I know this post will annoy some of my friends, but … this item in the National Post caught my eye. The fact, and I assert it is an undeniable fact, is that almost all weapons, of all kinds, used in crimes, are procured illegally. Yes, it is true that a really tiny minority of licensed gun owners are willing to sell (or are coerced into selling) their legally-owned weapons, and an equally tiny minority do not store their weapons properly and they are then more easily stolen, but most guns used by almost all criminals are bought on the “black market” and most of them are smuggled in from the USA.
I hope my gun-owning friends are more annoyed by the utter nonsense that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and a few silly big city mayors propose than some sensible (in my opinion) rules.
Does anyone want to see this on our, Canadian streets? Of course not … I hope. (The yahoos on the right are self-described militia members at an election rally in Kentucky in September 2020.) This is a sign of “gun rights” gone mad. The people of the United States have a “right to keep and bear arms.” It seemed like a perfectly sensible right to enshrine in their Constitution near the end of the 18th century when, in a brand new frontier state, “A well regulated Militia [was considered absolutely] necessary to the security of a free State.” But, in 1784 the United States created an Army, and by 1824 state “National Guards” were emerging, thus “well regulated militias” became increasingly irrelevant and unregulated ones can be dangerous.
As is so often the case with written constitutions, events overtook many of the situations that seemed vital when the constitution was drafted. (In Canada’s case our Constitution, as amended in 1982, is very concerned about French language rights ~ eight of the ‘Charter‘s’ 34 sections (that’s fully 1⁄4 of the “meat” of the Charter) deal with one issue: language rights.)
A few principles, if I may:
- Guns are NOT inherently dangerous. People, on the other hand, are;
- Guns can and do inflict serious, often fatal damage on living things;
- Guns in the hands of properly trained men and women are useful tools, even essential tools for those who make their living “on the land” in remote areas of Canada;
- Guns in the hands of criminals are a danger to society;
- It is true that when a suicidal person has easy access to a gun (s)he will likely choose to use it. If that person does not have a gun (s)he will find another way; and
- The proper, safe, handing and use of a firearm is NOT instinctive. It must be taught and practiced. I first learned to use a gun, properly, when I was a small boy, living on a farm. Years later, when I became a soldier, my instructors were pleased that they did not have to “reteach” me proper firearms safety, but I still had to learn ALL the rules and ALL the safety procedures, and ALL the marksmanship skills all over again.
This leads me to propose a few, simple rules for firearms ownership.
First, unlike the United States, there is no automatic “right” to own and use (keep and bear) firearms in Canada. But, firearms are tools, not unlike, say, motorcycles, and there is no automatic prohibition against owning motorcycles … not even ‘scary’ looking, ‘military style’ motorcycles.
But while, in theory, anyone can own a motorcycle, one needs to a) be of a certain age, and b) pass a test which proves that one can safely operate the motorcycle on a public street before one is allowed to use it, other than on one’s own private property. Is it not unreasonable to apply similar rules to firearms? They are dangerous when used improperly, so it seems, to me, reasonable to restrict their ownership to someone of a certain age and to seek, through testing and licensing, assurances that the owner knows how to use them.
This brings me to another element: licensing. We, as a society, do not find motor vehicle licensing (as distinct from a licence to drive) unreasonable. And we require a licence to own a radio transmitter (when it is above very low power level and when it is able to operate in other than a very few frequencies). I submit that it is not unreasonable to require two sets of licences for firearms:
- One to actually own or purchase a gun; and
- Another to use it anywhere except on your own, private property, and even then with severe restrictions.
A licence to own a gun should be distinct from a licence to use it. In most provinces one may own a very, very fast car but the province, while allowing you to own it, may NOT allow you drive it on any public street or highway unless it meets some stringent safety standards that, effectively, render it unfit for its intended purpose. I have a friend who owns fully automatic weapons ~ machine guns ~ he is licensed to own them; he is, of course, required to keep them locked up; he is allowed to use them, but only in a few specified places (ranges) where they can be fired safely. I do not think the restrictions placed upon him are in any way unreasonable.
This brings me to the issue of handguns. Handguns are, really, not much different from semi-automatic rifles and there is NO good reason to restrict, much less ban either. Handguns have specific purposes ~ they are “close quarter” weapons ~ and many people, me included (and a handgun was my “personal weapon” for over 30 years) find them more difficult to use, effectively than a long gun. They require special training and lots of additional practice to use well, but they are no different than any other weapon and, indeed, some handguns can be converted to long guns …
… and how is that radically different from a legal .22 calibre rifle?
Handguns are the favourite weapons of some types of criminals because they are easy to conceal and they frighten people. The solution to the use of handguns in crimes, it seems to me, is mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving their use. I know many judges and lawyers and lots of concerned citizens oppose mandatory minimum sentences, and I sympathize with many of their arguments, but, when it comes to crimes committed with weapons, especially concealed weapons, I cannot understand any argument that makes anything less than a stiff, exemplary prison term justifiable. When someone, even a disadvantaged young person of colour threatens someone with a lethal weapon then (s)he, if found guilty, should face years in prison.
I believe that common sense says that:
- There should be no prohibitions on the types of single shot or semi-automatic weapons (below a certain size, say less than .50 calibre/12.7 mm*) that a Canadian is allowed to own, if (s)he has a proper licence;
- Automatic weapons (machine guns) may be owned by individual collectors but may only be used in specific places;
- It is proper to require that licensed firearms owners store their weapons in accordance with fairly strict rules so that they are unlikely to be stolen or used in other than the intended manner;
- It is right and proper to require licences to own and use legal firearms;
- It might be a good idea to require that firearms are insured, too, as we do with cars and motorcycles; and
- Crimes involving firearms should always be punished with fairly harsh prison sentences.
Let’s deal, first, the real problem: criminals. Let’s address that problem in a number of ways: starting with treating the underlying problems of social inequality, poor education, lack of good role models, inequality of opportunity and so on. Let’s also improve police tactics so that suspected criminals can be interdicted before they commit crimes. Finally let’s punish those who do commit crimes in ways that will deter others.
Let’s then, get sensible about firearms and accept that they are just tools and that it is the workman, not the tool, that does the job. It is fine to restrict where and when firearms may be carried and used. As I said at the top, there is no good reason why people ought to walk around Canadian cities, towns and even villages carrying weapons, especially, except in rare cases, concealed weapons. But, equally there is no good reason to restrict, in any way, the rights of farmers, hunters, sport-shooters and those who work “on the land” from, safely, carrying and using the weapons they need for their purposes.
It is time for the government of Canada to grow up and stop listening to a few nervous nellies and start acting with some good common sense and go after the cause of our urban shooting problems rather than trying to make criminals out of farmers and hunters and other honest people.
* .50 calibre is the size of one rifle used by Canadian Army snipers. (In fact most Canadian snipers use a smaller, lighter (only 7.1 kg) C-14 Timberwolf rifle which fires a smaller .338 magnum cartridge.) Not many people that I can imagine, anywhere in Canada, have a legitimate requirement to hit the dead centre of a 2foot by 2 foot square at about a one mile range, which is what a sniper does, or are strong enough to carry and shoot a sniper’s rifle. That’s why I say less then .50 calibre (which is a 12.7 mm bullet.) Even the common ‘elephant guns’ designed for hunting very dangerous, very large animals use smaller (typically .426 magnum) cartridges.