Published Friday, August 19, 2005, in National Review Online.

Last paragraph in piece corrected.

Canada Blames Us: Gun-control folly here, up north, across the pond...

John R. Lott, Jr.*

If you have a problem, try blaming it on someone else. And with Canada’s murder rate rising 12 percent last year and the recent rash of murders by gangs this year in Toronto and other cities, it is understandable that Canadian politicians want to blame someone else. That at least was the strategy by Canada’s Premiers when the meet last Thursday with the new U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, and spent much of their meeting blaming their problems on guns being smuggled from the United States.

Of course, there is a minor little problem with the attacks on the U.S.. Canadians really don’t know what the facts are. The reason is simple: despite billions of dollars spent on the Canada’s gun registration program and the program not actually solving any crimes, the government does not even know the number of crime guns seized in Canada, let alone where those crime guns came from. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported in late-July that they “cannot know if [the guns] were traceable or where they might have been traced.” Thus, even if smuggled guns were an important problem, the Canadian government doesn’t know if it is worse now than in the past.

Even in Toronto, which keeps some track of these numbers, Paul Culver, a senior Toronto Crown Attorney, claims that guns from the U.S. are a "small part" of the problem.

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. The drug gangs that are firing guns in places such as Toronto seem to have no trouble getting the drugs that they sell and it should not be any more surprising that they can get the weapons they need to defend their valuable property.

The experiences in the UK 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%: robbery is up by 45% and murders up by 54%. Before the law, armed robberies had fallen by 50% from 1993 to 1997, but as soon as handguns were banned the robbery rate shot back up, almost back to their 1993 levels.

The 2000 International Crime Victimization Survey, the last survey done, shows the violent-crime rate in England and Wales was twice the rate 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%, while declining 6% in the U.S.

Australia has also seen its violent crime rates soar to rates similar to Britain's immediately after its 1996 Port Arthur gun control measures. Violent crime rates averaged 32% higher in the six years after the law was passed (from 1997 to 2002) than they did the year before the law in 1995. The same comparisons for armed robbery rates showed increases of 74%.

During the 1990s, just as Britain and Australia were more severely regulating guns, the U.S. was greatly liberalizing individuals' abilities to carry guns. Thirty-seven of the 50 states now have so-called right-to-carry laws that let law-abiding adults carry concealed handguns once they pass a criminal background check and pay a fee. Only half the states require some training, usually around three to five hours' worth. 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 murder rates and other violent crimes.

Many things affect crime; the rise of drug-gang violence in Canada as well as 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 what a large percentage of those murders are drug gang related.) Drug gangs can't simply call up the police when another gang encroaches on their turf, so they end up essentially setting up their own armies. And just as they can smuggle drugs into the country, they can smuggle in weapons to defend their turf.

With Canada's reported violent-crime rate about twice the U.S.'s rate, Canada's politicians are understandably nervous. While it is always easier to blame another someone else for your problems, the solution to this is home grown.

Mr. Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Presss, 2000) and "The Bias Against Guns" (Regnery 2003).

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