A recent shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada resulted in the deaths of 58 people and injuries of over 400, making it the largest mass shooting in US history. In America, there have been a total of 317 mass shootings in 2017 as of November. The Sutherland Springs church shooting is another incident that has taken place only within the last 3 months–with a death toll of 25. In Canada on the other hand, the most recent mass shooting to take place killed a total of 6 civilians, which happened at a Quebec City mosque on January 29th 2017. But why do we see these occurrences in the first place?
Many factors contribute to these events, one of which is the gun control laws that are in place. American gun laws are much more lenient than Canadian ones. Canada has many more restrictions and mandatory tests that Americans do not.
In Canada, people wanting to own a gun must take the Canadian Firearms Safety Course which goes over necessary gun-related safety topics. Then, there is another course that prospective gun-owners must take called the Canadian Restricted Firearm Safety Course, which goes over more regulated guns such as handguns and semi-automatic weapons. Some topics that are covered are “the evolution of firearms, major parts, types and actions,” “basic firearms safety practices” and “safe handling and carry procedures.” This safety course was made by the RCMP in order to meet the section 7 requirements of the Firearms Act which mandates these courses and tests.
In America however, the only required thing you need to do is complete a questionnaire that asks you a variety of vague questions and, depending on who you are buying the gun from, undergo a background check. Most states do not require a background check for private sales including sales at gun shows. Only nine states require a background check for all guns including private sales. The questionnaire asks for your name, address, place of birth, race and citizenship; whether or not you have ever been convicted of a felony; whether you have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence; and whether you ever been committed to a mental institution.
According to a 2013 analysis by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 98% of the population lives within 10 miles of a gun shop. And with one of the highest populations in the world, America also has one of the highest number of guns. With nearly 101 guns per 100 residents in America, and due to America being populated with approximately 323 million people; the amount of gun-related occurrences has a much larger presence. In Canada, there are approximately 30.8 guns per 100 residents–which is substantially less. These statistics don’t even take into account people who illegally get ahold of guns, both in Canada and the USA.
However, the amount of guns the country has isn’t the only factor to be taken into account. A factor that many people refer to is mental instability. This could include mental illness or the use of substances that could affect with the way a person’s brain functions. Mental health issues and drug use are prominent in both countries. For example, drug use is much more prominent in America by 9% for cannabis and 43% for opiates. Being under the influence of any drug while having a hold of a gun can cause irreversible consequences.
One of the things to be taken into consideration is the issues the perpetrators face–both inner and outer factors could contribute to their use of gun violence. For example, a large factor could be where and how they were raised and peer pressure they get from people in that environment. A lot of young boys are taught that having a gun equates to toughness–this makes it so many grow up and get into gun-related incidents. This example also goes for families who believe that owning a gun is “their right as an American”–as guns are a large part of how America was built as a country. Guns have given white Americans power over people of colour ever since the beginning of American history–with the way Indigenous people were treated as well as Black Americans. Nowadays, this mindset is still prevalent in many white American people, and has been adopted by others as well.
In many circumstances, the firearms often gets into the hands of impressionable people–which leads to consequences like mass shootings. In a country where gun-ownership is considered normal, parents may even buy their children guns that can cause deadly outcomes such as the Cleveland Elementary School shooting, where Brenda Spencer, a 16 year old girl killed 2 people and injured 9 after her father bought her one for Christmas. Brenda Spencer and her father lived in “virtual poverty”–sleeping on a single mattress in the living room, with half empty alcohol bottles found throughout the house.
Canadian gun laws are much more serious than American ones and America simply has a huge number of guns. But there are also cultural differences between the countries that seem to play an important role. Regardless of the reasons, it is clear most people outside of the U.S. that America needs to rethink their laws in order to put a stop to these incidents.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct an error regarding differences in background checks by state.