H. Taylor Buckner, Ph.D. - Consulting Sociologist P. O. Box 320, South Hero, VT 05486 (802) 372-5236
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Chapter 3. Canadians and Firearms - Basic Values

Values guide actions and beliefs. They influence perceptions of the world and allow us to make distinctions between "good" and "evil." Values are culturally transmitted, often by parents, increasingly by the media. In an important sense values are not open to discussion, they are articles of faith. Evidence contrary to an individual's values is generally ignored or rejected. People may change their minds about many things based on comparative evidence, but values tend to remain in place. When someone changes their values it is a dramatic personal event, sometimes termed a "conversion." Values play an important, though often denied, role in gun control debates. Someone with anti-gun values is likely to support anything called gun control, some one with pro-gun values is likely to resist anything called gun control. As a matter of intellectual consistency, values lead people to patterns of belief and assumptions about the workings of the world that they come to believe reflect the natural order of things, and are "common sense."

Two questions were asked to determine basic values. First: "Do you agree or disagree that Canadian citizens should have the right to own a firearm?" This question does not refer to the American Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but just whether a Canadian should or should not have the right to own a firearm. Second: "Do you generally favour or oppose hunting?" Undoubtedly there are other basic values which come into the issue, but the time or funds were lacking to ask about respect for life; security; self-preservation; self reliance; or independence. The two questions, "right" and "hunt," do, however, provide a powerful index of the underlying assumptions of the respondents.

Rights

Support and opposition to gun control, smoke screens and partial analogies aside, depends to a great extent on views of the place of firearms in Canadian society. Some citizens have little or no tolerance for guns and arguments about recreational use or wildlife management are meaningless to them. Those who lawfully own firearms find the views of the first group incomprehensible. However, the gun control debate is not carried on at the level of values to determine whether Canadians do or do not have the right to own firearms. It is conducted at the level of assumed outcomes, debating instead whether laws and regulations can affect violence against women, or death rates from homicide, suicide and accidents. Thus, it is never resolved.

For the first party, statistics are irrelevant as guns are bad in themselves. Arguments from firearms owners and their allies, who say that rates of misuse are not high and that regulations are ineffective, strike the first party as self serving sophistry. Firearms owners are reluctant and bewildered participants in a debate they did not start. They were willing to follow the reasonable laws of C-51 and C-17 but felt betrayed when these actions did not end the debate.

Canada's Aboriginals are the wild-cards in the debate. High rates of violence in some communities and an apparent willingness by a few of them to use firearms in disputes with government are confounded with treaty rights. Generally, aboriginal firearms-use constitutes an unvoiced sub-text in the debate.

At the level of values, the basic question is whether or not Canadians have the right to own firearms. Canadian gun owners are not campaigning for "the right to keep and bear arms," but for a restoration of the right to own and use firearms within a framework of reasonable laws. Those who disagree seem to be taking the more absolute position that no one should have firearms.

Do Canadians value the right to own a firearm?

Q11.5 Do you agree or disagree that Canadian Citizens should have the right to own a firearm?
Responses Number Percent
Agree strongly 418 27.8
Agree somewhat 421 28.0
Disagree somewhat 209 13.9
Disagree strongly 400 26.6
Don't know 57 3.7
Total Responses 1,505 100.0

Overall, 56% agreed that Canadians should have the right, 40% disagreed, and 4% were undecided. Throughout Canada a majority which ranged from 74% in the Prairie provinces to 62% in Ontario supported the right to own a firearm. However, in Quebec only 36% supported it and 64% disagreed. This difference cannot be caused by different levels of gun ownership alone: Reid (1991) reports Quebec gun ownership at 23%, the national average according to their calculations. Our figures showed gun ownership in Quebec at 20%, below the national average of 28%, but not far from Ontario's rate at 21%. In rural areas, 72% supported the right to own a firearm, as did 60% of those living in small and medium sized cities. In the large cities 52% opposed it. This is the fundamental rural-urban conflict of values.

Some 69% of men support the right to own a firearm, 53% of women oppose it. A majority of persons of all age groups support the right to own a firearm, as do a majority of persons of all educational levels. A majority of people at all income levels support the right to own a firearm. Half of non-gun owners support the right to own a firearm, while, not surprisingly, 86% of gun owners support it. Finally, there is an extremely high correlation between views on hunting and the right to own a firearm. Among those who strongly favour hunting, 82% support the right, among those who strongly oppose hunting, 65% oppose it.

Values are the real battlefield. Those who oppose the right to own a firearm favour all forms of restriction, and argue in terms of presumed benefits - instead of simply saying they do not like guns. Those who support the right to own a gun see further restrictions as a negation of a right they believe in, argue on a cost-benefit basis - a more politic strategy than simply saying they like guns. Both positions reflect fundamentally opposed, but unspoken, value assumptions. Both sides feel the other is arguing in bad faith from a flawed outlook.

Do Canadians value Hunting?

Q 25. Do you generally favour or oppose hunting?
Responses Numbers Percent
Strongly Favour 323 21.4
Somewhat Favour 450 29.9
Somewhat Oppose 280 18.6
Strongly Oppose 359 23.9
Refused 2 . .2
Don't Know 91 6.0
Total Responses 1,505 100.0

Overall, 51% favoured hunting, 43% opposed it and 6% were undecided. Support for hunting is highest in the Atlantic provinces (72%), and lowest (51%) in British Columbia. Quebec (58%) is somewhat more supportive of hunting than the Rest of Canada (53%).

Of respondents in rural areas, 73% favour hunting while 57% of those in large cities oppose it. Of men, 67% favour hunting while 57% of women do not. A majority of people in all age groups favour hunting, with support highest among those in the oldest age group. Support for hunting is weakly but inversely related to education, with 59% of those who have not finished high school in favour, and only 49% of university graduates in favour. There is no significant relationship between income and attitudes on hunting.

Gun owners (86%) favour hunting, while 55% of non-gun owners oppose it. Among those who agree strongly with the right to own a firearm 77% favour hunting, while 68% of those who strongly disagree oppose hunting too.

Attitudes on these two basic values drive the gun control debate, but are rarely mentioned. One of the rules of discourse in our rational society is that proposals have to be justified on utilitarian grounds. If someone was to say, "I am for gun control because I don't like guns and no one should have them," or, "I am against gun control because I like guns and want to keep mine," no further discussion would be fruitful.

Proponents of additional gun controls have frequently been heard to say, "We don't want to confiscate your hunting guns, or stop legitimate gun use." But is this really true? An indication that they may be concealing their basic values comes when it is suggested that controls will be costly and ineffective. Proponents of new controls have talked about the benefits of gun control twenty years from now, without always specifying that this is a society in which no one but government agents will have guns. The gun sub-culture, wherein parents teach their children how to shoot and hunt, is apparently to be extinguished.

Many Canadians are second or third generation urbanites who think hunting is barbaric. Their conception of hunting and hunters is sometimes quite fantastic. Among people we questioned in other surveys a frequently mentioned image is of a drunken hunter shooting animals for the joy of killing, and leaving the bodies to rot in the field. Few think of the lower income family man purchasing a permit, hunting under strict regulations designed for wildlife management, in the hope of feeding his family better for the winter.

While the two values, right and hunting, both influence opinions on gun control, the two combined make for a better delineation of the value conflict in the gun control debate.

Cross Tabulation: Right to Own and Attitude on Hunting (Table percentages - each cell represents the percent of the total 1,505 cases)
  Canadians should have the right to own a firearm
Do you generally favour or oppose hunting? Agree Strongly Agree Somewhat Disagree Somewhat Disagree Strongly Don't Know Hunt Totals
Strongly Favour 13% 4% 2% 2% 1% 21%
Somewhat Favour 8% 10% 4% 6% 1% 30%
Somewhat Oppose 3% 6% 3% 6% 0% 19%
Strongly Oppose 3% 5% 4% 11% 0% 24%
Don't Know 2% 2% 4% 1% 1% 6%
Right Totals 28% 2% 14% 27% 4% 100%
Right to Own and Attitude on Hunting Typology
Combined Responses: Number Percent
Right and Hunt 529 35.1
Mixed (all other response) 609 40.5
No Right and No Hunt 368 24.4
Total Responses 1,505 100.0

Responses are grouped in three categories: those who think Canadians should have the right to own a firearm and who favour hunting (the top left dark rectangle, 35% of the total), those who oppose the right to own a firearm and oppose hunting (the lower right dark rectangle, 24% of the total), and those whose responses were mixed or undecided (all the other cases, 41% of the total).

Half of the respondents in Atlantic Canada, and nearly half (49%) in the Prairie provinces fall in the "Right and Hunt" category, British Columbia, at 39% was lower, followed by Ontario at 32%, and Quebec, 25%. The "No Right No Hunt" value position was strongest at 31% in Quebec, as opposed to 22% in the Rest of Canada. A clear majority, 53%, of rural Canadians have "Right and Hunt" values, while only 23% of the residents of large cities do so. Residents of the largest cities generally have "mixed" values, 45% do, while 32% are in the "No Right No Hunt" camp.

One of the strongest distinctions is between the values of men and women. Forty seven percent of men, and 24% of women, have "Right and Hunt" values, while 15% of men and 34% of women have "No Right No Hunt" values. Older respondents are a bit more likely to have "Right and Hunt" values, and younger respondents are a bit more likely to hold the reverse position, but the difference is not significant. People with lower levels of education are more likely to have "Right and Hunt" values, while people with higher levels of education are more likely to have "No Right No Hunt" values. There is no significant difference in the values held by people of different income groups.

A quarter of non-gun owners have "Right and Hunt" values, while almost three-quarters (72%) of gun owners hold these values.

A multiple regression analysis was run entering all of these background values to see what was really important in the formation of "Right and Hunt" and "No Right No Hunt" values. It explained 22% of the variance. Those from the Prairie provinces, males, rural residents, and gun owners tend to have "Right and Hunt" values. Those from Quebec, large city residents, females, and non-gun owners tended to have "No Right No Hunt" values. Age, education and income were not significantly related to either position..

Value Concerns

From the "No Right No Hunt" point of view the goal of gun control is to reduce the number of firearms in the country, to reduce firearms use, and reduce hunting. If both can be eliminated, even better.

From this perspective, gun control has already been extremely effective in reducing participation in shooting sports and hunting. In August, 1995, one author asked 27 expert representatives of wildlife and shooting federations from across Canada, to evaluate the effect on their sports of C-17, which was passed in 1991, with major provisions coming into effect in 1993. These experts indicated that membership in the shooting clubs they knew about had declined by 14%. Turnout for competitions involving pistol shooting had declined by 23%, rifle competitions 14%, shotgun competitions (trap and skeet) by 25%. The number of hunting licenses issued declined by nearly 13%. The number of firearm retailers declined by 21%. The political involvement of gun owners in the gun control debate, according to these experts, increased by 50% during the same period. (graphic) These figures are hardly definitive; and represent only the averaged educated guesses of people deeply involved in recreational firearms use. While the accuracy of the percentage declines may be questioned, the overall trend is clear.

The decline in hunting licenses has direct and indirect costs for wildlife management. Much of wildlife management is paid for by hunting licenses, and if hunters can not be counted on to control excess populations many more animals will starve and crop damage will increase. There are also economic costs associated with the decline in other shooting sports. It appears that it is easy to discourage the law abiding Canadian from participating in a sport by simply increasing the regulations every year. For those with "No Right No Hunt" values these arguments are irrelevant, and a decline in hunting is a victory.

The RCMP reports a stunning drop in the issuance of new Firearms Acquisition Certificates (FACs) - another success from the "No Right No Hunt" value point of view. (graphic) If we take the rate of FACs issued from 1984 to 1990, about 600 per 100,000 as the normal rate, there will probably be a rebound from the low 1994 rate of 169 per 100,000,. With the new regulations, many will be discouraged from applying for acquisition rights with the new Firearms Possession Permits. Additionally, a number of firms have been forced out of business.

C-68 will work extremely well at promoting the values of those who are in the "No Right No Hunt" camp. With C-68's 39,000 words and bewildering complexities, few gun-owners or police officers will be certain whether an act is criminal. It will allow the government to ban any firearm it wishes, regardless of whether it is commonly used in hunting or target shooting. It will add layer after layer of regulations for shooting clubs, create five kinds of Firearms Possession Permits and five categories of Prohibited weapons, some grandfathered, some not. It will discourage even more people from recreational firearms use through increasing costs and red tape.

Conclusions

Values are important in the gun control debate. Those who have anti-firearms values can be expected to support any measures which restrict firearms use. Those who have pro-firearms values can be expected to oppose these measures. Logic and reason are of little use when it comes to values. Emotion and a sense of right and wrong are the foundations of value disputes. Just as partisans in the abortion debate are seldom converted by the arguments of the opposition, those who have pro and anti firearms values are probably not open to argument.

Two basic value conflicts in the gun control debate are over the right to own firearms and opinions on hunting. When these two positions are combined into a single measure the outlines of the value conflict become clear. On one side we have central Canadian urbanites, women, and non-gun owners. On the other side are those from the hinterlands, rural residents, males, and gun owners. While one may find a female non-gun owning Montreal resident who supports the right to own a firearm and favours hunting, or a male gun-owning rural prairie resident who thinks no one should have the right to own a gun or hunt, they are exceptions.

Much of the gun control debate reflects these values, and while people may talk of the techniques or effectiveness of gun control, they are often simply voicing their value positions.

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H. Taylor Buckner, Ph.D. - Consulting Sociologist P. O. Box 320, South Hero, VT 05486 (802) 372-5236
Home Page E-Mail: taylorbuckner@earthlink.net