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Column: Gun laws make a difference in mass killings

When Canadians hear news of mass killings, their first instinct is to think it has happened in the United States. They’ve been right most of the time, especially in recent years. The U.S.

When Canadians hear news of mass killings, their first instinct is to think it has happened in the United States. They’ve been right most of the time, especially in recent years. The U.S. is where the majority of the worst mass killings in the world take place — 11 of the 20 in the past 50 years. What’s sadder still is that the U.S. trend line is to ever-deadlier massacres and more of them. Half of the deadliest mass killings in the U.S. have taken place in the past five years.

What has not kept pace with the killings is any move toward gun control — in a country with an estimated 294 million non-military guns in 2007, or nearly one gun for every man, woman and child, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

After the Dec. 14 shooting deaths of 20 small children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., the calls for gun control grew louder. California Senator Dianne Feinstein said last week on NBC’s Meet the Press that she intends on the first day of the new Congress to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons. Feinstein was not alone.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also speaking on Meet the Press, said President Barack Obama needed “to stand up and lead and tell this country what we should do, not go to Congress and say what do you guys want to do.”

What gun-control advocates cannot do is rely on ordinary Americans for support. U.S. opinion polls have found Americans leaning more in recent years toward support for gun ownership and away from gun control.

In a Washington Post piece called Twelve Facts About Guns and Mass Shootings in the United States, the newspaper reported that since 1990 Gallup has found a decline among Americans who think gun control should be stricter, falling from 78 per cent in 1990 to 44 per cent in 2010.

Yet the evidence that gun control works looks conclusive. A comparison study by the Harvard Injury Control Research Centre at the Harvard School of Public Health showed that among 26 developed nations, including Canada, where guns were more available, there were more homicides. The U.S. had the highest rate of civilian gun ownership and the highest homicide rate, by a wide margin.

In Canada, the issue of gun control has not been resolved. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, who was in New York City when the massacre took place, said the tragedy showed the need for gun control, Radio-Canada reported.

Speaking at a press conference, Marois said, “Firearms are too easily accessible, the lack of control can sometimes lead to what is happening in Connecticut.” She emphasized that Quebec intends to make a long-gun registry mandatory, over the objections of Ottawa, which recently scrapped the federal gun registry.

Australia provides an example of a country that clamped down on gun ownership, prompted by a 1996 mass killing in which a man killed 20 people within 90 seconds of opening fire with an assault weapon. In all, 35 people died and another 18 were wounded.

The then-prime minister, John Howard, introduced countrywide gun law reforms within 12 days of the killings. As the Age newspaper reported, in a government firearms buyback initiative, more than 700,000 guns were removed from the public and destroyed. Ten years later, in 2006, Australians pronounced the reforms a success, saying there had not been a single mass shooting in that time. Gun-related homicides, suicides and accidents were halved.