Killings involving guns on the decline

Advocates for gun control could only shrug with resignation Wednesday as Statistics Canada reported fewer murders with rifles and shotguns — one day after Ottawa issued a death warrant for the controversial long-gun registry.

TORONTO — Advocates for gun control could only shrug with resignation Wednesday as Statistics Canada reported fewer murders with rifles and shotguns — one day after Ottawa issued a death warrant for the controversial long-gun registry.

The agency’s annual study of homicide rates found the number of murders committed using firearms slid seven per cent from 2009 to 2010, continuing a downward trend that’s been taking place over the past three decades.

Shootings still accounted for most of the country’s slayings at 32 per cent, but the number of murders committed with rifles or shotguns had tumbled to one-fifth of what they were 30 years ago.

The decrease in firearms-related homicides factored into an overall drop in Canada’s murder rate, which fell to lows not seen since 1966, the agency said. Police reported 554 murders last year, or 1.62 per 100,000 people, down from 610 murders in 2009.

The figures were released a day after the majority Conservative government introduced legislation to abolish the long-gun registry, a long-promised move that was defeated last year in the minority Parliament.

Conservatives have long criticized the registry as costly and ineffective, arguing that more than $1 billion spent on maintaining it has done little to fight crime and would have been better used to hire more police officers.

Wendy Cukier, president of the Coalition for Gun Control, said StatsCan’s latest figures won’t dissuade the government from its plan to scrap the registration of long guns and permanently delete more than seven million files on gun ownership.

The Statistics Canada figures are the latest addition to a body of evidence that Ottawa has chosen to ignore, Cukier said.

“The evidence has been quite clear, and in fact compelling, that stronger controls on firearms generally have impact on public safety,” she said.

“We’ve seen murders with rifles and shotguns in particular plummet as we strengthen controls over those.”

Rifles and shotguns, once blamed for the majority of firearm-related homicides and most commonly used in domestic violence cases, have been the weapons most tightly regulated under the registry, she added.

Statistics Canada said rifles and shotguns were used in 23 per cent of gun slayings last year, while handguns accounted for 64 per cent. The remaining 13 per cent involved other illegal firearms, like sawed-off shotguns and automatic weapons.

Cukier said she and others, such as public health experts, victims rights groups and some provincial governments, credit gun-control legislation for the decline.

Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil, for one, said his government was “ferociously opposed” to the destruction of registration records, adding he would fight to obtain the information in the hopes of setting up a registry within the province.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police also spoke up in support of the registry, while still vowing to co-operate with Ottawa once it has been abolished.

The registry’s opponents, however, dismiss suggestions that it has played any role in declining homicide rates.

“We don’t want laws that target law-abiding citizens, hunters and sports shooters. We want laws that focus on the criminal and those who use firearms illegally,” Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Tuesday in announcing the bill to abolish it.

“We will not participate in the re-creation of the long-gun registry, and therefore the records that have been created under that long-gun registry will be destroyed.”

Caillin Langmann, a resident in McMaster University’s Division of Emergency Medicine, conducted a study examining the effect that more than 30 years worth of gun control measures have had on the country’s murder rates.

Langmann concluded the decline had little to do with firearms legislation and was more likely influenced by social factors, such as rising income levels and an aging population.