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What Canada Doesn’t Know About Its Guns


Canada’s previous registry for shotguns and standard rifles was maintained by the federal government rather than sellers. That long-gun registry, which was plagued by technical issues but supported by most police forces, was scrapped in 2012 by Stephen Harper, the prime minister of the Conservative government at the time.

“Conservatives very much associate themselves now with the opposition to gun control, but that wasn’t always the case,” Blake Brown, a history professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, told me. He said that Liberals and Conservatives passed firearms control measures in the 1950s and 1960s, and that both parties strengthened Canada’s gun laws in the years following the 1989 Montreal massacre.

In his book “Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada,” Professor Brown wrote that Canada’s cultural attitudes toward firearms diverged from those in the United States as early as the 1860s.

[Read: Other Countries Had Mass Shootings. Then They Changed Their Gun Laws.]

“Certainly there have been periods in American history where they’ve been more aggressive in gun control than in Canada,” he said. “But, overall, the trend has been that Canada has seen themselves differently when it comes to firearms.” That has led to stricter gun laws amid fears of importing American gun violence.

Despite these historical distinctions, the gun debate raging south of the border often reverberates here. While it was far from the spotlight issue in our federal election last September, candidates in the ongoing Conservative Party leadership race have been rehashing it.

[Read: Debate Over Guns Is Muted as Canada’s Election Nears]

During our federal election coverage in September, my colleague Ian Austen reported that there were 12.7 million legal and illegal guns in Canada, or 34.7 civilian firearms per 100 people in 2017, the most recent data. (These figures are from the Small Arms Survey, a nonprofit organization based in Switzerland, which estimates that there are more than 300 million guns in the United States and 120.5 firearms per 100 people.)


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