Understanding If Canadian Gun Laws Could Have Stopped America’s Worst Mass Shooters

Understanding If Canadian Gun Laws Could Have Stopped America’s Worst Mass Shooters
Understanding If Canadian Gun Laws Could Have Stopped America’s Worst Mass Shooters

Under Canada’s gun laws, almost all guns that have been used in American mass shootings can be purchased. Nevertheless, Canada has not experienced mass shootings in the same scale as America.

According to a Canadian news report which has assessed the extent to which Canadian firearms policies could have stopped some of the worst mass shootings seen by America, in several cases, the country’s laws would have made things far more difficult for the shooters.

Some basic facts

  • The Canadian Firearms Safety Course is mandatory for all firearms purchasers
  • An application for a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL), needs to be filed under which the applicants are screened by the RCMP for several risk factors like criminal history or mental health.
  • Handguns and some semi-automatic rifles can be legally owned in Canada but only for target shooting.
  • Private firearms are sold in Canada not as weapons, but only to kill animals or for use as a sporting equipment
  • In the United States, however gun ownership is related with self-defence.
  • All of the shootings in the following list involve what Canada classifies as “restricted firearms”
  1. Columbine High School massacre (1999)

Victims: 13 killed
Would it have happened under Canada’s laws? Likely not.

This massacre saw the use of:

  • An Intratec TEC-DC9 semiautomatic pistol,
  • a Hi-Point 9mm Carbine,
  • Savage 67H pump-action shotgun, and
  • a Savage 311-D 12-gauge shotgun.

All four firearms had been purchased from unlicensed sellers at Colorado gun shows. Such form of sales is not permitted in Canada.

  1. Virginia Tech massacre (2007)

Victims: 32 killed, excluding perpetrator
Would it have happened under Canada’s laws?  Likely not.

Two handguns were used in the shooting;

  • a Walther P22 and
  • a Glock 19.

Both guns are classified as restricted firearms in Canada, but a licence-holder would have been able to buy sufficient quantities of ammunition.

However the shooter Seung-Hui Cho had displayed a clear history of mental illness, with diagnoses of severe anxiety disorder and severe depressive disorder which most likely would have made him ineligible for a PAL.

  1. Fort Hood shooting (2009)

Victims: 13 killed
Would it have happened under Canada’s laws?   Maybe not.

A single semi-automatic handgun having a magazine capacity of 30 rounds was used in this shooting.

Such firearms are available in Canada but with magazines that carry a maximum of 10 rounds.

The attacker, army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, had been earlier investigated by federal authorities for terrorism links, which might have been enough for the RCMP to limit his access to restricted firearms.

  1. Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (2012)

Victims: 26 at school, excluding shooter
Would it have happened under Canada’s laws?   Maybe.

The two guns used in this case were

  • the Bushmaster XM-15 and
  • a .22-caliber Savage Mark II rifle,

Both these are sold in Canada and may feature in any respectable gun collection.

The shooter in this case, Adam Lanza had a well-documented history of mental illness, as well as a diagnosis for Asperger’s syndrome. This may have stopped him undergoing the PAL screening process. However the firearms used by him had been taken from his mother’s collection who had been a major firearms enthusiast, which could have happened in Canada as well.

  1. Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting (2012)

Victims: 12
Would it have happened under Canada’s laws? Likely not.

The firearms used in this attack were

  • a Smith & Wesson variant of an AR-15,
  • a Remington 12-gauge 870 shotgun and
  • a 40-caliber Glock handgun.

While all these guns are available for purchase in Canada, shooter James Holmes was known to be withdrawn, anxious and had told his psychiatrist that he was fixated on killing others. These factors might have made it difficult for him to pass the PAL screening process.

Some reasons for the Canadian system’s efficacy

  • The Canadian firearms screening may be having an unquantifiable effect that many unstable individuals often simply don’t apply.
  • The country has anonymous hotlines using which concerned individuals can call a Canadian’s firearms licence holder into question.
  • Similarly Canadian Firearms Safety Course instructors are asked by RCMP to report in any student who seems suspicious in their classes.
  1. Orlando nightclub shooting (2016)

Victims: 49 killed
Would it have happened under Canada’s laws? Maybe not.

The two Guns used in this shooting were

  • The Sig Sauer .223 and
  • Glock 17

Both these are available in Canada.

The shooter in this case Omar Mateen held a Florida Statewide Class G Firearms License due to him being a security guard. But as Mateen had been investigated for terrorism connections he might not have cleared his PAL application.

Further Mateen became a gun owner just a week before the attack. In Canada however, the process to own a gun can last from two to eight months  .

  1. Las Vegas shooting (2017)

Victims: 58 killed, excluding shooter
Would it have happened under Canada’s laws?  Probably.

Canadian gun laws may have proved powerless in the case of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock. He had no criminal record as well as no history of mental illness. Investigators have found no evidence so far as to his intentions as well.

The main difference however would be that Paddock’s arsenal might have had a lower rate of fire

  1. Sutherland Springs church shooting (2017);

Victims: 26 killed, excluding shooter
Would it have happened under Canada’s laws? No.

The shooter in this case Devin Kelley had been found guilty of domestic assault during a 2012 U.S. Air Force court martial process. In Canada, such a conviction would have stripped him of the ability to possess legal firearms.

Although this is the case in the U.S. as well, the military had failed to pass on necessary details to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Investigation Services Division.  A key weakness of U.S. gun laws is that they’re handled by a variety of law enforcement agencies whereas in Canada, the RCMP is the only monitoring authority.

  1. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (2018)

Victims: 17
Would it have happened under Canada’s laws? Maybe not.

Nikolas Cruz the shooter in this attack had no criminal record but has a long history of threatening behaviour Further, Cruz’s online posts had been explicit in regards to his desire to become a  school shooter and the FBI had also been alerted to his behaviour. In such cases, the PAL screening process would have rejected his application.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here