Though the massacre in Newtown, Conn., last week has drawn
sympathy from all over the world, it has a particular resonance in
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 26 victims
dead, including 20 children, comes just a week after the 23rd
anniversary of Canada's own "Montreal Massacre," which reshaped the
country's gun laws. Moreover, it occurred even as Canadians recently
renewed calls for stricter controls on firearms access here amid
ongoing efforts by the Conservative government to ease firearms
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his condolences to the
Newtown victims' families while calling the shootings senseless. But
critics here accuse Mr. Harper's government of practically standing
alone among Western nations in rolling back gun-control protections
in recent years most noticeably by scrapping the "long-gun"
registry, which logged all of the country's rifles and shotguns, in
It has been a useful issue for the Conservative government over
the last few years; the registry for a long time was a symbol of
government waste, says Blair Brown, an associate professor of
history at Saint Marys University in Halifax and the author of
Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada.
There are an estimated 8 million legally owned guns in Canada,
representing about 18 percent of Canadian households. Canada's gun
laws are more strict than those of the US. Canadian federal law
requires that all restricted and prohibited weapons including all
handguns be registered with the government. Canada also requires
licenses to buy, own, and use firearms.
Canada's strict gun regime, including the now repealed long-gun
registry, was introduced by the Liberal government in the mid-
1990s, in large part prompted by the Montreal Massacre, in which, on
Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lepine shot and killed 14 women at the Montreal's
cole Polytechnique before killing himself.
Montreal was also the setting for another school shooting in
2006, at Dawson College, where one student was killed and 19 were
wounded before the killer turned his guns on himself. And Toronto
has increasingly been the setting in recent years of messy gun
battles and shootings in crowded public places, often with guns that
have either been smuggled in from the US or stolen from registered
Has gun-law relaxation gone too far...
Canadian gun-control advocates argue that still more restrictions
are needed. They point out that the type of hunting rifle used by
Lepine in Montreal is sold by Canadian Tire, an iconic Canadian
chain of hardware stores much as critics of Americas gun culture
note that the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle, used in the Sandy
Hook shootings, is readily sold by chains like Wal-Mart.
And Heidi Rathjen, who witnessed the Montreal Massacre in 1989
and is now part of a group of survivors and family members of the
tragedy who advocate for stricter gun controls, says that rifles,
shotguns, and many assault-style weapons remain easily accessible in
To Ms. Rathjen, the Harper government has done more to erode gun
laws than simply scrap the long-gun registry: Theyve weakened
provisions around licensing. While it remains true that you need a
license to purchase a gun, a seller no longer has to check the
validity of your permit.
The fact that theres been terrible shootings and gun-related
deaths has never made a difference. …