Another tragic school shooting in Florida this week has reignited the debate on gun laws and mental health in the US. 17 members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community were killed by Nikolas Cruz, reportedly a troubled youth who had previously been expelled from the school. For more on the 17 victims, see this review by CBC.
As with any mass shooting, many Americans have responded by calling for tighter gun control; unsurprising, since Americans have the highest gun ownership rate in the world, and are home to 31% of global mass shootings. In our opinion, tighter gun control laws would certainly help to prevent such massacres, but gun culture and mental health support also play an extremely prevalent role. In an interesting article by the National Post, the author reviews whether Canada’s gun control laws could have prevented many of the horrific mass shootings of recent years in the US. The conclusion is that yes, most of them would be prevented, but not all.
As discussed in the article, the major differences between Canada and the US when it comes to gun laws are:
- There is a thorough screening test which reviews information such as criminal record, mental illness and even conjugal status. Its existence is in itself a deterrent to those who want a gun, but think they will not pass the test. (This can then cause would-be gun owners to turn to the illegal trade in guns, which is also more prevalent in the US than in Canada).
- The process to buy a gun takes 2-8 months (versus a matter of minutes in the US), which also deters those who act during a lapse of sanity.
- There are rules on how you must store your guns so as to ensure that they are not accessible to others.
It is also important to note that US gun laws vary by state.
Another major difference between Canada and the US is the gun culture. The video in the same National Post article quotes that “poll after poll has found that no more than 5% of Canadian gun owners say they keep a firearm around for protection”, compared to 60% in the US. Canadians claim instead to be using guns for hunting and sport.
But is Canada really safer? Gun ownership in Canada might be higher than you think:
Source: National Post
And while the gun deaths seem small compared to the US, Canada ranked 5th in 2010 firearm homicides among high income countries (CNN). And among North and South American countries, Canada has the fourth highest rate of gun suicide, according to the Department of Justice (Globe and Mail). (For more information on firearm stats in Canada, and how they differ from the US, see this Stats Canada page.)
This reflects the mental health challenges that we face in both Canada and the US, and the central role it plays in gun violence. In the US, President Trump’s response to the recent mass shooting in Florida has been to use mental health as a scapegoat, refusing to place any blame on gun laws. This is despite his recent 2019 budget proposal which slashes spending for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, among other mental health services. In Canada, the 2017 Federal Budget earmarked unprecedented investments in mental health services, which are all too necessary in preventing gun suicide and other tragedy (CAMIMH).
Since Wednesday’s tragic shooting, there have been protests outside the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) office, and affected members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community have been speaking out against the links between politicians and the NRA. We hope that this can be the beginning of real change for gun laws in the US, but we also believe a tri-fold solution must take place that includes action on gun culture and mental health.
Source: Anthony Causi, New York Post