H. Taylor Buckner, Ph.D. P.O. Box 320, South Hero, Vermont 05486-0320 (802) 372-5236
Home Page   E-Mail: taylor@buckner.cc

Chapter 8. Confiscation of Handguns

If Canada was separated from Earth by millions of miles that could only be traversed with great difficulty and expense, banning handguns might make sense. As Canada shares a long and open border with the United States, where handguns are readily available, banning handguns is an exercise in futility. Canada is powerless to prevent the black market from supplying all the arms necessary for criminal enterprise.

In its September 30, 1993, press release, based on the Angus Reid Poll they sponsored, the Coalition for Gun Control stated that 71% of Canadians favoured entirely prohibiting handguns for civilians. The question they asked was:

"Handguns in Canada are also categorized as restricted weapons which can be owned by civilians who are members of gun clubs or who are gun collectors. These guns cannot be used for hunting. It has been suggested that handguns, which are easily concealed, should be entirely prohibited for civilians. Overall do you support the banning of all handguns for civilian use in Canada?"

There are two major problems with this question,. First, it is loaded with misleading phrases like, "cannot be used for hunting," and "easily concealed." Second, it glosses over the fact that it would be necessary to confiscate nearly a million handguns from their authorized owners to enforce such a complete prohibition.

To make laws that control behaviour terms must be precisely defined. The same word may mean quite different things in everyday discourse and legal terminology. The word "prohibit," in common usage means, "to forbid by authority, to prevent from doing something." The word "ban" means "to prohibit by legal means." The term "prohibited weapon" requires seven subsections of the Criminal Code (84. (1)). It does not mean that the weapon cannot be possessed, in most cases, by at least some class of authorized people. C-68 added over half a million "short-barreled" and "small calibre" pistols to the class of "prohibited weapons," but this does not mean that their current owners can not keep and use them. For there to be a "prohibition" or "banning" in the everyday sense, and the sense suggested by the Reid-Coalition for Gun Control question, the guns would all have to be confiscated.

There is some question as to whether Canadian citizens have any property rights, they are not mentioned in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but are a tradition of British Common Law. Traditionally, compensation is paid for property taken by the government. If the government confiscated a million registered handguns (conservatively worth $300 each on average), the total payment to gun owners would be in the range of a third of a billion dollars, not counting legal and administrative costs. These costs and the social conflicts it would engender, have led to a "confiscation in place" policy of "grandfathering" categories of current owners. The owners are stripped of many of their property rights, they can only sell to other owners in the same category, on their deaths the guns will be confiscated, but no compensation is paid to the estate.

According to the Coalition 71% of Canadians support a complete ban on handguns for civilian use. But does the public support the measures that would be necessary to achieve such a prohibition? Should the handguns of collectors, target shooters, and those who had them for self-defense be confiscated? Only a minority of respondents said "yes."

Whose Handguns Should be Confiscated?

Three questions were introduced by the statement, "Many Canadians have police permits to possess handguns for collecting, target shooting and self-defense purposes."

Many Canadians have police permits to possess handguns for collecting, target shooting, and self-defence purposes.
13.1 Do you think that Collectors handguns should be confiscated?
Responses Number Percent
Yes 306 20.3
No 1116 74.2
Don't Know, Refused 82 5.5
Total Responses 1,505 100.0

About three out of four respondents said that collectors' handguns should not be confiscated, an additional five percent said they did not know. Thus only 20% of the respondents thought that collectors' handguns should be confiscated. These questions were collapsed to include the "don't know" responses with the "no" responses, so that the minority who favoured confiscation could be analyzed.

There were no statistically significant differences between regions of Canada for this question. Respondents in large cities were most favourable to confiscation, with 25% in favour, while only 13% of rural respondents shared the opinion. Fourteen percent of males supported confiscating collectors handguns, as did 27% of women. Younger people were more in favour (25%) than older people (18%). There was no significant difference between respondents with different levels of education. Respondents in the lowest income group were more in favour of confiscation (30%) than those in other income groups (18%).

Gun owners were 91% opposed, while non-gun owners were 24% in favour. Among those who disagree strongly with Canadians having the right to own a firearm, 63% oppose confiscation of collectors' handguns, while 64% of those who strongly oppose hunting also oppose the confiscation of collectors handguns. Among those with "Right and Hunt" values, 91% oppose the confiscation of collectors handguns. Among those who believe gun control to be ineffective, 92% oppose confiscation of collectors handguns, while only 32% of those who think gun control is effective support confiscation. Among those who oppose registration, 94% oppose confiscation of collectors handguns, while even among those who support registration at any cost, 71% oppose and 29% favour confiscating collectors handguns.

Almost three quarters of the respondents oppose confiscating the handguns of target shooters.

13.2 Do you think that Target shooters' handguns should be confiscated?
Responses: Number Percent
Yes 363 24.1
No 1060 70.4
Don't Know, Refused 82 5.4
Total Responses 1,505 100.0

Opposition to confiscating target shooters' handguns ranged from 83% in the Prairie Provinces and the oldest age group, to 68% among women and the lowest income category. Some 90% of gun-owners disagreed, as did 72% of those who don't own any. A majority of those who disagree strongly with the right to own a firearm (56%), of those who strongly oppose hunting (57%), and of those with "No Right No Hunt" values (51%) also oppose the confiscation target shooters handguns. Among those who think gun control ineffective, 90% oppose confiscation of target shooters handguns, while 63% of those who think it effective also oppose it. Among those who oppose registration, 95% oppose confiscating target shooters handguns, and 62% of those who favour registration at any cost share this opinion.

The confiscation of handguns from collectors and target shooters is clearly not acceptable to the majority of Canadians, even among those who think Canadians should not have a right to own a firearm of any kind.

Canadians are ambivalent about the use of firearms for self-defense. Although "defense of life" is one of the legal reasons for possessing a handgun, in recent years such permits have been rarely issued. Canadians have been subjected to a barrage of statements about the uselessness and danger of keeping a gun for self-defense, often based on Dr. Arthur Kellermann's U.S. studies (Buckner's critique of Kellermann). The usual mental image is of a handgun in a bedside table, just waiting to shoot a spouse, be turned against the home owner by a robber, or stolen. People rarely think of those who work in bear country, or the late-night convenience store owner. Urban people rarely think of the danger a rabid animal poses to livestock and children. On an abstract level, self-defense has become defined as a bad and dangerous practice, but 60% of the respondents said they would use a firearm to protect themselves or their family.

Unlike collecting and target shooting, self-defense implies the potential use of a gun against a living animal or person. Still, only a minority of the respondents favour the idea of confiscating self-defense handguns.

13.3 Do you think that people who own handguns for self-defence should have their guns confiscated?
Responses Number Percent
Yes 714 47.5
No 649 43.1
Don't Know, Refused 142 9.4
Total Responses 1,505 100.0

Only in Quebec do a majority (55%) favour confiscation of hand guns for self defence, everywhere a majority (55%) reject it. In large cities a very slight majority (51%) favour it, the concept is rejected elsewhere A majority of men reject confiscation (58%), while a majority of women favour it (53%). Confiscation is favoured by the youngest respondents (55% in favour), but rejected by half of the middle aged respondents and 63% of the older respondents. Confiscation is rejected by respondents at all educational levels, except for university graduates - who were most likely to reject confiscation of target shooters' handguns, and most likely to favour confiscation of self-defense handguns. Attitudes on the confiscation of self-defense handguns were not significantly related to the income levels.

A slight majority of non-gun owners (51%) favoured confiscation of self-defense handguns, while a large majority of gun owners (68%) rejected it. Basic values play an important role in determining attitudes toward confiscating self-defense handguns. Those who have "Right and Hunt" values are 68% opposed to confiscation. Those who have "No Right No Hunt" values (72% favour) are strongly in favour of confiscating self-defense handguns.

Overall, the concept of other people's self-defense is troubling to Canadians, though most say they would defend themselves. A majority (54%) of those who say they would not use a gun to defend themselves or their families from an aggressor favour confiscating self-defense handguns, while a majority (57%) of those who would use a gun oppose confiscating self-defense handguns. Fundamental values seem to have guided responses to this question. Those who want to restrict, register, and eliminate firearms are the only people likely to support confiscation of self-defense guns.

The three questions on confiscation were combined into a single index to see how much support for confiscation of all handguns actually exists. If a respondent said that none of the three types of users, collectors, target shooters, or self-defense owners, should have their handguns confiscated, they were categorized as "none." If the respondent said one or two types (usually "self-defense" was one of the types) should be confiscated they were categorized as "some." If the respondent said all three types of users should have their handguns confiscated, the equivalent of a total prohibition of handguns, they were categorized as "all."

Handgun Confiscation Index
Types of users handguns (Collector, Target, Self-Defence) respondent would confiscate

None (No confiscation of handguns) 682 45.3
Some (One or two types) 622 41.4
All (All three types of users) 200 13.3
Total Responses 1,505 100.0

Overall 45% of the respondents did not support confiscating any handguns, 41% supported confiscating handguns from one or two types of users, and 13% supported confiscating from all three types of users. This result stands in remarkable contradiction to the findings of the Coalition for Gun Control Survey which found that 71% of Canadians favoured entirely prohibiting handguns for civilians. When Canadians are asked to make a "public judgement," rather than expressing a "mass opinion," support for prohibiting all handguns drops from 71% to 13%.

Opposition to confiscation is highest in the Prairie provinces with 57% "none," lowest in Quebec with 34% "none." Support for complete confiscation is highest in British Columbia, 16% "all" and lowest (10% "all") in the Atlantic and Prairie provinces. Quebeckers are highest in their support for "some" confiscation (51%), reflecting their willingness to confiscate self-defense handguns.

Opposition to confiscation is highest in rural areas (51% "none"), lowest in large cities (40% "none"). Support for complete confiscation is highest in the large cities at 16%, lowest in the rural areas at 8%. A majority of men, 53%, oppose confiscation, while only 38% of women are opposed. Women are twice as likely (18%) as men (9%) to support complete confiscation.

A majority of older Canadians, 55%, oppose confiscation as do only 38% of the youngest age group. Support for complete confiscation is at 18% in the youngest age group, and 10% in the oldest age group. There is no significant relationship between the respondent's educational level or income level and support or opposition to confiscation. Understandably gun owners are most opposed to confiscation at 64%, while only 41% of non-gun owners are opposed. Sixteen percent of non-gun owners are in favour of complete confiscation, while only 4% of gun owners feel this way.

Again, the respondent's basic values are the most important influence on their views of confiscation. Among those with "Right and Hunt" values, 63% oppose all confiscation. On the other side of the equation, those with "No Right No Hunt" values 32% favour complete confiscation.

Among those who think that gun control is not effective, 66% oppose confiscation, while of those who think it is effective only 29% oppose confiscation. Only 5% of those who think that gun control is not effective support complete confiscation, while 21% of those who think gun control is effective support complete confiscation. Among those who are opposed to registration 72% oppose confiscation, while among those who favour registration at any cost, only 30% oppose it. Among those who oppose registration only 3% favour complete confiscation, while 21% of those who favour registration at any cost agree.

Values, Effectiveness, and Support for Confiscation

As is the case with Registration, those whose basic values are either "Right and Hunt" or "Mixed" oppose confiscation if they think that gun control is ineffective, but are somewhat more likely to support it if they think that gun control is effective. Among those with "No Right No Hunt" values there is no significant relationship between their views on the effectiveness of gun control and their attitude on confiscation. They tend to strongly (over 30%) support complete confiscation whether they think that gun control is ineffective or effective. Their basic values rule their judgements, and the benefits or lack thereof, are irrelevant.

Attitude on Confiscation, by Perceived Effectiveness, by Basic Values (Graphic)

    Perceived Effectiveness of Stricter Gun Control
Basic Values Confiscation Not Effective Neutral Is Effective Total Percent
Right and Hunt NONE 74% 57% 46% 63%
  SOME 24% 39% 46% 33%
  ALL 2% 4% 7% 4%
  Column% 100% 100% *99% 100%
  Row% 45% 39% 16% 100%
  number = 236 208 84 528
Mixed NONE 63% 46% 31% 45%
  SOME 34% 45% 52% 45%
  ALL 3% 9% 16% 10%
  Column % 100% 100% *99% 100%
  Row % 22% 44% 34% 100%
  number = 131 271 208 610
No Right, NONE 32% 23% 18% 22%
No Hunt SOME 38% 46% 48% 46%
  ALL 30% 31% 34% 32%
  Column % 100% 100% 100% 100%
  Row% 10% 43% 47% 100%
  number = 37 158 173 368
total Responses Row% 27% 42% 31% 100%
  numbers = 404 637 465 **1,506

* Totals may not equal 100% because of rounding.

** Total Number of Cases may not equal 1,505 because of weighting.

Support for confiscating handguns from all types of owners is exceptionally high among those with "No Right No Hunt" values even when they think that gun control is ineffective. This finding is very discouraging for those who think that public policy should be based on reason and fact. This "value rationality," as Max Weber would have termed it (as opposed to "instrumental rationality"), introduces a fundamentally destructive element into the gun control debate. If it does not matter whether a policy makes sense or is effective to some participants in a debate; if a policy is supported in spite of the fact that its proponents do not believe it will work; if reason is rejected, then debate becomes a sham, and arbitrary, irrational emotion becomes the basis for public policy.


Again the distinction between mass opinion and public judgement is important. Many people "wish" all handguns would go away, just as many wish for a world without war, injustice, or poverty. When it comes to making a judgement about actually seizing someone's property, other values become relevant.

Canadians do not support the banning of handguns if it means confiscation. Even those who would confiscate self-defense handguns might alter their judgement if they had a more realistic idea of the situations in which "defense of life" permits are granted. The respondent's basic values with regard to firearms ownership and hunting are extremely important in determining the position taken on confiscation. For those who reject the right to own a firearm and oppose hunting, being true to their values is more important than the results they anticipate.

| Forward to Chapter 9 | Back to Top of Chapter 8 | Back to Table of Contents |