The tragic mass murder of 27 people -- including 20 small children -- in an elementary school in Connecticut has shocked the world and again placed a harsh and unforgiving light on America’s gun culture.
The motive for the horrific killings, committed by a 20-year-old man named Adam Lanza who shot himself to death, may never be known.
Nonetheless, the slaughter of innocents has sparked widespread calls for tighter gun control measures and a ban on assault weapons from many quarters.
However, not every country with a deep gun culture is addicted to mindless violence. Consider Canada, a nation, which – like its American neighbor – has a pioneer culture and a strong affinity for guns.
Such massacres rarely occur north of the border.
According to Statistics Canada, this country’s homicide-by-guns rate amounted to 0.5 per 100,000 in 2011. In contrast, the U.S. rate for 2010 was 3.6 per 100,000, or more than seven times the Canadian rate.
But private gun ownership in Canada is widespread. With a ratio of 23.8 firearms per 100 people, Canada has the thirteenth highest rate in the world. (U.S. is at the very top)
International Business Times spoke to an expert on Canada to discuss the country’s views on the Connecticut tragedy and on gun laws both in U.S. and Canada.
Dr. George A. MacLean is Associate Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Professor of Political Studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
IB TIMES: How have Canadian media and the public reacted to the horrific massacre of 28 people at an elementary school in Connecticut?
MACLEAN: It was -- and remains -- front page news. A dreadful event like this one seems almost incomprehensible, until we think about other similar ones that have occurred in the past (the 1996 massacre at a school in Dunblane, Scotland, comes to mind).
The response in Canada has been similar to what the reaction has been elsewhere (including the U.S.): disbelief, sadness, confusion, and shock.
Locally, there is a connection. A former faculty member of my university recently moved his family to Newtown, Conn. His daughter was among those killed.
IB TIMES: Are Canadians blaming America’s gun culture for the tragedy or do they think it’s the result of the killer’s likely mental illness?
MACLEAN: Both appear in equal measures in the media. However, what is known about the killer is still in question; we do know, however, that the gun “culture” in the U.S. is undeniable. In the national papers on Tuesday, there were at least a half dozen stories and editorials about gun ownership in the U.S.
One theme that keeps appearing is the small window of opportunity that President Barack Obama may have to create tighter regulation on guns in the U.S. Yet, there is the almost inescapable reality that this will not change the “culture” of guns in the U.S., nor the immense power of the gun lobby in Washington.
IB TIMES: Like the U.S., Canada also has a pioneer history with a robust gun culture and a high rate of private gun ownership. So, why do such tragedies almost never occur in Canada?
MACLEAN: That’s true to a degree, but the “Wild West” mentality was never as entrenched in Canada as it was in the U.S.
There is a hunting culture in Canada, and of course firearms are used in remote parts of the country for livelihoods and sustenance, particularly in First Nations communities.
The “robust” gun culture is actually very small, compared to the U.S. Gun ownership per capita in Canada is less than half that of the U.S. However, such events do occur in Canada – Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989, of course, and Concordia University (1992), Dawson College (2006), and Taber Alberta (1999).
IB TIMES: How tough and restrictive are Canada’s gun control laws? Who can legally buy guns and how long is the process?
MACLEAN: Laws had become more restrictive in Canada until earlier this year, when the Conservative government removed the long gun registry law that had been on the books since 1995. However, ownership and licensing is still very restrictive. Handguns and semi- and automatic weapons are the most difficult to buy or own. All gun owners must show evidence of firearms training, go through a security check, and apply for a license. Purchasing a gun can take up to a month to clear. Licenses are also required for the transport of certain restricted weapons, which can only be used in approved locations.
Certainly, the number, types and classifications of weapons permitted for ownership in Canada is much more restrictive than the U.S.
IB TIMES: As in the U.S., violent crime, including homicides, have been plunging in Canada for the past two decades. Does this not belie the assertion that more guns equals more crime?
MACLEAN: Canada is a different case. The number of guns in Canada has been rising – but only marginally. And, the number of gun owners has gone down. Also, gun-related violence in Canada is far less prominent than in the U.S.
IB TIMES: Toronto has a violent gang culture – do criminals buy guns illegally? Is there a large underground market for weapons in Canada?
MACLEAN: According to the federal government, organized crime or gang-related homicides that involve firearms are actually down since the early 1990s, but there’s no question that there exists a link between firearms and organized crime and gangs. Not surprisingly, handguns are more prevalent in large urban areas, and long-gun violence is more likely in rural parts of the country.
Smuggled firearms (from the U.S.) are a primary source for illegal weapons in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, as well as other large cities.
IB TIMES: As you mentioned, in 1989, a man named Marc Lépine killed 14 women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. How did this tragedy impact Canada’s gun laws?
MACLEAN: Organized efforts to curtail gun violence and ownership really began in earnest after 1989. One of the survivors of that attack helped create the Coalition for Gun Control, which is a major player in gun legislation efforts.
To this day, the Montreal killings resonate across Canada – every Dec. 6 there are ceremonies commemorating the event, which brought to attention not just gun violence but also violence against women.
IB TIMES: Does Canada have any organization like the National Rifle Association which has strong political influence?
MACLEAN: Nothing on the same scale. The National Firearms Association lobbies the government, but there’s nothing like the NRA in Canada.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.