As Canada moves to further restrict firearms, the first thing we should do is toss aside all reference to standard American framing, which is a failed experiment in firearm freedom and a demonstrably rogue outlier among industrialized democracies. We should look instead to peer nations with significantly lower gun violence rates than our own. Australia, Germany, South Korea and the U.K., for example, average less than half our rate of gun deaths per capita, and all have tighter restrictions than ours.

The U.K., led by Conservative governments for most of the last 40 years, has one-tenth our rate of gun fatalities and a significantly tighter firearm policy than Canada’s. Is there a widespread clamouring in the U.K. for more guns? Not on your life.

Source data: World Population Review

Nor is the Canadian experience stable. The rate of firearm-related homicides rose 91 per cent between 2013 and 2020, according to Statistics Canada.

Most of our controversy around gun ownership depends on a blizzard of American media tropes and myths.

For instance, the myth that if we regulate guns, only gangsters and criminals will have them. The implication being our gun fatalities are largely attributable to gangster crime sprees and shoot-outs. But this is to tragically misread the Canadian landscape.

Few recent Canadian mass shooters had criminal records of any kind, for example, and most obtained their weapons legally (although the Portapique killer did not).

Portapique shooter, 2020: No criminal record since 2002 — 22 dead, multiple wounded.

Fredericton shooter, 2018: No criminal record — 4 dead.

Danforth shooter, 2018: No criminal record — 2 dead, multiple wounded.

Opinion: Canada's #homicide and #suicide stats say it all. Guns do kill. @garossino writes for @natobserver. #cdnpoli #guncontrol

Quebec City shooter, 2017: No criminal record — 6 dead, multiple wounded.

Moncton shooter, 2014: No criminal record — 3 dead, multiple wounded.

Yet while gangs and mass shootings grab headlines, they only scratch the surface. The deadliest combination with guns in our communities isn’t gangs, but something infinitely more widespread and mundane. It’s the combination of guns and heavy drinking.

Heavy drinking (far more than other drugs) is consistently cited across almost all literature as a major risk factor associated with both suicide and family violence, which together account for the vast majority of gun deaths in Canada.

The overwhelming majority — 75 per cent — of Canadian firearm fatalities have nothing to do with gangs or crime, according to Statistics Canada, because they are suicides. This matters because a recent UC Davis study found that more recent or repeat alcohol-related offences are associated with the greatest risk of suicide among male handgun owners. This compounds an already startling risk factor: according to Stanford research, male handgun owners are eight times more likely to die by suicide than non-owners. This replicates other studies showing a strong correlation between all gun fatalities and heavy drinking.

Just as a point of reference, a quarter of Canadian men describe themselves as heavy drinkers, including 33 per cent of those under 35.

Importantly, the data refutes the popular misconception that people bent on suicide will find a way. In fact, most people attempting suicide are driven by impulse, mostly fail and do not go on to die in a future suicide. The key determinant of the attempt’s outcome is the lethality of the method chosen.

It’s hard to beat a handgun.

The truth has been staring us in the face all along.

Of the remaining 20 to 25 per cent of firearm deaths that are not suicide, the data is unclear but appears to follow the Canadian homicide pattern of 31 per cent resulting from family violence. The presence of a gun in a household struggling with heavy drinking, domestic violence and other stresses is inherently intimidating and deadly.

The family violence crisis is not just about deaths; it’s also about the health of the home environment. Thousands of Canadian women and children are forced to seek shelter from violence and abuse every day, while many more live in fear.

A third homicide risk factor is the region and community context. The highest provincial homicide rates (undifferentiated by method) in Canada are Saskatchewan (5.09 per 100,000 people) and Manitoba (4.69), much higher than the Canadian average of 1.95, while the highest metropolitan homicide rate is in Thunder Bay (6.35).

The northern and rural regions of all provinces experience significantly higher homicide rates than southern and metropolitan regions.

This tracks with data from the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians showing significantly higher gun ownership in northern, rural and Indigenous communities.

The homicide rate of Indigenous peoples (10.05) is almost seven times higher than the national average and highest of all for Indigenous men (16.5 in 2020). Tragically, this number does not include deaths by suicide, which Indigenous communities experience at three times the Canadian average.

A more recent category that authorities are beginning to monitor is homicides and violence driven by hate, in which the victim is targeted by race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. While statistically small, these offences are only now beginning to yield important data and disturbing trends.

While gang violence is an undeniable factor, Statistics Canada reports gang-related murders are declining as a proportion of all firearm homicides, which have risen dramatically.

So although the overall picture is complex, the dominant themes are remarkably clear. Given the driving patterns of self-harm and gun violence, a phased-in reduction of easy access to weapons is likely to yield significant results over time. This isn’t controversial, as it’s worked for many other countries for decades.

It’s working now. Let’s do it.

Keep reading

Thank you for a thoughtful and informed coverage of this issue.

I worry about the misinformation that's floating around out there--and the influence of the NFA (son of NRA).

Garossino columns are like stepping out of the fog into the sunlight. The crucial insights, the context for the data, that we need to make sense of the story.

I had been seriously thinking of not renewing my NO subscription; I'm so tired of repetitive oil-industry-is-bad stories, young-activists-are-inspiring stories, climate-doom-is-upon-us, (spelled out yet another way) stories. Also, I'm still furious at the rank hypocrisy of flying a dozen people to COP26 to do almost nothing, 24 tonnes of carbon expended for a junket.

Today I remembered that half a dozen Garossino columns per year actually pay for the thing, the rest is window dressing.

try Chris Turner,s new book called " How to be a Climate Optimist" Just out and worth the read. I was hooked after 20 pages

Benjamin Barber's 'Cool Cities' is another optimistic climate source, though it can be a bit academic.

It's hard to not feel down with all the doomerism out there, and we need lots of inspiration, not necessarily from journalism alone, but from scientists, planners and future casters brimming with ideas.

As for NO subscriptions, I may hold my final decision until I see how the managing editors handle reportage on COP27 in Egypt later this year. The only excuse we received after weeks of criticism about a dirty dozen sent to COP26 was that they were just expanding the sphere of experience of journalists in complete disregard to their emissions profile ... on subscriber's dime too.

Well, hello! What about embracing the digital revolution? What about instantaneous satellite connectivity to a small cadre of digitally-versed international journos at COP (and other) conferences? I regularly watch YouTube updates on phenomenally detailed climate and science issues based on top drawer research and analysis, like 'Just Have a Think' (UK), 'Undecided' (US), and an airline pilot from Ukraine who was put out of work by the war, but who gives a very detailed and relatively unbiased and fair view from the inside, based on open source reports. All, of these are run by single individuals on shoestring budgets based on subscription and Patreon options.

Instead, one could be led to the conclusion that the NO wants to be another Guardian backed by annual 150K donation campaign targets. If the NO wants my donations on top of my subscription money, it will have to increase its quality (Garossino, Woodside and few others excepted), have a fund for more scientific research reporting and less political reporting (one can take only so much minutia about Jason Kenney and Doug Ford), and pledge in writing that reader's money will not go toward an executive travel slush fund saturated with aviation fuel and wine in far away places.

I wonder whether there's any distinction between the level of use of handguns in suicide and long guns. I mean, it seems to be a matter of ease, convenience and effectiveness. With handguns, it's obvious just how easy and convenient suicide is. There's even a fair amount of, as it were, popular culture surrounding suicide by handgun, with Russian Roulette and so on. But with a rifle, while it's certainly possible, surely it's a bit more of a pain--you have to kind of brace the thing, and reach down the barrel to the trigger; if it's a long enough barrel maybe you can't even reach.

Mind you, in urban areas I don't care--get rid of them all. But in rural areas people have genuine reasons to want to have guns--that's one reason they have a lot more of them than city people. But not handguns particularly. And I would like to see policies that will work for the needs of both urban and rural Canadians. If handguns were much more likely to be used in suicides, it might be possible to be fairly relaxed on hunting long arms of the sort rural people have real uses for, especially ones with slower actions, while cracking down on handguns, and get good results. But if long guns are actually about as likely to be used for suicide, that wouldn't be a useful policy.

I still worry that Canadian culture is steadily eroding with the trucker's protest being the key example of people claiming their rights [rather than responsibilities] and 2nd amendment were being infringed upon. But that is American - not Canadian. Conservative forces in Canada would do away with the CBC which helps us feel united and is a buffer to the worst of the American influences that are steadily creeping in. If it's bad now, how much worse will it be in another 20 years?

I agree. The US is imploding and Canadian culture is eroding — and we just keep emitting (now) deadly greenhouse gases (and letting our governments subsidize new fossil fuel projects ... sorry, Roy), la la la, like nothing has changed and like we don't have to change.

However, I never thought I'd find a silver lining in the fact that in 20 years or so (unless we take urgent and drastic action on getting to zero carbon ... sorry, Roy), our communities and societies — not to mention the natural ecosystems that support us — will be in shredded tatters and none of this will matter anymore. Indeed, without vast and extensive mitigation measures, many more of us will be searching out ways to kill ourselves. People don't realize how bad it's going to get — nor how rapidly ... sorry, Roy).

p.s. I agree with Roy and others that this is a clear and succinct look at the Canadian statistics. Thanks, Sandy G.

Snarks accepted with a smile. One can agree with something but not want more repetition.
I think we can all agree that "My Heart Will Go On" is a very nice tune.

I had thought to divert my NO subscription money to "volts.wtf" by David Roberts, who provides mostly positive writing and 'casting about actual hardware solutions for electrification and industrial decarbonization. The NO is simply weak on hiring scientists and engineers to discuss climate solutions as often as climate problems. I frankly hate spending money on American journalism, but I just can't find a Canadian that does it was well as Roberts.

Looks like a great link, Roy. Thanks!

The best way to stop a drunk guy with a gun is the same drunk guy without the gun.

Or maybe a sober guy with a gun. Funny how theres no problem getting hammered. Like gun plus booze always equals trouble, just like drunk driving. But hey its the guns fault.

In 1972 my best friend, who I'd known since childhood as someone with a very sharp intellect who routinely mopped the floor with us kids in every challenge, be it monopoly, chess or city-wide bike expeditions, started exhibiting signs of schizophrenia in his late teens and went off the deep end, hearing voices, acting out etc. After nearly two years and one particularly scary incident, he was hospitalized for two months. The extent of treatment for mental illness back then was massive doses of tranquilizers combined with not very effective counselling. He was deemed healthy enough to not require institutionalization.

When they sent him home it was painfully obvious that he arrived at the very lowest depths of a deep, deep depression. One day not long after he committed suicide, using a shotgun and shells his step father carelessly stored loosely in the back of the parent's bedroom closet. He was 21. The parents were vacationing in another province at the time, and were never the same after. Nor was the elder brother who found him a few hours later. Once the funeral service was over the family promptly sold the house. I have no idea what became of the shotgun.

Whether a lack of access to a firearm would have diverted my old friend to suicide by other means is debatable. Nonetheless, I remain a strong advocate of gun control; the step father rarely if ever went hunting, and the house was located in a peaceful and safe suburban neighbourhood, things that utterly defeat the apologetic rhetoric over the utter lack of a valid rationale for urban gun ownership. Collectors should collect guitars or cameras instead of instruments designed exclusively to cause death.

Mental illness and easy access to guns is a tragedy in the works, whether to one's self or to others. This is probably second only to murder for deluded ideological reasons.

Guns need to be drastically reduced in number by any means. There is no excuse for gun ownership of any kind in the cities of a civilized country, outside of the police and military.

Yeah i got 5 friends to your 1 with a gun due to opiates.

Just to clarify, im not minimizing what happened, its a tragedy for sure and i feel for you.

This article is biased and missing information. You site that these shooters had no criminal background....ok, but how many of these incidents occured with a legal restricted firearms license with a legally owned gun? Funny how thats mossing in your stats. Or how about the amount of suicides from opiates vs guns, let me enlighten you....its heavily swayed towards opiates. Also theres two parts of the equation here, guns + booze. Funny how engrained acceptiability drinking is in Canada where if you remover either one of these from the equation the statistics would change dramatically. You mentioned these people have no criminal background, ok, but what about there mental background, you know that having no criminal record does not qualify you to own a registered restricted firearm in Canada. Mental stability is also a part of it. This article is biased and definitely not written by any legal gun owner in Canada.

Hate to reply to my own comment here but i dont see any edit option. I think some ignorance here needs attention, like ok so you take all the hand guns away, people will still kill themselves with long guns. The sentiment thats its just harder with a long gun is ridiculous, unless your size impared its just as viable to commit suicide with a long gun. Not to mention much more effective. Shotgun for instance. It is possible survive a gun shot to the head, a shotgun is much more effective. Not being able to reach the trigger is ridiculous. I wont say who but a close person to my life was in police services, homicide division....so i have an idea of what im talking about. And let me just say growing up in Durham region, not even metro, it was very much easier to buy a gun from the street than it is to own a gun legally. All of which were smuggled in from America.

One last thing...., comparing us to these ather countries who banned guns does not mean its our solution in Canada. Like the biggest comparisoms are the UK and Australia. These countries are basically islands and do not share borders with the US.

And according to gunpolicy.org, Canada has dropped 33% since 2000 in overall gun deaths..... Just saying....... This article lacks real journalistic standards and is a cause player in the division of our society due to bias over facts.