Politics & Policy

Blame Canada

Our northern neighbors may try to cut gun freedoms here.

Canada’s two major parties–the long-ruling Liberals and the new Conservative Party of Canada–remained deadlocked after the polls closed last night. In all likelihood, that’s bad news for gun ownership and public safety up north.

The Liberals, who have gone from a 168-seat majority in the 308-seat House of Commons to a plurality of about 135 seats, will almost certainly form a coalition with the socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) to rule Canada. The NDP peddles a watered-down form of socialism that’s heavy on interest-group politics but moderate overall: The party has few major spending plans, and even proposes some tax cuts. But the NDP is dead set on taking away Canadians’ guns and even reducing gun freedoms in the U.S. “We’re proposing going across the border to the U.S. and actively engaging in lobbying to have gun-control laws in the U.S. strengthened,” NDP leader Jack Layton explained at a May campaign rally in Winnipeg. And, given that the Liberals will almost certainly have to deal with him to join a government, more gun control–which imposes reasonably few monetary burdens–may well become reality.

It’s an easy bone for Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin to throw to his coalition partners, but it’s a bad idea. While Canada has banned most handgun ownership since 1977, Canadians remain even more likely to hunt and shoot than their American counterparts. The NDP wants none of this: It proposes taking away vaguely defined “assault weapons” (this likely refers to hunting weapons, since private ownership of machine guns is already illegal in Canada) and lobbying U.S. state and federal governments to take away their own citizens’ guns.

In addition to being awfully arrogant, this plan is ironic, since more crime probably flows from Canada to the U.S. than vice versa: The nation has an overall crime rate half again higher than the United States’. Toronto, once the safest large city in North America, now has more muggings, car thefts, and violent assaults per capita than New York City. All of Canada’s major provinces would rank among the 20 most dangerous American states. Since American crime rates peaked in the early 1990s, crime has fallen in 48 American states and over 80 percent of America’s major cities. Meanwhile, it has risen in six of Canada’s ten major providences and seven of its ten largest cities. The reasons for this divide are complex, but it’s notable that the United States imprisons wrongdoers at about five times Canada’s rate and has about a quarter more police on a per-capita basis. Canada, meanwhile, can boast only of a national gun-registration database that cost 1,000 times more than originally projected.

Indeed, international comparisons lend credence to the idea that Canada’s existing gun controls aren’t helping, and that more gun control will make things worse. Both the United Kingdom and Australia have seen crime soar after they imposed more severe versions of the gun-grabbing legislation the NDP faction in Canada’s government will push. Both nations, much safer than the United States through the 1970s, are significantly more dangerous today.

Canadians, whose Charter of Rights and Freedoms contains no right to keep and bear arms and whose legal system offers little in the way of judicial review, will almost certainly have at least some of their guns taken away when their newly organized government gets down to business. So long as a Republican remains in the White House, Americans probably have little to fear from whatever lobbyists Ottawa might send to push for gun control in Washington. Even John Kerry–who may well run on the first Democratic platform in a generation that doesn’t call for major new gun control laws–probably wouldn’t be swayed. But, at the very least, those who support grabbing America’s guns will have a powerful foreign champion in their corner.

Gun control has failed in Canada and everywhere else governments have tried to impose it. Canadians have reasonable concerns about crime, but their next government’s likely gun-control plans won’t help things.

Eli Lehrer is an associate fellow of the Sagamore Institute.

Eli Lehrer is president and co-founder of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank. He lives in Herndon, Va., with his wife, Kari, and son, Andrew.

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