Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada

By Smith, Andrew | British Journal of Canadian Studies, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada


Smith, Andrew, British Journal of Canadian Studies


R. Blake Brown, Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada (Toronto: Osgoode Society/University of Toronto Press, 2013), 370 pp. Cased. $70. ISBN 978-1-4426-4639-1. Paper. $34.95. ISBN 978-1-4426-2637-9.

The publication of Arming and Disarming is welcome because knowledge of the history of gun control in Canada is quite limited. In contrast, there are many works on the history of gun control in the United States, which is a deeply political topic. Historians have also debated the extent to which the right of Protestant Englishmen to bear arms was widely acknowledged and exercised after the Glorious Revolution. Brown shows that debates about gun control in Canada have always been influenced by developments in the United States and Britain.

The first chapter discusses the history of firearms regulation before Confederation. The colonial authorities attempted to limit gun ownership by members of problem groups, which included, at various times, French Canadians, Fenians, rebels and canal labourers. After Confederation, Ottawa worked to limit the flow of firearms to First Nations. In this period, the desire for gun control was limited by the need to promote firearms ownership so as to foster the militia necessary for national defence. Moreover, Sir John A. Macdonald believed that British subjects had a right to own guns. Brown attempts to establish levels of firearms ownership and the impact of new firearms, such as revolvers, on thinking about gun control. The middle third of the book covers the period bracketed by the two world wars, when the federal government used its growing capacities to register firearms and to remove them from enemy aliens and other suspect individuals. …

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