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Hubris in the North: The Canadian Firearms Registry. Professor Gary A. Mauser Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies, Faculty of Business Administration, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada. Hubris in the North: The Canadian Firearms Registry.

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Hubris in the north the canadian firearms registry

Hubris in the North:The Canadian Firearms Registry

Professor Gary A. Mauser

Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies, Faculty of Business Administration,

Simon Fraser University,

Burnaby, BC, Canada

Hubris in the north the canadian firearms registry1

Hubris in the North:The Canadian Firearms Registry

An invited keynote presentation:

In the Right Hands -

an international firearm safety seminar,

Christchurch, New Zealand,

21-23 February 2006

Hubris in the north
Hubris in the North

  • How should firearms be regulated?

  • My presentation is a cautionary tale:

    • The ideal is the enemy of the practical.

    • Hubris leads to failure.

Hubris in the north1
Hubris in the North

  • My presentation compares:

    • The Canadian federal approach

      • Failed because of hubris

    • The provincial approach

      • Consultative and effective

Hubris in the north2
Hubris in the North

Hubris is a theme in Greek tragedy

  • Those who suffer from hubris are punished by the gods.

  • Hubris = Arrogance coupled with ignorance

    The false pride that goes before a fall

Hubris in the north3
Hubris in the North

Firearms ownership in Canada - Historically

  • Canadians have owned firearms for centuries

    • Many early settlers were retired British soldiers

  • The Canadian militia has repulsed invasions.

Hubris in the north4
Hubris in the North

  • Current Reasons for Owning a Firearm

    • Hunting 73%

    • Target shooting 13%

    • Pest control 8%

    • Protection 6%

  • Source: GPC Research, 2001

  • Hubris in the north5
    Hubris in the North

    Percentage of households with firearms

    1976 35%

    1992 27%

    1998 21%

    2001 17%

    NB. Based upon survey reports

    Hubris in the north6
    Hubris in the North

    Two kinds of Canadian firearms laws

    Federal - the criminal code

    1934 - handguns registered

    1977 - police permit required

    1998 - firearms registry

    Provincial - hunting regulations

    1960s-1970s - hunter safety training

    Hubris in the north7
    Hubris in the North

    The stated goals of the federal firearm registry:

    • To cut firearms violence

    • To reduce domestic violence

    • To cut total homicide

    • To reduce overall rates of violent crime

    • To improve public safety

      • Allan Rock, Justice Minister, addresses to Parliament, Hansard, Feb 16 and June 13, 1995

    Hubris in the north8
    Hubris in the North

    The assumptions behind universal firearm registration:

    • Registration restricts the availability of firearms

    • Reduced availability will cut total criminal violence and domestic abuse

    • Reduced firearm availability will cut total suicides

    Hubris in the north9
    Hubris in the North

    The “weapon instrumentality” hypothesis:

    • The availability of firearms precipitates violence

      • Triggers pull fingers

    • Availability increases the likelihood of death or serious injury

      • In assault

      • In robbery

      • In suicide

    Evaluating the firearm registry
    Evaluating the firearm registry

    • Has the firearm registry been successful:

      • In reducing the suicide rate?

      • In reducing the homicide rate?

      • In reducing violent crime?

    Trends in suicide methods
    Trends in suicide methods

    Firearm registry imposed

    Trends in homicide rates
    Trends in homicide rates

    Firearm registry imposed

    Trends in homicide methods
    Trends in homicide methods

    Firearm registry imposed

    Weapon instrumentality hypothesis
    Weapon instrumentality hypothesis

    Problems with the instrumentality hypothesis:

    • Confuses deadliness of instrument with intentions of assailant

    • Many alternative weapons available

    • Assaults involving firearms cause fewer injuries, and less serious injuries

    Trends in firearms used in homicide
    Trends in firearms used in homicide

    Firearm registry imposed

    Trends in spousal homicide
    Trends in spousal homicide

    Firearm registry imposed

    Gang related homicides
    Gang-related homicides

    Firearm registry imposed

    Trends in violent crime
    Trends in violent crime

    Firearms registry imposed

    Summary evaluation
    Summary Evaluation

    • The firearm registry has cost at least $2 billion ($C) to date.

    • Since 1998:

    • Homicide rates have increased 3%

      • Domestic homicides have increased by 3%

      • Gang-related homicides have increased five fold

    • Violent crime rates have decreased by 4%

    • Suicide rates have decreased by 2%

    What went wrong
    What went wrong ?

    The Canadian government made two fundamental mistakes:

    • Relying upon public health advocates

    • Ignoring the experience of other countries with firearm registration.

    Problems with public health studies
    Problems with public health studies

    • Public health studies on guns and violence:

      • are unscientific and moralistic

      • greatly exaggerate the dangers of ordinary gun owners

    • Public health advocates are radicals in sheep’s clothing

    Advocacy not science
    Advocacy not science

    Public health studies are adversarial, not scientific

    • “The [Public Health] Association [of Australia]… actively undertakes advocacy for public health policy…”

    • “The [Canadian Public Health] Association's mission is to … advocate for the improvement …”

    Sagecraft not science
    Sagecraft not science

    Public health studies on guns and violence ignore basic scientific rules

    • Ad hominem arguments

    • Disconfirming studies ignored

    • Results over-interpreted

    • False citations of prior research

    • Papers often published without proper peer review

      Public health only uses the trappings of science

    Public health research misleading
    Public health research misleading

    • Rely upon misleading measures like ‘gun deaths’ to evaluate public safety

    • Cost-benefit studies are conducted but any benefits are ignored

    • Public health research oversimplifies the epidemiological model

    Firearms as a disease vector
    Firearms as a ‘disease vector’

    • In epidemiological research a “disease vector” may act as:

      • a disease hazard

      • a “protectorant”

      • a cause

      • a preventative

    • Infection depends in part upon the susceptibilities of particular hosts

    Firearms as a disease vector1
    Firearms as a ‘disease vector’

    Public health researchers oversimplify the epidemiological model by:

    • Ignoring that firearms might act as:

      • protectorants or

      • as preventatives.

    • Ignoring the susceptibilities of particular hosts, or users.

    A few egregious examples
    A few egregious examples

    • A few egregious examples among many

    • Chapman’s arguments

    • Gabor’s literature review

    • Kellermann et al (1993) case-control study


    • Chapman’s approach is advocacy not science

    • Championed various causes:

      • Anti tobacco

      • Anti firearms

      • Right to die

    • He violates the basic scientific approach

      • Ignores disconfirming studies

      • Over-interprets results of studies

    Chapman and firearms
    Chapman and firearms

    • Falsely frames the debate as:

      • Science vs. gun lobby

    • Uses ad hominem arguments, e.g.,

    • He dismisses Professor Kleck’s research because

      • Kleck is cited by the gun lobby

    • Ignores disconfirming studies


    • He selectively reports research on ‘displacement’

    • Research question: Does limiting one suicide method cause a reduction in total suicides?

    • Chapman only cites supporting studies

      • Ignores disconfirming studies

    • This is not science, it is advocacy

    Public health research not scientific
    Public health research not scientific

    • An example of a published literature review that deliberately misrepresented research results

    • Thomas Gabor

      • Canadian public health researcher

    Public health research
    Public health research

    • Gabor’s research question:

    • Is firearm availability associated with total suicide rate?

    • Thomas Gabor misrepresented the results of his review of research studies

    • This is a crucial paper -- it was cited approvingly by:

      • Canadian Department of Justice

      • Lord Cullen’s inquiry into the Dunblane shootings

    Gabor s literature review
    Gabor’s literature review

    • Gabor surveyed 15 studies

    • He claimed 8 were supportive of association, but…

    • 7 of the studies cited as supportive were irrelevant

      • These studies did not measure association or

      • firearms availability

    Gabor s literature review1
    Gabor’s literature review

    • Gabor made other errors:

    • 3 studies that he characterized as supportive were not statistically significant

      • some of the studies were both irrelevant and not statistically significant

    • 3 important studies were omitted

      • Including 1 that was legitimately supportive of this claim

    Case control studies
    Case-control studies

    • The misuse of case-control

    • Case-control is a legitimate method as used in epidemiology

    • But it is misused in studies of guns and violence

    Problems with case control studies
    Problems with case-control studies

    • Legitimate method when it’s used to identify potential risk factors (i.e., hypotheses)

    • Risk factors so identified should be subjected to clinical trials

    • This step is typically ignored in firearms research

    Problems with case control studies1
    Problems with case-control studies

    • An example of methodological errors made in case-control studies

    • Kellermann et al (1993)

    • Critically important that subjects in experimental and control groups be equivalent

    • Matching is unable to do this adequately (random assignment much preferable)

    • Nonparticipation rates are often high

    Problems with case control studies2
    Problems with case-control studies

    • Kellermann et al (1993)

    • Investigated gun ownership as a risk factor for becoming a murder victim

    • Cases: homes where an adult had been murdered in his own home

    • Controls: households in same neighbourhood with matching demographics

    • Note: controls not matched on attitudes or habits or employment or drug or alcohol use

    Problems with case control studies3
    Problems with case-control studies

    • High nonparticipation rate

      • Previous research suggests that respondents who agree to participate are healthier than those who refuse

    • Controls were less likely to admit gun ownership than proxies

      • If gun ownership is underestimated in the control group, the odds ratio is exaggerated

    Problems with case control studies4
    Problems with case-control studies

    • Sample not randomly selected

      • Limited to only 3 urban counties

    • Kellermann over-interpreted his findings

      • Falsely claimed his odds ratio of 2.7 was a ‘strong’ result

    • Despite methodological failings, this study is widely believed by public health advocates

    Public health is advocacy
    Public health is advocacy

    • Problems with public health research into guns and violence:

      • Over- simplifies epidemiological model

      • Violates basic scientific principles

      • Practises advocacy, not science

    Hubris in the north10
    Hubris in the North

    In contrast to the federal registry,

    now consider

    provincial firearms laws

    Hubris in the north11
    Hubris in the North

    Provincial firearms laws

    • Firearms included in hunting regulations

    • The provinces are responsible for training hunters

    Hubris in the north12
    Hubris in the North

    Provincial hunter safety training

    • For example, the province of British Columbia

    • Gun clubs had demanded mandatory training

    • Voluntary provincial course offered in 1969

    • Mandatory course required in 1974

    Hubris in the north13
    Hubris in the North

    Provincial hunter safety training

    “The goal of the CORE Program is to ensure that prospective hunters meet acceptable standards of knowledge and skill for safe and ethical participation in hunting recreation.”

    Hubris in the north14
    Hubris in the North

    Hunter safety training in British Columbia

    Two tests required:

    • A written examination (75 multiple-choice questions), and

    • A practical firearms handling examination

    Fatal firearms accidents canada
    Fatal firearms accidents, Canada

    Firearm registry imposed

    CORE required in BC

    Evaluation of hunter safety training
    Evaluation of hunter safety training

    • Hunting accidents fell from an average of 8 deaths per year to 2 deaths per year after 1974

    • Cost to taxpayer: minimal

    • Safety training offered by non-profit fish and game clubs

    Counter hypotheses
    Counter hypotheses

    • Could the drop in hunting accidental deaths be due to:

      • Improvements in emergency medicine?

      • Decline in hunter numbers?

    • These hypotheses analysed in my paper


    • Provincial hunter safety training:

      • consultative

      • effective

      • inexpensive


    • The firearms registry has resulted in:

      • No convincing impact on public safety

      • A decline in firearms owners and hunters

    • The decline in firearms owners and hunters has resulted in:

      • An increase in numbers of problem wildlife

      • A decrease in support for conservation

      • A decline in tourism revenue


    • The firearms registry cost taxpayers over C$ 2 billion

    • The registry remains notably incomplete

    • The registry has an error rate that remains far too high to be of any practical use

    • Scarce resources have been diverted from more serious problems


    • Moralistic solutions are simplistic

    • Registry is ineffective

    • The British political tradition is sacrificed

    • Mature citizens are responsible adults not patients

    What does work
    What does work?

    • Research shows there are approaches that are effective:

      • Public consultation

      • Screening prospective firearm owners for a criminal record

    • Police are most successful when they win the cooperation of the policed