There is another more serious difficulty: You don’t have to live next to the United States to see how hard it is to stop criminals from getting guns. The easy part is getting law-abiding citizens to disarm; the hard part is getting the guns from criminals. Drug gangs that are firing guns in places like Toronto seem to have little trouble getting the drugs that they sell and it should not be surprising that they can get the weapons they need as well.
The experiences in the U.K. and Australia, two island nations whose borders are much easier to monitor, should also give Canadian gun controllers some pause. The British government banned handguns in 1997 but recently reported that gun crime in England and Wales nearly doubled in the four years from 1998-99 to 2002-03.
Crime was not supposed to rise after handguns were banned. Yet, since 1996 the serious-violent-crime rate has soared by 69 percent; robbery is up 45 percent, and murders up 54 percent. Before the law, armed robberies had fallen 50 percent from 1993 to 1997, but as soon as handguns were banned the robbery rate shot back up, almost to its 1993 level.
The 2000 International Crime Victimization Survey, the last survey completed, shows the violent-crime rate in England and Wales was twice the rate of that in the U.S. When the new survey for 2004 comes out later this year, that gap will undoubtedly have widened even further as crimes reported to British police have since soared by 35 percent, while those in the U.S. have declined 6 percent.
During the 1990s, just as Britain and Australia were more severely regulating guns, the U.S. was greatly liberalizing individuals’ abilities to carry firearms. Thirty seven of the fifty states now have so-called right-to-carry laws that let law-abiding adults carry concealed handguns after passing a criminal background check and paying a fee. Only half the states require some training, usually around three to five hours. Yet crime has fallen even faster in these states than the national average. Overall, the states in the U.S. that have experienced the fastest growth rates in gun ownership during the 1990s have experienced the biggest drops in murders and other violent crimes.
Many things affect crime: The rise of drug-gang violence in Canada and Britain is an important part of the story, just as it has long been important in explaining the U.S.’s rates. (Few Canadians appreciate that 70 percent of American murders take place in just 3.5 percent of our counties, and that a large percentage of those are drug-gang related.) Just as these gangs can smuggle drugs into the country, they can smuggle in weapons to defend their turf.