How often am I confronted with the assertion that “a gun is for killing?” Invariably this assertion is used by prohibitionists in debates and discussions over gun ownership. It is intended to end the debate or discussion in putting those who argue in favour of gun ownership on the defensive. The expectation is you will have to reply with “yeah, but…” This is nonsensical, of course; it is a common fallacy, the argument from ignorance. Those who put forth the assertion “a gun is for killing” insist it must be true as it has yet to be proven false. Is this assertion true? Are guns for killing? If this question demands a yes or no answer, then the answer is no, guns are not for killing. In short, a gun is a device that fires a single projectile or with a shotgun, many smaller sub-projectiles, or one large projectile. However, the answer to that question is not that simple; it requires a more nuanced response.

It is true that guns are used in warfare. When I served as a Reservist in the Canadian Army from 1978-1982, I carried an FN C1 rifle. I served during peacetime and never went into action so I never fired a shot in anger. The fact was not lost on me that the FN C1 rifle was a tool for combat and intended to be used with deadly force if necessary. During most of my service, however, when I carried my FN C1 it was either unloaded or loaded with blanks. I learned very quickly that blank ammunition made the action and barrel of the rifle very dirty, which meant it took more time in cleaning afterward. That being the case, like many of my buddies in my regiment, I made do with shouting “bang, bang” in war games rather than expending the blank ammunition I was issued. We trained in earnest and had I been called upon to fight, I would have fired shots in anger, but having thought about it over the years since then I concluded it is not something I really wanted to do.

All the while I served as a Reservist in the Canadian Army, I used sporting guns for hunting and target shooting. In my younger days, I took up varmint hunting with due enthusiasm. I shot a lot of groundhogs with my dad’s old single shot Cooey .22 calibre rifle, even inviting friends from my regiment to accompany me on hunts. Yes, I use guns for hunting, which means I make the choice to kill game birds and animals, but this is not killing for the sake of killing. If I were interested in killing for the sake of killing, with either a gun or any other device, I could do a great deal more of it with far less effort and expense than it requires to go hunting. Eventually, I gave up varmint hunting as I could no longer reconcile it with my conscience. I understand the concerns of property owners who consider groundhogs pests, but for me, personally, shooting groundhogs had become nothing more than killing for the sake of killing. I leave this task up to others these days.

It is undeniable that guns are used in homicides and suicides and occasionally people die in shooting accidents. Mass shootings generate sensationalized headlines and an emotional response, which is not surprising. It is truly horrifying and I wish they did not happen, but the reality is violence is an unhappy fact of life. Yes, violence is the issue, here, not gun violence as prohibitionists label it. Some people die violently every year in Canada and of those some die from gunshot wounds. In 2012, according to Statistics Canada, there were 1.56 victims of homicide per 100,000 population, down 10% from 2011 and the lowest homicide rate recorded since 1966. (Statistics Canada) There were 543 homicides across Canada in total in 2012. Of these homicides, 172 (33%) were by firearm, 65% were with a handgun and 95 were gang related. Stab wounds claimed 164 (31%) lives in 2012, leaving bludgeoning, strangulation and other means responsible for the remaining 207 (36%) homicides reported in 2012.

In 2007 the Small Arms Survey, located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland gathered data on rates of gun ownership from across the world. In Canada, the rate of gun ownership in 2007 was 30.8 per hundred people with approximately 9,950,000 guns in private hands. (as cited in the Guardian) It is not unreasonable to infer that there as many gun owners and guns in private hands in Canadian society in the present. Gun ownership is quite common in Canadian society with long guns, rifles and shotguns most common. In 1999 it was estimated there were 3,500,000 rifles  and 2,600,000 shotguns in private hands in Canada. It was estimated there were 1,100,000 hand guns in private hands. (United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation) If guns were for killing as prohibitionists insist, how do they account for the fact that there are approximately 9,500,000 guns in private hands in Canadian society and the overwhelming majority of their owners are not using them for killing.

Having thought it through, I realize I cannot disprove the assertion that “a gun is for killing,” anymore than a prohibitionist can prove it. Knowing this, when a prohibitionist confronts me with this assertion, I simply opt out of the discussion as there really is no point in continuing. Guns will continue to be used in homicides and there will be mass shootings on occasion, but as Joe Biden observed in the quote that serves as the title of this article, “nothing we’re going to do is going to fundamentally alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting…” Despite this sad reality, however, the evidence demonstrates very clearly that for most people in Canadian society, especially those who own and use them for hunting and sport shooting, a gun is not for killing.