Learning from one’s own misfortunes is smart, but it’s wiser to learn from—and avoid—the misfortunes of others. For American Second Amendment supporters, the Canadian experience provides a chilling and instructive lesson in what gun controllers really want: the end of civilian firearm ownership.
For many Americans, Canada is as familiar and relatable as neighboring states of the Union. Canada and the U.S. share a border, a common language, cultural touchstones and various commercial and sporting pursuits.
That last category includes a shared love of the outdoors, and especially of hunting and trapping. As with America, much of Canada’s expansive wilderness was settled by hardy hunters and trappers who braved the country’s wild frontiers in search of fortune and adventure. The gun is an inseparable part of both national stories.
But America and Canada also share a similar cultural divide when it comes to guns. Guns are a common and uncontroversial facet of life in both countries’ rural communities, where they are used not just to harvest wildlife but also to provide a safeguard against predators when police protection is scarce. The politics and culture of firearms in both countries’ cities are very different, however. Canadian and American urban elites—who get their meat from grocery stores and restaurants and who take routine police patrols for granted—consider firearms dangerous, unnecessary and counterproductive.
Nor are the elites on either side of the border willing to tolerate these differences. Rather, they blame firearms themselves, and not human agency or the social dynamics they themselves promote, for the criminal misuse of guns. They associate firearms with cultures they do not understand and—let’s be honest—consider to be inferior. Firearms are also linked in their minds with infamous crimes. And, having no other reference point for the gun’s place in society, they reflexively call for firearm bans in response to these events.
That’s the generous explanation. There are also politicians in both countries who use gun control as a tool to subjugate their political opponents, much as King George III did in the American colonies.
Despite the similarities, we can see very different outcomes in the two countries. Canadians have essentially lost the right of armed self-defense, and are frighteningly close to losing the freedom to possess firearms at all. America, meanwhile, has the highest per-capita gun-ownership rate in the world, with the right to keep and bear arms shielded—at least theoretically—from urban elites.
An article published last December in The Washington Post opined that Canada’s progressive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a “gun-free Canada within his reach.” It noted how Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, “was the first to begin the process of systematically banning entire categories of firearms,” with 1969 legislation that allowed the executive branch to declare certain firearms “prohibited.” A mass shooting in 1989 was then exploited to further clamp down on legal firearm ownership, prompting a needs-based licensing system that presumptively banned firearm acquisition for self-defense. Justin Trudeau capitalized on another mass killing in 2020 to accelerate the banning of “military-grade assault-style” long guns in Canada under existing law. He then promoted legislation in 2022 that would expand this bogus and misnamed category, coerce surrender of non-conforming guns and institute a “freeze” on handgun ownership. Trudeau later went even further, introducing amendments that would essentially grant the government control to ban what few hunting guns had remained legal.
Unlike Canada and the other commonwealth realms, however, the U.S. liberated itself from Britain’s monarchy in the Revolutionary War. This experience led the founding generation to enshrine the right to keep and bear arms in the nation’s organizing charter. Like Canada, the U.S. Congress passed major gun control in the 1960s. But this sparked renewed efforts by pro-gun Americans—led by the NRA—to promote responsible firearm ownership and to ensure the original understanding of the Second Amendment was expounded in scholarship and eventually preserved in judicial rulings.
Now, U.S. Supreme Court precedents protect the individual right to keep and bear firearms, in and outside of the home, for the core purpose of defense, and allow only such regulation as is consistent with the founding era’s legal history and traditions.
Yet, there are American politicians, like President Joe Biden himself, who see our neighbor to the North’s policies not as a warning, but as a roadmap. Only the dedicated and vigilant activism of informed gun owners, channeled through organizations like the NRA, stands in their way.