Public Perception of Crime and Justice in Canada: A Review of Opinion Polls

5. Public Awareness and Perceptions of Law Reform Initiatives

5. Public Awareness and Perceptions of Law Reform Initiatives

5.1 Gun control

In 1994, prior to the passage of firearm registration laws in Canada, Gallup conducted a public opinion poll on support for or opposition to a law that would require all firearms in Canada to be registered with the federal government. This poll was conducted again in 1995 and 1998. The results indicate fluctuating support for such a registry (Table 17). In 1994, 83% of respondents favoured a federal registry. This proportion dropped to 64% in 1995, and then rose to 72% in 1998. Opposition to the law has also fluctuated accordingly, as 14% were opposed in 1994, 31% were opposed in 1995 and 23% were opposed in 1998. The proportion of respondents who are of no opinion has continued to increase over time, regardless of those in favour or in opposition. The percentage of Canadians with no opinion on the matter has increased from 2% in 1994, to 5% in 1995, and then to 6% in 1998.

Question:

Would you favour or oppose a law that would require all firearms in Canada to be registered with the federal government?

Table 17: Attitudes towards National Firearms Registry
Year Favour Oppose No Opinion
1998 72% 23% 6%
1995 64 31 5
1994 83 14 2

Source: Gallup, 1998.

Similar results emerge from an Angus Reid poll conducted in 1995 that also looked at support for mandatory registration of firearms. The results of this nation-wide survey indicate that overall, 71% of Canadians support mandatory registration, with 54% strongly supporting it. Twenty-eight percent of Canadians opposed mandatory registration, with 19% strongly opposed. The same Angus Reid survey examined support for the (then) proposed legislation overall, and found that 62% of Canadians supported it, while 32% opposed such legislation.

When the Angus Reid poll looked into gun control as a measure to reduce crime, a small majority (52%) of respondents indicated that legislation would not reduce crime. This reaction was strongest among those firmly opposed to the legislation (93%) and moderately opposed (85%) to it. Interestingly, 53% of those who moderately support gun control do not believe that such legislation will reduce crime, compared to 44% of that same category who believe it will reduce crime. Twenty-three percent of those who strongly support gun control legislation do not believe the legislation will reduce crime.

In November of 1998, Gallup conducted another poll on support for stricter gun laws overall. The results reveal that 67% of Canadians polled support stricter regulations for the sale of guns, down from 77% in 1994. In both years, 3% of respondents felt that such laws should be less strict. In 1998, 24% of those polled felt that the current laws should be maintained, up from 19% in 1994.

The poll also looked more specifically at what types of individuals should be allowed to own a gun, the general public or hunters and trapshooters. The majority of Canadians believed that members of the general public should not be allowed to own a gun, although the 1998 level of 63% is less than the 1994 rate of 73%. In 1998, 34% of people were in favour of the general public owning guns compared to 25% in 1994.

5.1.1 Guns and the general public

When asked what requirement should have to be met by the general public to legally own a gun, the strongest support was for a firearm-training course (94%). The 1998 result is slightly less than in 1994, when 96% of those polled favoured such a requirement. Less than 10% in each year were opposed to a firearm-training course. A police background check was deemed to be an important requirement by 89% of those polled, down from 93% in 1994. Support for a psychological evaluation was strong, but not as strong as for other requirements. Sixty-one percent of respondents favoured a psychological evaluation, While 37% did not. In 1994, 63% of respondents were in favour and 33% were opposed. The majority of respondents (87%) were supportive of a minimum age requirement of 18 years for gun owners. This question was not asked in 1994.

5.1.2 Guns and recreational use

There is considerable support among Canadians to permit hunters and trapshooters to own guns. In 1994, the proportion of respondents in favour was 81%, and this number rose to 84% in 1998. A smaller percentage (14%) of respondents in 1998 were in opposition to these individuals owning guns, than in 1994 (16%). Similar to requirements for the general public, Canadians recommend that hunters and trapshooters be required to take a firearms Training course. However, the 1998 result of 95% is down slightly from 1994 when 98% of respondents were in favour of such a course. A smaller proportion in 1998 (91%) than in 1994 (95%) would require a police background check, although these percentages remain high nonetheless. The least support was for a psychological evaluation, and once again support has decreased from 1994 (74%) to 1998 (67%). Ninety-one percent of respondents were in favour of a minimum age requirement of 18 years.

A 1998 Environics poll found even stronger support for gun control legislation, with respect to gun registration and gun ownership. Registration of all firearms is supported by 85% of Canadians, while 14% are opposed. According to this poll, support has increased since 1995 when the debate over Bill C-68 was in progress.

Support for legislation preventing civilians from owning handguns is also strong among Canadians, with a majority of 67%. This majority is essentially unchanged from 1994 and the proportion of those who strongly support such legislation has increased from 46% in 1994 to 49% in 1998. Overall opposition to the legislation is at 31%, with 17% holding strong opposition.

A 1999 CBC/Maclean's Poll compared Canadian and American values on a number of issues. With respect to gun registration, 80% overall of Canadians strongly or somewhat agree that all guns should be registered, compared with 78% of Americans. Seventy-one percent of Canadians strongly agree that all guns should be registered, compared with 68% of Americans.

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