The LA Times today has a disapproving article about the new Canadian Conservative Party-led government’s move from registering guns to arresting criminals.
Police began kicking down doors before dawn on a chilly May morning while gang members in Toronto’s Jamestown neighborhood still slept. By lunchtime, officers had made 106 arrests, collected 33 guns and announced that they had broken an international gun ring run by the notorious Jamestown Crew.
The raid was a shot across the bow from newly elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who says his Conservative Party government is going to spend its money on crime control, not gun control.
The sweep came two days after Harper announced plans to dismantle Canada’s controversial gun registry — a system reviled by conservatives and gun owners, but lauded by others for reducing homicides and helping police.
The article makes a case for Canada’s peacefulness:
Compared with the United States, where there are 220 million guns among 300 million people, and 10,800 gun-related homicides in 2004, Canada is a peaceful backwater, with 7.1 million registered guns and only 175 gun homicides that year. Los Angeles alone had 416 gun-related killings that year.
But whether out of laziness or other motives, Maggie Farley fails to do some simple math:
Canada vs. US Gun ownership & Gun Homicide
|population in 000’s
|guns in 000’s
|per 1000 people
|per 1000 guns
So the US has 9 times Canada’s population, and 53 times the number of firearms murders (Canada’s numbers from the Times article, the 2004 US numbers from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports). We have 31 times the number of guns.
So we have 5.9 times the number of murders/person and 1.7 times the number of guns. These may suggest that there’s something cultural afoot, instead.
But Canada’s gang-related killings have gone up fourfold in a decade, along with the growth of gangs largely imported from the U.S. that attract what police and social workers describe as young black males from mostly West Indian immigrant families. And with the gangsta culture come the guns.
“If you want a gun, you can get one in a day, a couple of hours maybe,” said Andrew Bacchus, 30, founder of Toronto’s Vice Lords gang who is now working with Breaking the Cycle, a gang-exiting program. “The gun registry hasn’t made any difference on that.”
Homicide rates have increased, but shootings have mostly been confined to neighborhoods inhabited by gangs, such as Jamestown in the northeast part of the city. But the death last year of a 15-year-old girl caught in gang crossfire in a downtown shopping center the day after Christmas — and in the middle of an election campaign — was a turning point.
Fighting crime became a part of nearly every stump speech, a theme that hit home not just with Conservatives, but with middle-class voters across the spectrum. Harper promised stricter sentencing, but also a repeal of the gun registry, saying the millions it cost a year to track hunters would be better used for cracking down on gangs.
The article makes two of the three arguments I’ll make about a program like Canada’s.
1. It doesn’t work.
Washington DC and New York City are among the highest crime cities in the US, and yet have the most Draconian firearms laws.
2. It costs a lot – financially in this case – and that money would be better spent on other programs to reduce crime.
The registry was an obvious target. When it was created a little more than a decade ago, it was expected to cost only a few million dollars, and to be largely self-sustained by user fees. The expense of creating an extensive computerized database spiraled out of control, however, and an auditor general’s report this month estimated the cost to be nearly $1 billion over 10 years. It also showed that officials with the former Liberal Party government buried budget overruns so they wouldn’t have to go before Parliament to seek more money.
So if it has halved the firearms death rate in Canada, from 350 to 175, it has saved 175 people a year, or 1,750 people over ten years at a cost of a billion dollars. I’ve got to believe that you can do better than that by spending the money somewhere else.
My third reason is visible outside my dining room window, in the park across the street that’s just being renovated.
The playground used to have a 20’tall climbing structure and slide that was one of the most heavily used in the park. It’s gone now, because it’s considered unsafe to let children play in an environment where they might injure themselves. There are new standards for playground equipment, and many of the favorites that my older sons played on are now illegal.
The idea that we would leave people free to make mistakes in order to create a culture of responsibility is one of the major victims of laws like those gun control aimed not at legitimately restricting some aspect of firearms ownership (and I do think there are legitimate restrictions we could enact). Instead they are about changing the culture:
Although it doesn’t directly address the problem of illegal handguns, the registry helps create a culture in which guns are seen as dangerous and owners are held accountable, said Wendy Cukier, a professor of justice studies at Ryerson University and the co-author of the book “The Global Gun Epidemic.”
And that’s why people like me, who believe that some firearms regulations can have impacts and are sensible and equitable tend to side with the absolutists.
Because regulators like Prof, Cukier don’t really care if the regulations work, or if they are the best expenditure of the state’s money or legitimacy.
They just want a world where there are no guns, and no playground equipment is more than 4′ off the ground.