared with the U.S.which has 101 guns per 100 population.
  • In an average year, they have less than 200 firearm-related deaths.
  • Population about 36 million.
  • About 9% of America.
  • But 1/50th of gun related homicides.
  • Per capita, it has about 7 times less firearm related homicides.
  • But way more per capita than Australian and the UK.
  • in the United States guns account for 69% of all homicides, while in Canada, they account for only 33% of homicides.
  • The École Polytechnique massacre, also known as the Montreal massacre, occurred on December 6, 1989, at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
  • Twenty-five-year-old Marc Lépine, armed with a Mini-14 rifle and a hunting knife, shot 28 people, killing 14 women, before committing suicide.
  • It is the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.
  • The incident led to more stringent gun control laws in Canada.
  • Presently, Canadian law classifies firearms into three categories: prohibited, restricted, and non-restricted.
  • Prohibited firearms include military-grade assault weapons such as AK-47s and sawn-off rifles or shotguns.
  • Handguns are generally classified as restricted weapons, while rifles and shotguns are usually non-restricted.
  • Anyone wishing to buy a gun in Canada and/or ammunition must have a valid licence under the Firearms Act.
  • To obtain a firearms licence, all applicants must undergo a screening process, which includes a safety course, criminal history and background checks, provision of personal references, and a mandatory waiting period.
  • But Canada’s relatively tight firearms laws were loosened when then PM-Stephen Harper scrapped the federal Long Gun Registry.
  • Even with the Long Gun Registry’s destruction, Canadian firearms laws are still much tougher than those in the U.S.
  • Firearms are present in a relatively small proportion of all police-reported violent crime in reporting provinces and territories.
  • About one in five (21%) firearm-related deaths in Canada is the result of a criminal offence, while the majority (79%) are the result of suicide, accident, or legal intervention
  • In 2012, about half (46%) of all homicides committed with a firearm were gang-related.
  • And like the other countries, the crime rate is down and declining.
  • In 2013, the police-reported crime rate was at its lowest point since 1969.
  • Homicides are also in decline, also at their lowest point since 1969.
  • So they have way more guns than the UK and Australia per capita – and also way more gun-related deaths per capita.
  • And a higher percentage of homicides are related to firearms.
  • Makes sense – the more guns you have, the more they will be used in homicides.
  • I couldn’t find any data about public attitudes towards guns or gun violence in Canada.
  • Is it fair to say that the experiences of Australia, the UK and Canada seem to indicate strongly that reducing the number of guns and increasing the restrictions on gun ownership has a correlation with reduced gun violence?
  • And reduced violence in general?
  • I’m really not convinced.
  • I’m glad I live in a country where we have strict restrictions on guns.
  • I’m glad we don’t have mass shootings.
  • But can I say with confidence that the NFA had anything to do with that?
  • There certainly seems to be a connection between having zero mass shootings since 1996 and our tougher legislation.
  • Make it as hard as possible for people who are troubled to get their hands on a gun.
  • But did the NFA reduce violence and gun violence in general?
  • Not sure.
  • But it does seem to lead to lower suicide rates.
  • And that’s a good thing.

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