The Myth of Arming for Self-Protection

The gun lobby, in the U.S. and in Canada, has argued that an armed nation would result in less crime. Good citizens with guns would be equipped to prevent armed robberies and mass shootings. Women with guns in their possession can better protect themselves from an assault. Widespread gun ownership would force people into behaving decently, as an armed society is a “polite” society. Some even argue that depriving citizens of the ability to defend themselves using firearms infringes our right to security of the person (section 7 of the Charter).

In Canada, citizens are rarely permitted to carry concealed weapons on their person. So what if all law-abiding citizens carried guns? Would we be safer? Would we even feel safer?

Consider the United States as an example of this theory in action. In the year 2011, the rate of death in the United States was 10.3 per 100,000 people, as compared to 1.97 in Canada that same year. Looking specifically at homicides involving firearms, the United States saw 3.00 homicides per 100,000 people in 2012, which was six times the rate seen in Canada that year (0.49 per 100,000). Among incidents involving concealable handguns, the homicide rate in the U.S. totalled 2.16 per 100,000 – nearly 7 times that of the rate in Canada (0.31 per 100,000). To put things in perspective, the U.S. homicide rate for incidents not involving firearms (1.33 per 100,000) was only slightly higher than the Canadian rate of 1.07 per 100,000.

Any potential benefit of keeping a gun for self-protection is offset by the many risks associated with doing so. It is true that “criminals” can obtain guns illegally, but all Canadians are capable of using firearms irresponsibly. The potential for impulsive, irresponsible behaviour motivated by such factors as rage or alcohol would increase significantly with the widespread availability of firearms made available for self-protection. The potential for guns to fall into the wrong hands multiplies exponentially with the widespread availability of firearms.

The assumption that all citizens are armed can actually endanger victims, as potential assailants would be more likely to fatally wound a victim knowing that they are armed. A rational criminal would shoot before the victim has the opportunity to reach for a gun. One study found that an assault victim carrying a firearm is 4.5 times more likely to be shot during an altercation, with their odds of being killed being 4.2 times greater.

Citizens are also not trained law enforcement officials with the ability to make proper judgment calls and fire accurately. Many lives would fall to impulsive individuals who incorrectly assessed a situation or targeted the wrong victim.

In real life, there is no clear distinction between good and evil. It is too simplistic view of society to suggest that we would be better off if good people possessed the ability to kill with the pull of a trigger. If the situation in the United States is any indication, an armed society would lead to anything but a safer society.

JN

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