This week, the federal government announced a ban on more than 1,500 assault-style rifles in Canada.
The announcement has been met with mixed reviews. Some groups had been pushing for action for months while, for example, the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association tweeted that the announcement was overstepping emergency powers.
Looking at data on homicides committed with a firearm, Canada’s gun regulations have clearly had a positive effect is terms of homicides committed with a firearm. From 1974 to 1978, there were 250 or more homicides committed with firearms each year, according to Statistics Canada. Starting in 1979, people looking to get a firearm were required to get a firearms acquisition certificate (FAC). From 1980 to 2018, Canada has only twice seen more than 250 homicides. In that 39 year period, 25 years saw fewer than 200 homicides committed with a firearm. That’s despite the fact that Canada’s population has grown more than 50 per cent in that time frame.
Notably, however, there appears to have been an uptick in recent years. In 2017, Canada saw the highest number of homicides committed with a firearm (267) since 1991; 2018 wasn’t far behind (249) and 2016 (223) was the first year with more than 200 homicides committed with a firearm since 2008. That’s arguably a good reason to look at the state of firearms in Canada.
However, once you dig into the types of firearms used in homicides, it quickly becomes clear that rifles are no longer the main problem. In 1978, the year before FAC was introduced, 71 per cent of homicides committed with a firearm were with a rifle or shotgun (177 out of 250). Meanwhile, sawed-off rifle or shotguns added another two, other firearms (type unknown) eight and handguns 63. In 2018 (the most recent year available in Statistics Canada), instead, it was handguns used in the majority of homicides committed with a firearm (143 out of 249 or 57 per cent). Rifles and shotguns had fallen to 56 (22 per cent) with another two by fully automatic firearm (a new category introduced in 1991), 18 with a sawed-off rifle or shotgun, and 30 with other firearms (type unknown). Handguns have now lead the pack for firearm homicides for decades.
Notably, the data doesn’t make a distinction between legally owned and illegally owned firearms but if preserving human life is the main objective, dealing with handguns, however those involved in homicide are obtained, seems like a bigger priority than rifles.