OLR Research Report

The Connecticut General Assembly


September 15, 1994 94-R-0882


FROM: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst

RE: Gun Violence in Canada

You previously requested information on gun-related violence in the United States and Canada and we provided you with copies of two articles examining this issue. This report summarizes the salient points and conclusions of these two studies.

The first of these two reports examines data from both countries for 1977 through 1983 comparing the rates of killing in both countries, both in overall terms and in terms of gun-related events. The authors generally conclude that Canadians kill with firearms less frequently than Americans and that this difference is even more significant with respect to handgun killings. In fact, U.S. handgun murder rates are significantly higher than the total Canadian homicide rate (which includes manslaughter as well as murder). The authors credit Canadian gun restrictions with having a beneficial effect in preventing deaths.

The second study looks at U.S. and Canadian rates of homicide, robbery, suicide, accidental death, and firearm possession over a longer period, from 1974 through 1986. The author concludes that, except in the area of armed robberies, Canadian gun restrictions do not appear to have had a perceptible effect on rates compared to trends in the U.S. But the author acknowledges that the actual availability of firearms may have increased in Canada over this period and the relatively unchanged rates may represent an improvement over the rate increases that might have occurred otherwise.

Killing with Guns in the USA and Canada 1977-1983: Further Evidence for the Effectiveness of Gun Control

This article, published in 1989 by Catherine Sproule and Deborah Kennett of Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, examines the results of several other studies and analyzes killing rates in the United States and Canada for the period from 1977 to 1983 to demonstrate the relative effectiveness of Canadian gun control. The authors start with the expectation that the rate of killing by guns will be lower in Canada than in the United States and that, due to Canada's strict regulation of handgun availability, the difference in the two countries' killing rates for people using handguns will be even greater than with killings for other firearms.

To begin, the authors briefly characterize the difference between Canadian and U.S. restrictions on handguns. Essentially, this difference is that in Canada, handgun ownership is controlled by federal law while in the U.S. it is primarily a matter of state regulation. Handgun ownership permits in Canada are restricted to police and other security personnel, members of bona fide gun clubs, bona fide gun collectors, and people who are able to demonstrate a need for handguns for self-protection. The authors assert that avoidance of gun restrictions is considerably easier in the U.S. than in Canada because boundaries can be crossed easily to take advantage of more lenient controls in another jurisdiction.

Using data from national statistical sources in both countries, the authors calculate an average "killing" rate per 100,000 population for the period from 1977 to 1983. They note that the two databases are not strictly comparable in that the U.S. data are for murders while the Canadian data are for homicides, which includes murder, manslaughter, and infanticide. They assert that the fact that the Canadian category is more inclusive than the U.S. category ultimately supports their conclusions more effectively.

They found that the average killing rate (per 100,000 population) using handguns was 0.28 for Canada and 4.05 in the U.S. The rate for firearms other than handguns was 0.67 in Canada and 1.32 in the U.S. The rate for nonshooting methods of killing was 1.79 in Canada and 3.31 in the U.S. Thus the average murder rate in the U.S for all killing methods was significantly higher than average Canadian homicide rates. They concluded that their prediction that the difference between the two countries' average killing rates would be greater for handgun killings than for killings by other types of firearms was supported by the statistical analysis of the data.

They also drew several other conclusions from the data as follows:

1. The average U.S. murder rate for handguns (4.05 per 100,000) was significantly greater than the average Canadian rate for all methods of killing (2.73).

2. Even though the average U.S. rate for nonshooting murders was significantly higher than the Canadian nonshooting rate, significantly more Canadian homicides occurred by nonshooting than shooting methods (1.79 vs. 0.94).

3. The U.S.shooting rate was significantly higher than the Canadian shooting rate (5.37 vs. 0.94).

The authors felt that their analysis supports the conclusion that Canadians kill less with firearms than Americans and that the difference between the two countries is larger for handguns, which are restricted weapons in Canada but not in the U.S, than for other firearms. U.S. average handgun murder rates were higher that the total Canadian homicide rate by all methods. They did not feel that the data supported claims that strict gun controls merely act to induce killing by other methods in Canada in that: (1) putting handguns in a restricted category did not cause higher killing rates with other types of firearms; (2) Canadian rates for firearms other than handguns were lower than U.S. rates for killings with other firearms; and (3) Canadian rates for nonshooting methods were much lower than U.S. nonshooting rates even with strict gun control.

The authors speculated that, based on their earlier work showing that Canadian killers with guns were more likely to have multiple victims than nonshooting killers, the high U.S. murder rate for shooting methods may be partially attributable to multiple-victim events.

The authors cite another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1988 (Sloan et al.) comparing crime, assault, and homicide rates in Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia from 1980 through 1986. They quote the study as indicating that although crime rates were similar in the two cities, assaults involving firearms were seven times higher in Seattle and differences in homicide rates were almost completely accounted for by almost a five times greater risk of being murdered with a handgun in Seattle than in Vancouver.

As a final observation, the authors, using the conclusions of another study that gun ownership in Detroit was inversely related to individuals' confidence in collective institutions to protect their security, concluded that maintenance of a high level of confidence in police and justice institutions was an important means of deterring gun acquisition in Canada.

Gun Control and Rates of Firearms Violence in Canada and the United States

This article was published in 1990 by Robert Mundt of the University of North Carolina. The study looks at Canadian and U.S. rates of violent crime, suicide, and accidental death over time (1974-86) to attempt to determine if Canadian gun restrictions enacted in 1977 affected these rates in Canada when compared to the U.S. In brief, Mundt concludes that the restrictions had little perceptible effect in decreasing the rates in Canada in comparison. Mundt concluded that the only category in which a noteworthy decrease occurred over time or in comparison with parallel trends in the U.S. was in the use of firearms in robberies. He critiques numerous other studies that have attempted to examine the effect of the Canadian restrictions, including Sproule's and Kennett's earlier study, but not their study summarized above.

Mundt found that Canadian homicide rates by firearms as a proportion of all homicides dropped rapidly between 1974 and 1976, stabilized through 1978 and declined gradually to 1981. After increasing in 1982, the rate stabilized thorough 1987 at about 31% (i.e., 31% of all homicides are with firearms). While the U.S. statistics also show a decrease in the proportion of all homicides occurring with firearms during this period, the U.S. proportion is twice the Canadian proportion.

The proportion of robberies involving firearms in Canada dropped from 38% in 1977 to 34% in 1981 to 25% in 1988. The proportion of U.S. robberies involving firearms decreased from 45% in 1974 to 33% in 1988, but the rate of decrease was less than in Canada so that the gap in proportionality between the two countries is now 8% instead of 3%. Mundt would not speculate whether the difference is due to Canadian gun control or part of the same general decrease that went on in the U.S.

The overall Canadian suicide rate has consistently been slightly higher than the U.S. rate, but suicide rate by firearm is significantly higher in the U.S. each year. (The suicide rate by firearm in 1986 was about 4 per 100,000 population in Canada and almost 7.5 per 100,000 in the U.S., but overall suicide rates were close at around 13 per 100,000. Mundt saw no particular effect in suicide rates that he would attribute to the Canadian gun restrictions of 1977.

Mundt states that the accidental death rates from firearms have been declining in both the U.S. and Canada from 1974 through 1986, but that the U.S. rate is consistently two to three times greater than Canada's rate. He concludes that there is no statistical evidence of an independent effect of Canadian gun restrictions, but that the constant gap between the rates in the two countries is more easily related to the general availability of guns in the respective populations than it is for violent crimes and suicides.

Mundt concludes, based on what he acknowledges are general approximations, that the number of firearms in Canada may have actually risen following implementation of the gun control measures from a rate of 44,500 weapons per 100,000 population in 1976 to 46,000 per 100,000 in 1988. He estimates handgun ownership to have increased from 2970 per 100,000 in 1976 to 3560 per 100,000 in 1988. While citing the significant problems with data in both countries on firearms totals, he concludes that while the Canadian firearms stock has grown, the growth is less rapid than in the U.S. during this same period. Specifically, he estimates that the number of all firearms grew by 26% in the U.S. during this period compared to 4% in Canada. Growth rates for handguns only were 35% in the U.S compared to 12% in Canada. While rate increases in gun owners are probably more important than in the number of guns themselves, Mundt states that there are no data beyond occasional surveys for estimating gun owners.

Since he concludes that gun availability has probably increased in Canada over the period encompassing implementation of handgun controls, Mundt states that the significant effect of the control measures may have been to slow the rise in firearms violence that otherwise would have occurred in Canada. On the other hand, he states that the inhibiting effect of the U.S.-Canadian border has had an evident effect on keeping violence rates relatively low in Canada over time compared to the U.S.