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  

 

Chapter 6. Opinions on the Utility of Gun Control

One may safely assume that the Canadian public knows as little about the structure and dynamics of homicide, suicide, and accidents as they do about existing gun control legislation. As most do not know what the present law contains, it is hard to know what they mean when they call for stricter laws.

Ignorance of the facts of homicide, suicide and accidents is widespread. Even a widely quoted criminologist may make such errors as, "When guns are used in the commission of criminal offenses, the most likely scenario is that a female victim will be killed in her home by a male she knows well (Boyd 1995:215)." Actually there were 7,371 firearm armed robberies in 1994 - the most frequent criminal offense involving firearms (Hendrick 1995:6). As for women being the most frequent victims, fewer than one in ten Canadian homicides fits Boyd's scenario. Boyd cited a Department of Justice publication as the source, without considering the data. Many Canadians have been so misled by government disinformation that they believe that women are more likely to be homicide victims than men. In fact, males are two times more likely to be homicide victims than women, and are almost two and a half times more likely to be murdered with a gun. Government handouts supporting gun control never stated that over 90 percent of Canadian firearms deaths (homicides, suicides, accidents) involve men, though the statistics are clear (Statistics Canada, Causes of Death).

The actual homicide figures, for the last eleven years, are: (Graphic)

Percent of Total Homicides, Canada 1984-1994; by cause of death, by gender.
Source: Homicide Data Base, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.
Cause Male Female Total
Shooting 23.0% 9.3% 32.2%
Stabbing 20.3% 8.8% 29.2%
Beating 13.0% 6.6% 19.6%
Strangulation 4.1% 6.9% 11.0%
Poisoning 0.2% 0.2% 0.4%
Smoke/Burns 1.8% 1.2% 3.0%
Other 2.2% 1.4% 3.6%
Unknown 0.2% 0.7% 0.9%
Total 64.9% 35.1% 100.0%
Total Numbers 4,663 2,522 7,185

Will Stricter Regulations Reduce Violent Crime?

Most of the respondents probably are unaware of these facts. They were asked hypothetical questions, which they answered on the basis of "common sense." When asked if stricter regulations of authorized firearms owners would lower the crime rate, quite reasonably, they respond that it would not.

Q10. If there were stricter regulations for authorized firearms owners, would you say that the violent crime rate would increase, decrease, or stay the same?
Responses Number Percent
Increase a great deal 28 1.9
Increase Somewhat 60 4.0
Stay the Same 751 49.9
Decrease Somewhat 437 29.0
Decrease a Great Deal 171 11.4
Don't Know 58 3.8
Total Responses 1,505 100.0

To simplify the analysis, the six questions in this Chapter were condensed into two categories, "effective" and "ineffective" with the "Don't know" responses dropped. Thus, if a respondent answered that stricter regulations for authorized firearms owners would cause the violent crime rate to increase, or remain the same, the respondent was categorized as thinking this measure ineffective. If, on the other hand, the respondent replied that stricter regulations for authorized firearms owners would cause the violent crime rate to decrease, the respondent was categorized as thinking this measure effective. The "don't know" responses were dropped for this part of the analysis, though they will be included in the Index of Effectiveness as "neutral" answers. Each of the six questions on effectiveness will be condensed following this pattern for the preliminary analysis.

Over half the respondents had an opinion, and 58%, say that stricter regulations for authorized firearms owners would not lower the violent crime rate. They are probably correct. Police only grant FACs to people without a criminal record. If stricter controls on people who have been checked by police does lowers the violent crime rate, then there are serious question as to whether the police have been doing their job, or more fundamentally, whether past behaviour is of any use in predicting future behaviour. Those who say that stricter regulations for authorized firearms owners would decrease the violent crime rate reflect the government's position. It is important to remember that the vast majority of the respondents in this survey did not know what was necessary to become an authorized firearms owner, so the minority who believe stricter regulations will reduce crime may be assuming that anything "stricter" will be effective.

Only in Quebec do a majority (55%) think stricter regulations for authorized firearms owners will reduce violent crime. In all the other regions of Canada, 63% think otherwise. People in large cities, who have the least experience of firearms, are more likely to believe that additional regulations would reduce crime. Two thirds of men (66%) think more regulations would be ineffective, but 50% of women think they would reduce violent crime. Respondents of all age groups, all educational levels and all income levels, thought stricter regulations would be ineffective.

A majority of non-gun owners (52%), and 84% of gun owners, think stricter regulations for authorized gun owners would be ineffective in reducing violent crime. Among those who have "Right and Hunt" values 72% think regulations would be ineffective, while 58% of those with opposite values think they would be effective. Knowledge of two or more factual items of law makes no significant difference in opinions. Of those who spontaneously mentioned "gun control" of some type as a way of reducing crime, 64% think that stricter regulations for owners would reduce violent crime.

Does Gun Control Affect Criminals?

The respondents were next asked, "Do you agree or disagree that gun control laws affect only law-abiding citizens as criminals will always be able to get firearms?" Those who agreed that gun control only affected the law-abiding were coded as indicating that gun control was ineffective in this circumstance. If they disagreed, they were coded as indicating that they thought gun control was effective. There is a bit of a tautology here, by definition the law-abiding obey laws, criminals do not. Yet there is always the possibility that a sufficiently authoritarian gun control system just might reduce the criminal acquisition of firearms.

Q11.1 Do you agree or disagree that Gun Control laws affect only law-abiding citizens as criminals will always be able to get firearms?

Responses Number Percent
Agree Strongly 778 51.7
Agree Somewhat 374 24.8
Disagree Somewhat 194 12.9
Disagree Strongly 117 7.8
Don't Know 42 2.8
Total Responses 1,505 100.0

A great majority of Canadians think that criminals will be able to get guns in spite of restrictive laws. Over 80% of those in Quebec and the Prairie provinces think gun control laws will be ineffective in keeping arms from criminals, and 74% of those in the Atlantic provinces agreed. In rural areas 82% think it will be ineffective, while in large cities 76% think so too. Men (81%) are slightly more likely to think gun control ineffective than women (76%). University graduates are the least likely to think gun control ineffective, only 70% do, while those of all other educational backgrounds are more likely to think it ineffective (over 80%).

Over 90% of gun owners think gun control ineffective in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, and 76% of non-gun owners also think it ineffective. Among those with "Right and Hunt" values 87% think criminals will be able to get firearms, and 69% of those with "No Right No Hunt" values also think this. Even among those who spontaneously mentioned some kind of "gun control" as a way of reducing violent crime 71% think that criminals will be able to get guns.

Clearly most Canadians do not think gun control will keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

Will Gun Control Reduce Violence Against Women?

The rampage of Marc Lepine in December of 1989, at Ecole Polytechnique was a defining moment in Canadian gun control. Fourteen women were murdered, and gun control came to be defined for some as a means of reducing violence against women. Shooting deaths of women account for less than ten percent of the homicides in Canada, but the symbolism of male violence transcends the statistics. The Minister of Justice frequently says that women are being killed in their homes by legal firearms - although police rarely check if the murder instrument was legally owned or not. (Dansys Consultants, 1992: "Respondents were asked if the accused was violating any laws, regulations, or court orders by possessing a firearm. ... In over three-quarters of the cases the police responded that they had no knowledge of any gun violation." p. 26.). But, does the Canadian public accept the recurring theme that stricter gun control will greatly reduce the level of violence against women in Canada?

Q11.2. Do you agree or disagree that stricter gun control would greatly reduce the level of violence against women in Canada?

Responses Number Percent
Agree Strongly 302 20.1
Agree Somewhat 358 23.8
Disagree Somewhat 336 22.3
Disagree Strongly 434 28.8
Don't Know 75 5.0
Total Responses 1,505 100.0

Over half of the respondents with an opinion (54%) do not think stricter gun control would be effective in reducing the level of violence against women in Canada. The only province in which the majority (59%) think otherwise is Quebec, perhaps reflecting the trauma of the Lepine rampage. Men (64%) think it would be ineffective, while women (56%) think it would be effective. A majority of all age groups think it would be ineffective. People of most educational levels think it would be ineffective, though a slight majority of those who have less than high school graduation (52%) think it would be effective. Fifty-five percent of those in the lowest income group think it would be effective, while a majority of those with medium to high incomes think it would be ineffective.

Among gun owners 79% think it would be ineffective, but 52% of non-gun owners think it would be effective. Among those with "Right and Hunt" values two-thirds think it would be ineffective, while 57% of those with opposite values think it would be effective. Eighty-one percent of those who say they are "very familiar" with the current law think it would be ineffective, and 70% of those who discuss firearms and gun control frequently think likewise. Among those who spontaneously mentioned "gun control" as a means of reducing violent crime, 59% thought it would be effective.

Given the small number of gun-homicides of women in Canada, (about 60 a year) and the estimated eight million guns in Canada, it is hard to see how any form of "gun control" can significantly reduce these deaths. Men apparently have no difficulty in strangling, knifing, or beating women to death if no firearm is present. If all guns were to magically disappear it is doubtful that many endangered women would be saved. Reality aside, 46% of the respondents think, or want to believe, that stricter gun control would greatly reduce violence against women in Canada.

Suicides, Homicides and Accidental Deaths

Of the 1,400 or so firearms deaths a year in Canada, about 1,100 are suicides - about one third of all suicides. There is convincing evidence that in places where firearms are hard to get people are less likely to kill themselves with firearms, but there is also convincing evidence that a lack of firearms has little or no effect on the suicide rate (Rich 1990; Moyer and Carrington 1992). In Japan, where there are very few firearms the suicide rate is higher than it is in Canada. In the United States where about two thirds of suicides are committed with firearms, the overall suicide rate is lower than it is in Canada. About two-thirds of Canadians who commit suicide figure out how to do it without a firearm. Those who commit suicide with a firearm generally intend to kill themselves, it is a remarkable stretch to assume that they incapable of selecting the equally sudden and lethal methods that have occurred to many of the other suicides. Respondents in this survey reflect this sceptical attitude, a majority thinking that stricter regulations would be ineffective in reducing suicide rates.

Q14.1 How effective do you think stricter regulations would be in reducing suicides? Would you say
Responses Number Percent
Very effective 202 13.4
Somewhat effective 458 30.4
Not very effective 362 24.1
Not at all effective 428 28.5
Don't know 55 3.6
Total Responses 1,505 100.0

In every region of Canada, bar Quebec, a majority thinks stricter regulations would be ineffective in reducing suicide. In Quebec 52% think otherwise. Men are particularly likely to think it ineffective, 63% do, but 53% of women think it would be effective. (Incidentally, most suicides are male) Some 51% of younger people think it would be effective, but middle aged (59%) and older people (56%) disagree. In general the more education one has, the less likely one is to think that stricter gun regulations can reduce suicide but a majority at every educational level think it would be ineffective. Fifty-one percent of those in the lowest income group think it would be effective, but those with medium and higher incomes think it would be ineffective. A slight majority of non-gun owners (51%) think it would be effective, but 78% of gun owners think it would be ineffective.

Two-thirds of those with "Right and Hunt" values think it would not reduce suicides, while 61% of those with "No Right No Hunt" values think it would be effective. Three-quarters of those who say they are "very familiar" with the current law, and two-thirds of those who discuss firearms and gun control "frequently" think it would be ineffective. Those who spontaneously mentioned "gun control" as a way to reduce violent crime are not significantly more likely than those who did not mention it to think that it will reduce suicide.

It seems that only those who know little or nothing about guns, or who oppose guns and hunting on principle, think a suicide can be prevented by gun control.

A substantial majority of respondents believe stricter regulations will reduce homicide. But there is a curious contradiction. In the same interview, one third of the sample responds that stricter gun control will not be effective in reducing violent crime, but will be effective in reducing homicide. In fact there is no convincing evidence that any form of gun control reduces homicide, anywhere.

Q14.1 How effective do you think stricter regulations would be in reducing homicides? Would you say
Responses Number Percent
Very effective 325 21.6
Somewhat effective 697 46.3
Not very effective 243 16.1
Not at all effective 193 12.8
Don't know 47 3.1
Total responses 1,505 99.9

Overall, 70% of respondents think stricter gun control will be effective in reducing homicides. Quebecois, as with other items, are most optimistic (77%) while the Prairie provinces (59%) are least. People living in large cities (74%) are more likely to think it effective than people in rural areas (61%). Women, perhaps impressed by the argument that registration will allow the police to seize guns in domestic disputes, are much more likely (76%) than men (64%) to think it effective. Younger people (76%) are considerably more likely than older people (63%) to think gun control will reduce homicide. Education levels do not make much difference, though university graduates are more convinced (74%) than the average. Higher income respondents are less likely to think stricter gun control will reduce homicide.

Gun owners are 56% unlikely to think it will work, while a majority of non-gun owners (77%) think it will. Among those with the "Right and Hunt" value orientation 56% think stricter regulations will reduce homicide, among those with "No Right No Hunt" values, 86% think stricter regulations will reduce homicide. Among those who said they were "very familiar" with the current law 62% thought stricter regulations would be ineffective, while 73% of those less familiar with the current law thought stricter regulations would reduce homicide. Among the 6% of respondents who spontaneously mentioned that "gun control" would reduce violent crime, 91% think that stricter regulations will reduce homicide.

As was true with suicides, those with the least exposure to firearms, and the least familiarity with the present law, are most likely to think homicides can be reduced by stricter gun control.

Over the past decade, there were sixty to seventy fatal gun accidents a year in Canada. That some portion of these, perhaps 5 to 10, are disguised suicides is indisputable. The young and the reckless are over-represented in almost all causes of accidental death, including those with firearms. Even without the compulsory federal safety course the vast majority of firearms owners are careful - it is their own skin they are protecting. It is unreasonable to expect that stricter regulations will greatly reduce the accident rate . Among those who have no idea what the accident rate is (people are often stunned when they discover how few accidents there really are) the belief that many lives will be saved by stricter regulations takes on an importance quite disproportionate to probability.

Q14.1 How effective do you think stricter regulations would be in reducing accidents? Would you say
Responses Number Percent
Very effective 440 29.2
Somewhat effective 669 44.4
Not very effective 185 12.3
Not at all effective 149 9.9
Don't Know 62 4.1
Total Responses 1,505 99.9

Overall, of those who had opinions, 77% think stricter regulations would be effective in reducing accidents, while 23% do not. People in the Atlantic provinces (80%) and Quebec (80%) are most likely to think it would be effective, while those in the Prairie provinces (71%) are the least. People in large cities (80%) are the most likely to think it effective, while people in rural areas (70%) are the least. Women are much more likely to think stricter gun control will reduce accidents (84%) than men (69%). Younger people are much more optimistic (83%) than older people (72%). There is no significant difference between educational levels, and the difference between them and lower income respondents is not significant.

Non-gun owners (82%) are much more likely to think stricter regulations would reduce accidents than gun owners (53%). Among those who have "Right and Hunt" values 63% think stricter regulations will be effective in reducing accidents, while 88% of those who have "No Right No Hunt" attitudes hold this opinion As with the other anticipated benefits of stricter regulations, those who have had some personal experience with firearms are more sceptical of the possible benefits than those who have not.

Index of Perceived Effectiveness of Gun Control

Rather than trying to summarize the results of six the different questions in this chapter, they were combined into a single index. A correlation matrix was created, every question against ever other. All correlations were positive and significant, indicating that all of the individual questions were measuring the same underlying dimension, the perceived effectiveness of stricter gun control. Then, for each question, a score of -2 was assigned to a "very ineffective" response; -1 to "ineffective;" 0 to "stay the same," or "Don't know;" a +1 to an "effective" response; and a +2 to a response of "very effective." This resulted in a 25 point scale that was collapsed into three categories, "ineffective," "neutral," and "effective." This scale provides a summary of the respondents' views on the effectiveness of gun control, and eliminates some of the idiosyncracies of individual questions.

Index of the six questions on the Effectiveness of Gun Control

Value

Frequency
Valid

Percent

Cumulative

Percent


-12.00 4 .3 .3  
-11.00 5 .3 .6  
-10.00 41 2.7 3.4  
-9.00 35 2.3 5.7  
-8.00 43 2.8 8.5 INEFFECTIVE
-7.00 66 4.4 12.9  
-6.00 65 4.3 17.2  
-5.00 75 5.0 22.2  
-4.00 69 4.6 26.8  
-3.00 82 5.5 32.3  
-2.00 87 5.8 38.0  
-1.00 85 5.7 43.7  
0.00 83 5.5 49.2 NEUTRAL
1.00 114 7.6 56.7  
2.00 100 6.7 63.4  
3.00 86 5.7 69.1  
4.00 107 7.1 76.2  
5.00 89 5.9 82.1  
6.00 75 5.0 87.1  
7.00 67 4.4 91.6  
8.00 54 3.6 95.2 EFFECTIVE
9.00 29 1.9 97.1  
10.00 19 1.3 98.4  
11.00 17 1.1 99.5  
12.00 8 .5 100.0  
Total 1,505 100.0 100.0  

This scale was then grouped into three categories. The new groups where chosen to regroup as closely as possible into the bottom and top quartiles, with about half the respondents in the middle.

  Frequency Percent
Ineffective 403 26.8
Neutral 637 42.3
Effective 465 30.9
Total 1,505 100.0

Overall, Quebecois, at 39%, were most likely to perceive gun control as being effective, people in the Prairie provinces the most likely to perceive it as ineffective (34%). This difference between Quebec and the Rest of Canada was significant. People in big cities were most likely to perceive "gun control" as being effective, people in small towns the most likely to perceive it as being ineffective. Women were most likely to perceive it as effective, men most likely to think otherwise. Younger people were more likely to be neutral rather than say it was ineffective, but there is little difference in views on effectiveness by age. There were no significant differences in views on effectiveness or ineffectiveness by educational level. The higher the respondent's income the more likely he or she was to perceive "gun control" as ineffective.

Sixty-one percent of gun owners considered gun control to be ineffective, while non-gun owners were most likely to be neutral (45%) or to think it effective (36%). For those with "Right and Hunt" values 45% perceived "gun control" as ineffective, while among those with "No Right No Hunt" values only 10% perceived it to be ineffective. People who favour hunting think stricter regulations will be ineffective, while people who oppose hunting think they will be effective.

Basic Values and Perceptions of Effectiveness (Graphic)

Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Gun Control by Basic Value Orientation
  Right to Own and Attitude Toward Hunting Typology
Index of Perceived Effectiveness of Stricter Gun Control
Right and Hunt

Mixed

No Right, No Hunt
Is Not Effective 45% 21% 10%
Neutral 39% 44% 43%
Is Effective 16% 34% 47%
Total Percent 100% 99%* 100%
Total Responses 529 609 368

Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

As the above table shows, the effect of basic values on perceptions of effectiveness is very strong. This was confirmed in a multiple regression analysis which indicated that the basic values were the most important determinants of the respondent's perceptions of the effectiveness of stricter gun control. Gun ownership, residence in Quebec, gender, being "very familiar" with the current law, and spontaneously mentioning gun control as a means of reducing violent crime, also had an influence, but the respondent's basic values were the most important influence.

The opinions people express about legislative proposals appear to be rational, in most cases, because they believe that they will be effective. What this analysis has demonstrated is that assumptions of effectiveness are largely determined by basic value assumptions, rather than a result of a dispassionate analysis of evidence.

Conclusions

In many ways, the question of the effectiveness of stricter gun control is not a question of fact, but of overall attitudes. Most Canadians do not know what the present law is; have little idea of the realities of homicide, suicide and firearms accidents. In such a situation, responses largely reflect their underlying orientations and their place in the attendent philosophical conflict.

| Forward to Chapter 7 | Back to Top of Chapter 6 | Back to Table of Contents |

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