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7. Does gun control work?




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This article is from the can.talk.guns FAQ, by Skeeter Abell-Smith ab133@sfn.saskatoon.sk.ca with numerous contributions by others.

7. Does gun control work?

The answer depends upon what you mean by "gun control" and "work". You
can "control" access for many people to some degree, but you can't stop
it altogether for everyone.

If, by "gun control", you mean attempting to keep firearms out of
criminal hands (through background checks) and educating users (so
accident rates can be reduced and kept low), then it would be hard to
find someone to disagree with you. If, however, you think that
prohibitions, confiscations and other such limits on law-abiding
Canadians are necessary, then I suggest that is rather like taking
equipment away from Jill and Jack -- and even banning hockey altogether
-- because Paul hit Jane with a stick. The result is that those not
hurting anybody are the ones punished.

We've had increasing "gun control" in Canada since the late 1800s --
most of it from 1978 to the present -- and only since 1974 have the
murder rates been this high. Before 1968, when nearly any law-abiding
person could legally purchase almost anything, our murder rates were
roughly _half_ what they have been since 1974: a 20+ year period of the
toughest "gun control" we've ever had.

Comparing two twenty-year periods, one where one could legally own
almost anything, and one with "strict laws": from 1974 to 1993 the
Canadian homicide rate was roughly 2.4 murders per 100,000 persons and
from 1946 to 1965 it was about 1.1 per 100,000. [Dominion Bureau of
Statistics and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics]

In the 22 years from 1973 to 1994, the rate was never below 2, and in
the 42 years before 1973, the Canadian homicide rate was never above 2
(murders per 100,000 persons). [Dominion Bureau of Statistics and
Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics]

A sharp increase occurred from 1966 and 1974. The homicide rate nearly
tripled in this 9 year period. Some like to say that the 1978 anti-gun
laws (Bill C-51) caused the drop, but their reasoning is faulty since
the decrease started three or four years earlier. Also, a similar
decrease and "levelling-off" of homicides rates occurred in the US
around the same time. Several researchers, including Alan Gilmour (1993
report of the Auditor General) have noted that there is no statistical
evidence to support the claim that homicide rates in Canada decreased
"as a result of stricter gun control laws". Even the federal
government's own evaluations (ED-1996-1e) were mostly inconclusive.

Late in 1996, the Canadian Department of Justice released an "evaluation
document" [ED-1996-1e] claiming that 55 lives are saved every year in
Canada by "gun control". The document is based on a roughly 2,000 page
report by Prairie Research Associates (PRA), of which only 9 pages were
released under the Access to Information (AtI) Act. After many protests,
about 1000 pages have been received over many months by Reform MP Garry
Breitkreuz, but much of the text is blacked out. Amongst the "clear
text" were some gems (below).

The crime statistics PRA needed to do the work were acquired from
Statistics Canada, via the Canada Centre for Justice Statistics, the
office that handles Justice statistics. There are two sets of
information, databases called UCRI and UCRII. In his 08 Aug 95 Memorandum
to Nick Falcon, Clinton Skibitzky has this to say about those primary --
and apparently the only -- databases that PRA had to use as the raw data
input base for its report:

"Although the UCRI database contains a full range of information on
the number of offences reported to police, all the data is submitted
'as aggregate totals [submitted] on a monthly basis by each
respondent.' This aggregation precludes the linkage of related data,
and therefore severely limits the scope of feasible analysis.
Although [we] may know that 500 robberies occurred in a given month
and that 184 juvenile males were charged in the same month, there is
no way to verify if those charges correspond to the month's
robberies. Further, policy analysis has revealed that there are
many critical statistics on crime not compiled in UCRI: information
such as the type of weapon used, age of the victim, and details on
the victim/accused relationship is absent from the original UCRI
database." (01971)

"The UCRI data is not available on an incident [-by-incident] level,
as it is reported at the Canada Centre for Justice Statistics at the
aggregate." (01970) [i.e. it comes in from the police as blocks of
crimes, charges, etc., each covering a month, with no data on
individual incidents, or on how the blocks relate to one another.]

"In response to these problems, a revised uniform Crime Reporting
Survey, UCRII, was developed and implemented in January, 1988.
Because of the quantity of data collected on each incident, a high
level of automated information capacity is required by the
respondents. As a result of this technological prerequisite, the
decision was made to allow jurisdictions to be 'phased' into the
Survey as they acquired the required equipment. The volume and
quality of the data collected by this Survey changes annually, as a
patchwork of contributors develops across Canada.

"The UCRII database is a significant improvement on its
predecessor. However, its current metamorphosis toward complete
coverage at the national level limits the validity of the data in a
rigorous empirical study. This fact is clearly evidenced if a
detailed examination of the data is undertaken.

"If the [UCRII] data on violent crimes is plotted annually, the
primary consequence of its unique implementation strategy emerges.
As the number of reporting jurisdictions increases, so do the number
of violent incidents. In 1988, only 2 police forces [Niagara
Regional, after Jan 88; Fredericton, after Sep 88] contributed to
the UCRII data collection. By 1993 (the most recently available
year), that number had grown to 81.

"Even the data in 1993 does not accurately represent the national
data, as half the provinces (Nova Scotia, PEI, Newfoundland,
Manitoba and Alberta) and both territories still do not contribute
anything [to UCRII]." (01971)

"The purpose of this study is to evaluate the extent to which the
1978 and 1993 legislative changes regarding firearms affected the
rate of violent crimes. A study of the displacement between
firearms and other weapons of choice is a key component of this
analysis... However, the UCRII database as an entirety is
inappropriate for this analysis. Not only was no data collected
before 1988, but the addition of new respondents alters the data
source and thus invalidates any conclusions made with this data.

"Theoretically, we could study the change in violent crimes for each
reporting police force, as this would eliminate the problem of a
constantly-changing data source. However, since the earliest data
dates back only to 1988, (Niagara Regional commenced reporting in
January 1988, and Fredericton in September of the same year), our
best case scenario leaves only 5 data points prior to the 1993
changes, and none that lie entirely after all the provisions were
implemented; certainly not enough to make statistically valid
conclusions.

"We therefore conclude that the UCRII database is not an appropriate
data source for our analysis. Although it provides much data that
is missing from the UCRI data, it does not accurately reflect the
national statistics and fails to provide a sufficiently long time
series of data for any sort of statistical study on the subject of
firearms legislation." (01971-01972)

Here is an additional comment on UCRI, taken from page 15, the "Data"
Chapter (3.0) of a draft of the Report itself:

"Clearly, the UCRII database does not provide any practical data for
the statistical models required for this project, as it is too short
and not representative of Canada as a whole." (01851)

At this point, two lines were whited out as exempt from disclosure
under section 21(1)(b) of the AtI act. Bearing in mind the damaging
effect of the data above and below, one wonders just what was in
"deleted". This then follows:

"UCRI will serve to provide information on only two variables needed
for this study: discharge of firearms with intent, and robbery with
firearms. Unfortunately, these data series were not compiled prior
to 1974 [although UCRI was started in 1961 -- DAT]. Before 1974,
robbery with firearms was lumped together with other robberies, and
discharge with intent was not separated from other assault
categories. This premature termination of the data series limits
the applicability of the UCRI database to this study, as no
information relevant to our research exists for the period from 1962
to 1974." (01851)

The government is currently distributing a new book, and still handing
out at least three older ones, which are all analyses of how many
excellent effects their firearms control laws have had. The researchers
who wrote those books must have used UCRI and/or UCRII. There are no
other sources for the information needed to do research in this area.
But, PRA says both sources are useless. They cannot be used for
analysis, except for very limited purposes.

Not only has most of the evaluation not been made public, but what has
come out condemns all evaluations by stating the raw data are useless.

ED-1996-1e also makes some strange claims. The figure of 55 lives saved
is based upon three of the ten analyses -- the only three that showed a
correlation -- and one of them indicates that Canada's 1978 anti-gun
laws also resulted in a reduction of non-firearm homicides! Of the
seven remaining analyses, 5 were inconsistent and 2 showed no effect.
[ED-1996-1e, p. 102]

Finally, one should note that firearms are actually used in a slightly
greater proportion of today's homicides than those from 1926 to 1961
despite tougher anti-gun laws. (This is really irrelevant anyway, since
"dead is dead", but it further shows that our anti-gun laws aren't
reducing the use of firearms in homicide.)

When it comes to the attention-grabbing, emotionally-charged mass
murders, anti-gun laws are not going to stop someone willing to murder
so many. This is especially true for those who kill themselves
afterward. Anyone not stopped by the toughest law we have -- the law
against murder -- will not be stopped by anti-gun laws.

 

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