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Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada [Hardcover]

R. Blake Brown , The Osgoode Society
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 23 2012 Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History

From the École Polytechnique shootings of 1989 to the political controversy surrounding the elimination of the federal long-gun registry, the issue of gun control has been a subject of fierce debate in Canada. But in fact, firearm regulation has been a sharply contested issue in the country since Confederation. Arming and Disarming offers the first comprehensive history of gun control in Canada from the colonial period to the present.

In this sweeping, immersive book, R. Blake Brown outlines efforts to regulate the use of guns by young people, punish the misuse of arms, impose licensing regimes, and create firearm registries. Brown also challenges many popular assumptions about Canadian history, suggesting that gun ownership was far from universal during much of the colonial period, and that many nineteenth century lawyers – including John A. Macdonald – believed in a limited right to bear arms.

Arming and Disarming provides a careful exploration of how social, economic, cultural, legal, and constitutional concerns shaped gun legislation and its implementation, as well as how these factors defined Canada’s historical and contemporary ‘gun culture.’

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‘Brown’s admirable book is an exceptionally vast, sweeping, detailed, and authoritative account of Canada’s gun experience.’ (Robert J. Spitzer)

Arming and Disarming is full of fascinating and well-placed quotations from key historical figures concerning their views on gun issues… This book stands out as an important and pioneering work in the history of gun control on Canada.’

(James Floros)

‘Blake Brown's Arming and Disarming is a truly fine piece of scholarship, six full years in the making.’

(Paull W. Bennett)

‘R. Blake Brown has produced a sweeping, thorough, insightful, and well-researched account of gun control in Canada… This book should prove useful and provocative for students and scholars of Canadian and comparative law, society, and politics.’ (William G. Merkel)


‘I hugely enjoyed reading Arming and Disarming, a terrific book on a fascinating topic. R. Blake Brown imparts many fresh insights and provides important new evidence for big disputes about the rise of the regulatory state, the rights of the citizen, modern masculinity, and much else.’ (Elsbeth Heaman, Department of History and Classical Studies, McGill University)

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing March 2 2013
By Rocky7
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you are looking for "proof" that Canada has always had gun control, that gun control laws are normal and that guns are really just an expression of now-outdated masculinity, then this book is for you.

If you are looking for a scholarly tracking and analysis of gun laws in Canada, as the title would suggest, then you will be disappointed. If you are looking for analysis of those laws from the point of view of some political theory or some theory of rights, you will also be disappointed. The author's myopic anti-gun bias is unmistakeable. No opportunity is missed to reference a politician's quote or some newspaper cartoon as evidence of collective thinking at that point in time. There was no open mind at work when this book was written. There are early hints that this might be the case given that it was authored by a professor at a Toronto University and the cover begins with reference to the Ecole massacre 25 years ago. On the other hand, this was probably as objective as was possible for a researcher with that pedigree.

There are grudging references to public figures, including federal politicians, who believed that early Canadians did have the right to keep and bear arms and some of those no doubt took a bit of work to uncover but, regrettably, none of it was explored and those hints at the possibility of other, deeper significance of gun ownership by law-abiding civilians are smothered by hackneyed, bald assertions about Canada's gun culture of the sort that we have heard from our urban, elitist constituency for years.

Still, since it appears to be the only summation of Canada's gun laws, it is a useful book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
R. B. Brown is to be commended for writing the first comprehensive history of gun control in Canada. Many will be surprised to learn that, for most of its history, Canadian authorities actively encouraged men to arm themselves. Beginning early in the 17th century authorities promoted the ownership and use of firearms by "trustworthy" citizens despite periodically taking steps to disarm ethnic groups deemed "suspicious" or "threatening." I was however disappointed that Brown fails to properly appreciate the enduring importance of individual liberty in a free society, including the right to bear arms.

Brown deserves praise for pointing out the racist roots of Canadian gun laws. In times of crisis colonial governments passed laws specifically designed to disarm groups seen as suspicious or threatening. The earliest such laws targeted Aboriginal peoples, and later the resident French population. In the 18th century and 19th century authorities occasionally reacted to their fears by attempting to disarm Irish laborers, Italian immigrants, and Métis. In the 20th century, government disarmed alleged Bolsheviks and enemy aliens. During World War I, Canada disarmed or incarcerated Ukrainians, and during World War II, authorities disarmed or incarcerated Japanese, German and Italian Canadians. In British Columbia, Chinese who were born in Canada were also disarmed.

Brown aligns himself as a progressive by citing approvingly such controversial icons as Michael Bellesiles and even Michael Moore. The claims of both have now been thoroughly discredited. Ironically, progressives support the heavy hand of the state falling on groups whose threat they exaggerate, such as rural men who own guns.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Deeply Biased May 6 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When I saw this title and source I was expecting to find a balanced treatment of the gun "control" debate from a Canadian perspective. What I received was, in my opinion a flawed review of the debate with a clear bias. The book is well referenced, with over 100 pages of footnotes (versus 241 pages of actual discussion). Perhaps the most telling text is in the conclusion when the author wrote, "... neoliberal political ideology, regional bitternesss, well-organized lobby groups, the urban -versus-rural devide and competing conceptions of masculinity, explain the ferocious resistance to gun control ..." Later in the same section he wrote, "... hunting, shooting, and gun collecting remained the interest to mostly working-class, often rural, men."

This assessment is deeply flawed, since the people I know who hunt and/or shoot, while they work - are certainly not "working-class" but rather are from a number of backgrounds and are predominantly with higher educational degrees and hold positions in companies consistent with that. More importantly, to write a group of people off because they are "working class" harkens back to a bygone era when there was the intelligensia and the great unwashed masses. A general theme in reading through the book is the idea that if you own (or want to own) guns that you are angry (about something) and generally on the fringes of society. Even captions in the book (e.g. pg. 192) tend to serve to inflame the discussion. In this case, a photograph of a number of firearms are shown, along with the notation that one had been used in the Ecole Polytechnique shooting (the author refers to it as the "1989 Montreal Massacre"). The repetitive use of pejorative descriptors, is the best indication of the author's overall thesis.
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