Federal government plans to confiscate $4 billion worth of private property via gun ban
Over the past few years, based on claims that “fewer guns mean safer communities,” the Trudeau government has cracked down heavily on Canadian firearms owners. In addition to introducing increasingly restrictive regulations, the government has essentially erased the value of more than $4 billion worth of private property (i.e. firearms) by ordering its confiscation. Property that was legally owned and used now must be forfeited to the government to purportedly “reduce gun violence,” but none of the owners have been accused of a violent act. Nor were any likely to commit a violent crime. Adding insult to injury, the administrative costs of these confiscations could reach into the billions.
Bill C-21 (currently before the Senate) is the most recent move in a multi-year campaign by the Trudeau government to disarm Canadian civilians. In 2020, the government mandated the confiscation of hundreds of thousands of firearms with a total value of more than $3.0 billion (it’s unclear how many firearms the ban covers—the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates it could be up to 500,000). According to the government, the ban targets “assault-style weapons,” but in reality, many are simply semi-automatic rifles and shotguns that have been popular with hunters and sport shooters for more than 100 years. Before the amnesty expires in October 2023, Canadians must surrender all of these lawfully-owned and used firearms to the government.
Moreover, in 2022 the Trudeau government announced a “national freeze” on handgun sales, prohibiting the legal sale or inheritance of almost all handguns and requiring them to be surrendered without compensation when the owner passes away. The freeze effectively renders approximately one million legal firearms (valued at more than $1.0 billion) worthless. The government will allow special permits for a small number of Olympic competitors, security guards and wilderness activities such as trapping. The government’s decision, if maintained, will eventually eliminate target sports and put many fish-and-game clubs under severe financial pressure because they rely on target sports for much of their income.
Again, because of these moves, the Trudeau government has rendered valueless more than $4.0 billion of private property from law-abiding Canadians while simultaneously bankrupting hundreds of small businesses. Because of the ban, more than 4,500 small and medium-size businesses, which employ more than 40,000 people, are now stuck with large amounts of inventory that are suddenly illegal for them to sell or export. These businesses can’t absorb such losses; many will need to cut jobs or close their doors. The Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association estimates the economic loss at between $900 million and $1.06 billion.
Why is the government doing this? Why is it targeting law-abiding firearms owners and businesses associated with firearms?
To repeat the government’s mantra, “fewer guns mean safer communities.” While this mantra is false, it’s widely accepted by people who have little or no experience with firearms. According to an Angus Reid survey, support for gun bans is greatest among those who admit knowing “nothing” or “not much” about gun laws (see questions G1-G3).
Gary Kleck, professor emeritus of criminology at Florida State University, conducted a thorough review of studies that tested the idea that higher gun prevalence levels cause higher crime rates, especially higher homicide rates. He found that technically weak research mostly supported the hypothesis, while strong research did not. (Kleck defined technically strong research as having met at least three criteria: (1) whether a validated measure of gun prevalence was used, (2) whether the authors controlled for more than a handful of possible confounding variables, and (3) whether the researchers used suitable causal order procedures to deal with the possibility of crime rates affecting gun rates, instead of the reverse.)
Kleck concluded that higher gun ownership rates do not cause higher crime rates, including homicide rates. In Canada, some facts illustrate this point.
First, Canadian firearms owners are exceptionally law-abiding and less likely to commit murder than other Canadians. In Canada, you need a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) to purchase a firearm. Between 2000 and 2020, the number of PAL holders accused of homicide ranged from six to 21, averaging 12 accused per year out of approximately 2 million PAL holders. The number of PAL holders increased from 1,979,054 to 2,206,755 over this same time period, so the annual rate over 20 years was 0.63 accused per 100,000 PAL holders. But the firearms homicide rate for adult Canadians is 0.72 per 100,000—that’s 14 per cent higher than the PAL holder homicide rate of 0.63 per 100,000.
Additionally, to qualify for a PAL, you must be vetted by the RCMP and checked daily for any violation through the “continuous eligibility screening” program. From 2017 to 2021, 0.14 per cent of PAL holders lost their firearm licence for various reasons including domestic abuse, mental health problems and potential unsafe firearm use.
Second, internationally, civilian gun ownership is not easily linked to homicide rates. For example, of the three North American countries, Mexico has the highest homicide rate but the lowest number of firearms held by civilians. Organized crime is the most likely driver of homicide rates, and Mexico has the most serious gang problem in North America.
(per 100,000 population)
|Civilian firearms*—legal and illegal|
(per 100 residents)
|*estimated by Small Arms Survey in 2017|
Third, despite claims by politicians and media members, it’s difficult to argue that the number of handguns owned by law-abiding citizens contributes to homicide rates. Over the past few decades, the United States has encouraged qualified citizens to carry concealed handguns, while Canada has increasingly restricted civilian access to firearms, particularly handguns. In 1991, just 14 states allowed citizens to carry concealed handguns; currently, due to the Supreme Court Bruen decision, all 50 states must allow qualified citizens to carry firearms. Subsequently, more than 22 million American citizens now legally carry concealed handguns. In contrast, Ottawa banned half of all handguns in Canada in 1995, and “froze” all legal transfers (i.e. sales or bequeathments) of handguns in 2022.
At the same time that an increasing number of Americans began to carry concealed handguns, the homicide rate in the U.S. has fallen faster than in Canada. By 2021, Canada’s homicide rate had fallen 13 per cent from the peak in 1991 (from 2.69 to 2.06 per 100,000) while the U.S. homicide rate had fallen 31 per cent in the same period (from 9.8 to 6.5 per 100,000). (John Lott’s pathbreaking book More guns, Less Crime includes a thorough review of the econometric analyses of the relationship between concealed carry permits and homicide rates.)
Perhaps the most worrying part of the Trudeau government’s Bill C-21 are the so-called “red flag” provisions, which, if implemented, will allow private citizens to ask a judge to issue an order to seize another person’s firearms. As written, Canadians subject to the seizure will not have the opportunity to defend themselves. Not only do these “red flag” provisions carry great potential for misuse and abuse, they are unnecessary. The Canadian Criminal Code (Section 117.04) currently permits the disarming of anyone who poses “an imminent threat to themselves or others.” Anyone who believes a person poses such a threat can call 1-800-731-4000 to “report a spousal or public safety concern.” The police are, by law, required to respond. Under the Firearms Act, the Chief Firearms Officer can revoke a firearm licence and order firearms confiscated. However, current legislation allows Canadians to appeal revocations and have their firearms returned; Bill C-21 apparently does not.
Finally, peer-reviewed research shows that previous legislation prohibiting the possession and acquisition of certain firearms made no discernable impact on the rates of homicide, spousal homicide or suicide in Canada or other countries. Peer-reviewed research also finds that bans of short-barrelled handguns, semi-automatic or military-looking firearms have had no demonstrable beneficial effect on homicide rates.
And according to testimony by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and other police representatives at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU), both the freeze on handgun sales and “buy-back” of so-called assault-style firearms are misdirected and this money would be better spent tackling illegal guns in the hands of criminals rather than collecting hundreds of thousands of lawfully-owned firearms. For instance, the lion’s share of guns used in violent crime in Toronto are smuggled. Border guards testified to Parliament that due to gaping holes in Canada’s border security, in the absence of new funding and technology, guns will continue to slip through.
The Trudeau government’s crackdown on law-abiding firearms owners will not make Canadians safer, but it will confiscate billions of dollars of private property and destroy an entire sector of the economy. Focusing on guns rather than violent criminals lets Ottawa pose as a protector of public safety while doing very little about criminal violence. To actually make Canadians safer, the government should pursue policies that target criminals instead of law-abiding Canadians.
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