Canada's Difficult Relationship With Long Guns

Though the country has no Second Amendment, the struggle to control firearms has been a fraught one.

As more details emerge from Wednesday's shooting attack in Ottawa's Parliament Hill, one immediate and inevitable consequence will be a sharp renewal of discourse about gun control laws in Canada.

Despite being hailed for its incredibly low gun-casualty statistics, Canada also has a relatively high rate of gun ownership with nearly 31 firearms per 100 people. According to The Washington Post, that ranks Canada 13th globally. (The United States has 89 firearms per 100 people, which leads the world.)

Wednesday's shooting is reported to have involved a long gun, the kind of weapon Adam Lanza used in the 2013 Newtown shooting. It was also the kind of weapon used in the 1989 Montreal Massacre, a shooting in which 14 women were killed at Ecole Polytechnique. The shooting was the catalyst for stricter gun-control policies in Canada, which were enacted in 1995, however "long guns" still remain legal.

The legislation required licenses for gun ownership along with the establishment of a universal gun registry (including long guns). However, as Forbes pointed out last winter, the process turned out to be both expensive and inefficient, and the long-gun registry was scrapped in 2012.

Pistols were used in 66% of gun homicides in 2011, yet they represent about 6% of the guns in Canada. Legal long guns were used in 11% of killings that year, according to Statistics Canada, while illegal weapons like sawed-off shotguns and machine guns, which by definition cannot be registered, were used in another 12%.

Just earlier this month, Canadian legislators introduced bills that would ostensibly ease the burden for gun owners by simplifying the licensing system. As the CBC points out, the new legislation would also offer a grace period for the renewal of gun licenses and include the right to transport restricted firearms as a "condition of a restricted firearms licence." The legislation would also extend amnesty for owners of Swiss Arms rifles, which include semi-automatic weapons.

Last week, in the Simcoe Reformer, Heidi Rathjen, who survived the Montreal Massacre, criticized the new legislation as a "major, major weakening of what's left of gun control." She added:

“It weakens the minimal screening we have in place now. It also sends a message that the government is not serious about why it is important to have all gun owners licensed at all times.”

She also warned of a rise in the use of long guns: “There will be a proliferation of these guns," she said. "If these guns fall into the wrong hands, you get 20 dead kids like you did at Newtown."