Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada

R. Blake Brown, Professor of History, St Mary’s University. Published with the University of Toronto Press, 2012.  $45.00; Student Price: $20.00.

The topic of gun control is never far from the public eye in this country, taking centre stage whenever a dramatic shooting occurs and invariably featuring in debates about Canadian-American distinctions.  This is the first comprehensive history of the subject, and we are delighted to be the publishers of what will be the standard work.  Professor Brown’s account of both gun use and its regulation from the early periods of European settlement to the controversy over the gun registry tells us a complex and at times contradictory story. Gun control is far from a merely contemporary concern. At many times in our history Canadian governments have evinced concern about gun ownership and use. Yet that concern has often been about who should have access to what sorts of firearms, and the urge to regulate has been tempered by campaigns to encourage gun use as a manly pursuit useful for training citizens to be well versed in the practice of using firearms. Canadians’ own views of the subject have not been uniform, with marked differences between urban and rural dwellers and across regions. This is thus a rich piece of social, cultural, political and legal history.


Winner of the Canadian Law and Society Association Book Prize. 2013

Reviews of Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada

R. Blake Brown's admirable book is an exceptionally vast, sweeping, detailed and authoritative account of Canada's gun experience. Robert Spitzer, Law and History Review, Vol 31, No 4, 2013
Arming and Disarming provides a much-needed historical context for the little-studied issue of gun control in Canada.... [A] detailed and well-written overview.... [A] significant contribution to Canadian history. James Floros, Canadian Historical Review, Vol 94, No 3, 2013
Arming and Disarming is very good legal history.... The book's capacity to inflect one's reading of the present is testament to the quality of this piece of legal history. [It]... is a rewarding read and a strong contribution to Canadian legal history, offering rich political, constitutional, and cultural insights. Benjamin Berger, For the Defence, Vol 34, No 1, 2013
Arming and Disarming is a very accessible read...., providing excellent referencing for readers interested in furthering their research.... [H]is book provides essential facts about legislative developments interspersed with quotes and anecdotes that are at once interesting and insightful.... Of greater import, Brown's book offers compelling analysis on a number of fronts,.... Arming and Disarming points out that assorted firearms laws were inspired partly by a ubiquitous apprehension of the other, represented at various times by French Canadians, the Irish, Italians, the Japanese, Chinese, Bolsheviks and, of course, aboriginal peoples..... The book's other significant success is in its description of the Canadian gun lobby....Whatever is to be made of their politics, Brown's book demonstrates clearly that those who oppose firearms regulation in fact represent a model of democratic action.... presents a history of gun control chock-full of irony. Christian Pearce, Literary Review of Canada, March 2013
Arming and Disarming was featured on the Radio-Canada show Medium Large on Wednesday, February 6, 2013. Francis Langlois, a history professor at the Cégep de Trois-Rivičres, discussed the book in detail, and gave it high praise as an exemplary piece of scholarship and the definitive study of the topic in Canada.
Brown … spins a … complex, balanced, and judicious history of guns and firearms control in Canada. If anything, Brown’s scholarly work raises questions about popular perceptions fuelled by the mass media and perpetuated in Michael Moore’s Oscar winning 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine…. Our national gun control debates, Brown points out, demonstrated “a remarkable lack of awareness of how and why Canada regulated firearms in the past.” It is precisely that gaping hole which his book most effectively fills. Gun regulation is hardly new and Brown traces its origins to early contact with the native peoples in British North America, long before confederation. The earliest laws aimed to limit the access of aboriginals to guns, driven by fear and defended with crudely racist, ethnocentric, and xenophobic rationales. The largely untold history is fascinating. Halifax Chronicle Herald, 6 January 2013

Reviews have also appeared in the following publications:

  • William Merkel, American Historical Review, vol 119, 2014, pp. 881-882
  • Jason Huang, Canadian Journal of Criminology, vol 55, 2013, pp. 245-246
  • Gilles Renaud, Canadian Criminal Law Review, vol 17, 2013, pp. 289-290
  • Dean Jobb, Canada's History, October-November, 2013
  • Lindsay Campbell, Acadiensis, Vol 44, 2015, pp. 149-160