THE EDMONTON terror attack didn’t even get a full day before our attention was seized by the horror in Las Vegas.
The difference? The man who injured five Albertans on was armed with a car and a knife. The Las Vegas killer is believed to have had fully automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines packed with so much ammunition that it sounded like a war.
As much as Canadians might like to think ourselves superior to Americans, we are all just people. Canadians do not have some maple-tinged gene that makes us inherently less violent, less disturbed.
Why the difference? Call it a combination of regulation and culture.
Simply put, Americans have guns — even ones made for no other purpose than to mow down other people — because they feel they need them. Their Second Amendment has made firearms readily available to good guys and bad. People armour up because they’re afraid of being outgunned by the bogeyman.
As the number of guns increases (by some estimates, the number of firearms is greater than the population of the U.S.), more people feel naked without them. Note that across the strait from us in Port Angeles, the Peninsula Daily News reported in 2015 that one in nine Clallam County residents had slapped down $52.50 US for a concealed-pistol permit.
Canadians, by contrast, have never felt that need — a lack of desire that goes hand in hand with restricted availability. We don’t see the kind of threat that leads to an arms race. When we buy firearms, they tend to be for hunting or target shooting, not protection.
Put that down to a history of gun control that goes back to the 1890s, and to regulations that were tightened considerably after Marc Lépine killed 14 women and wounded 14 others at Montreal’s l’École Polytechnique in 1989. The Firearms Act, implemented in 1998, included rules around the training and screening of gun owners, registration and the storage of firearms and ammunition.
Firearms offences in Canada fell steeply after that (as did violent crime in general, it should be noted). Gun homicides plunged from 271 in 1991 to 158 in 2011, a year in which, by comparison, the FBI says 8,600 Americans were murdered with firearms, mostly handguns.
We do own more guns than you might think. Two million Canadians, including 279,000 British Columbians, have licences. Many own unrestricted long guns such as hunting rifles and shotguns, but as of 2016, British Columbians had also registered 156,782 restricted weapons. The latter category includes all handguns and any rifles based on the M-16 military model. (Many would be surprised to know that the semi-automatic AR-15, the military-style rifle used in the Orlando, San Bernardino and Sandy Hook mass murders, among others, is legal here, although it can only be used for target shooting, not hunting, and is supposed to only hold a five-round magazine.)
British Columbians also own 27,153 prohibited firearms — the kind that would only be used as weapons, not tools. They include automatic and sawed-off long guns, and short-barrelled, small-calibre handguns. Ownership is grandfathered, restricted to those who owned the firearm (or one like it) before it was banned, and who have held a firearms permit continuously since 1998.
One other difference in Canada: Our licensing system is national, meaning if you get a gun permit in, say, the Maritimes, then do something that alarms police in B.C., a red flag goes up. More than 420,000 Canadians are banned from owning firearms.
The loopholes are larger in the U.S., where information doesn’t flow as readily from state to state.
That’s just part of it, of course. A well-heeled and wild-eyed firearms lobby makes certain that the madness continues in the U.S., ensuring that even if Americans aren’t more violent or disturbed than Canadians by nature, their gun culture remains insane.
© Copyright Times Colonist
Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloops lad who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.