Stock image of an enthusiast holding an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. BIGSTOCK

Anti-ban petition gathers 200,000 signatures, but recent polls show Canadians want more, not less gun control; Voice poll results below

We were told it was coming.

During last fall’s election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal minority government promised to ban military-style long guns, often referred to in the media as “assault rifles.” They also proposed allowing municipalities to prohibit handguns, and implementing more restrictive laws in an effort to limit criminal access to firearms.

The Globe and Mail reported back in January that during a cabinet retreat in Winnipeg, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair detailed his multi-step process of a new gun control strategy. The first stage involved banning the sale of assault rifles, with a buy-back program to follow at a later date. Political insiders assert that Trudeau was ready to enact this campaign months ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the legislative agenda.

On April 18-19, a deranged man in Nova Scotia massacred 22 people in the single largest mass murder in Canadian history. The lunatic used pistols and rifles in the commission of his horrendous act, but possessed no license to own them. A recent Maclean’s magazine article indicated that the RCMP had foreknowledge of the man’s collection of illegal weapons and violent behavior, but inexplicably did not act on the information.

The government seized on the moment. Tragedy became an opportunity.

What followed on May 1 was not an act of parliament, but an Order-In-Council, a government edict that does not require approval of the House of Commons. The federal government reclassified as “prohibited” some 1500 makes and models of military-style weapons in Canada, effective immediately. This meant that licensed gun owners could no longer use, sell, or transport these firearms. Some experts estimate that the ban could affect upwards of a quarter million guns in Canada, while the government’s numbers are lower, around 130,000.

Most of the rifles on the banned list were previously categorized as “restricted” in Canada, which meant that up until now, they could only be used at an authorized gun range, and could not be used for hunting.

“As of today, the market for assault weapons in Canada is closed,” announced Blair. “Enough is enough. Banning these firearms will save Canadian lives.”

Trudeau weighed in, saying, “These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time. There is no place for such weapons in Canada.”

Trudeau promised to provide “fair compensation” to owners of the banned firearms. Some estimates put the cost to taxpayers at hundreds of millions of dollars. In any event, the buyback won’t be in effect for at least two years.

Blair spoke in conciliatory tones to legitimate practitioners of the shooting sports.

“We are very mindful we are dealing with law-abiding Canadians, and I want to make sure they are treated fairly,” said Blair. “Firearm ownership in this country is a privilege earned by the adherence to our strict regulations, and I have nothing but respect for those who have been honouring those rules.”

Curiously, the ban does not confiscate the guns from current owners. One could argue that if the rifles in question posed an imminent safety threat — the government’s apparent rationale for banning them—then they should be seized immediately.

The ban also does not cover handguns, the weapon of choice for gang members and street criminals. A 2019 report prepared by Statistics Canada indicated that two thirds of firearm-related violent crime in urban cities involved handguns. It further showed that in 2017, only three percent of violent crime in this country involved a firearm.

Many gun owners believe that the government’s decision is not about safety, or crime reduction. It is simply a political exercise to impress “progressive” voters with the appearance that the government is addressing gun violence. In response, they have pushed back with a number of national online petitions, in which they demand that the government repeal its gun ban.

Members of parliament from Western Canada, including Glen Motz, Todd Doherty, and Michelle Rempel Garner have led the charge, filing e-Petitions in the House of Commons. To date, one petition has received almost 200,000 signatures of support, making it the largest e-petition in Canadian history.

Speaking to the Prairie Post newspaper, Motz (a former police officer) said, “Canadians want action on crime, gangs, and illegal firearms. Instead of taking action against criminals, the Liberal government is once again targeting law-abiding Canadians with no criminal history.”

Motz maintains that the Order-in-Council punishes hunters, farmers and sport shooters, and will cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales and jobs, while having no impact on public safety.

“It is harder to go after criminals and illegally trafficked firearms, but that’s what a responsible government would do,” said Motz.

The speed and strength of the petition against the ban belies the apparent mood of the Canadian public, as demonstrated in an Angus Reid opinion poll released earlier this month, which showed an overwhelming majority — nearly four-in-five — support a complete prohibition on civilian possession of the types of weapons affected by the ban. Significantly, two-thirds (65%) strongly support such a move. About half of current gun owners oppose the ban (55%), while two in three Canadians favour a handgun ban as well. Paradoxically, nearly half of the survey respondents consider current gun control laws either too strict (13%) or about right (34%).

In an unscientific poll conducted among paid Voice members last week (see story on page 2), 53% responded that the government’s ban does not go far enough, while an overwhelming majority of 71% disagreed that all firearms should be banned in Canada.

The term “assault rifle” has no legal definition in Canada, and the Firearms Act also does not currently classify firearms as “military-style.” Although the now-prohibited rifles bear a physical resemblance to true military battle rifles (which were banned in 1978 in Canada) that are capable of fully-automatic fire, the banned guns are semi-automatic in design. One trigger pull fires one bullet. And the banned rifles are limited to magazines holding five rounds, just like all other rifles allowed in this country used for hunting or marksmanship. The 30-round magazines popular in Hollywood action movies are available in the USA, but are banned in Canada.

Though generally pleased with the assault rifle ban, some gun control advocates are already voicing concern about the government allowing current owners to keep their banned guns. One is Heidi Rathjen, a graduate of École Polytechnique in Montreal — scene of the Montreal massacre of 1989 — and coordinator of Poly Remembers, a gun control group.

“Allowing grandfathered weapons is a huge concession to the gun lobby. In terms of public safety benefits, there is a world of difference between a total ban and a partial ban. A non-mandatory buy-back program could mean that it will take generations to get these weapons off our streets and out of our communities,” Rathjen said in a Poly Remembers press release. “But the Liberal government has finally delivered on its gun control promise, and we hope Mr. Trudeau will display the same political courage as the government proceeds with reform to make such a ban permanent.”

Another long-time gun control advocate, Coalition for Gun Control president and Ryerson University professor Wendy Cukier, who grew up in St. Catharines, told the Prince Edward Island Guardian newspaper that the assault weapons ban is overdue.

“It’s been a long wait. This is a milestone for Canada and an important step forward.”

Cukier said that while the assault weapon ban is a good first step, a ban on handguns is also necessary, as they are frequently used by criminals, and factor prominently in domestic violence.

“Handguns are not used in hunting. Handguns are not used by farmers. Handguns are used by target shooters and collectors. And frankly, most Canadians agree that the risk outweighs the utility. We’re sorry that some people enjoy target shooting. It’s a nice hobby, but it’s not worth putting our children’s lives at risk,” said Cukier.

Conservative Niagara West MP Dean Allison did not mince words about the ban.

“The Order-In-Council is an effort to subvert the democratic process, and it discriminates against those who are law abiding,” he said. “We need to focus on the influx of illegal firearms being smuggled across the border, and vicious street gangs, and the fact that there is a revolving door allowing violent repeat offenders back on the street, having plea bargained to lesser charges. Criminals will not register their guns, or participate in a buyback program. And there are mental health and addiction components to the issue of gun violence as well.”

Pro-gun supporters here in Niagara have viewed the announcement with disdain.

Gerry Gamble, an executive member of two gun clubs in the area, and an avid spokesman for the shooting sports community, told the Voice that the Order-In-Council was “draconian,” and a guarantee that non-compliance is going to be widespread.

“Law-abiding gun owners are sick and tired of being the convenient scapegoat every time there is a high-profile gun crime committed by some miscreant who never followed any of the rules to which legitimate gun owners have to adhere,” said Gamble.

Pelham resident Ray Boilard has been a hunter for 40 years, and is an active member of Silverdale Gun Club in St. Anns as well as the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH). He doesn’t own one of the banned rifles, but feels the Order-In-Council is misguided.

“Urban dwellers, living in big cities like Toronto, they have little interest in shooting,” said Boilard. “All they know about guns is that when they open the newspaper, somebody has been killed by one. They just think the fewer guns the better. My response is that it’s possible to enjoy your sport safely and not endanger anybody. In my experience, gun enthusiasts tend to very careful in their handling of firearms, and their safe storage.”

The Maple Leaf Marksmen, Rifle, and Revolver Club on Eleventh Street in Lincoln has a membership of about 275, with a third from Pelham. Club president John Kellaway feels the money spent on firearm ban and buyback programs would be better directed to greater vigilance at the border.

“The vast majority of the illegal guns used in robberies and homicides are coming in from the States. The government needs to make that a priority,” Kellaway said.

Reporting by the CBC supports Kellaway’s statement, noting that some 70% of illegal guns in Canada used in the commission of crimes — mainly handguns —are sourced in the US. Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) agents seized 647 firearms in 2019, a number that has been declining over the last three fiscal years. Smugglers are creative, hiding weapons in vehicle gas tanks and hidden panels in freight trucks.

A similar attitude is expressed by 73-year old Pelham retiree Bruce Christie, who served many years with the Waterloo Police Force as a firearms training officer, and commenced competitive shooting in his late teens.

“The general public doesn’t realize the training courses, security measures, and background checks that are required of legal gun owners,” Christie said. “There’s no way on the face of this earth that they’re ever going to stop the shootings and murders that occur in major cities by banning firearms. Those illegal firearms are smuggled into the country. They’re not stolen from private collections as some people would have you believe…that is extremely rare.”

Paul Justus sits on the executive boards of two Niagara gun clubs, and is candid about how he would address the issue.

“My personal view is that the existing laws in Canada are sufficient, that we just need to enforce them. The problem I have is reading about criminals who smuggle guns and commit crimes with firearms, only to be given lenient sentences by sympathetic judges. These felons are soon back on the street, and it’s business as usual.”

A dissenting local voice is Dave Nicholson, of Fonthill, who readily acknowledges that he is not a gun expert.

“My criticism regarding these assault rifles and handguns is that it’s just too easy to kill somebody, either on purpose or accidentally, when they are available. The statistics show a lot of suicides by guns as well. You read in the newspaper of innocent children getting their hands on a pistol, and killing themselves or shooting someone else. These are totally preventable situations,” said Nicholson.

While he doesn’t think that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with shooting as a sport, he thinks that Canadians could be “weaned off” assault rifles and handguns without too much trouble, and referenced countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, which have all imposed firearm restrictions in recent years.

Gun control is clearly an emotional issue for Canadians. Let us hope that we never descend to the level of the ugly spectacle in Michigan recently, where groups of camo-clad, gun-toting individuals (referenced by one reporter as “ammosexuals”) appeared on the steps of the state legislature to persuade their local politicians into relaxing social distancing regulations, and allowing the economy to return to its pre-pandemic state. They perhaps see themselves as heroes battling an impending apocalypse, but in reality they are simply scaring people in an already arduous time, and doing democracy a huge disservice in the bargain.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Last week, in anticipation of running this story on local response to the new federal ban on assault-style weapons, we decided to run an opinion poll to solicit the reaction of Voice readers on the topic. Amazingly, before the paper even hit the street last Tuesday morning, there had been dozens of responses on the Voice website. Within two days there were 1000. As of the poll’s closure this Monday, there were 2360 responses.

This is roughly ten times the response that most Voice polls get, with few cracking the 300 mark. It didn’t take long to see what happened.

One or more gun enthusiasts saw the poll appear on our website last Monday evening, as the paper went to press, and alerted like-minded enthusiasts—not just locally, not just in Ontario, but across Canada and into the US. Random sampling of IP addresses revealed “Voice readers” in various Canadian provinces, Idaho, Florida, Missouri, and Texas.

One respondent, clearly not the brightest bulb, emailed from Alberta to complain that he was unable to vote, and though he had never seen the paper this must mean were deliberately skewing the results. (The poll software prevents multiple votes from the same IP address.)

Not surprisingly, 99.9% of the responses were anti-ban. This, of course, entirely wrecked any semblance of poll validity. Therefore, last Friday at 5 PM, we sent a special request to our member-subscriber list, asking them to take the poll before midnight, and not to share the link, thereby protecting the integrity of the results. A good percentage of them did respond, and it is their answers which appear above, and which are clearly more reflective of likely opinion on this topic in Pelham and Niagara.

Incidentally, there are current or former gun owners on Voice staff and among our contributors. We did not approach this story with any agenda. I think that writer Don Rickers’ story does an admirable job of presenting all sides. As ever, we welcome your opinion as well: letters@thevoiceofpelham.ca

1 COMMENT

  1. We live in a democracy, I thought. An order in council is not democracy, but dictatorship. Given special powers to deal with this covid crisis, does not give the right to dictate legislation.I could care less whatever the government passes as legislation, legitimately. Offer the government buyback of handguns, long guns or whatever, but please try to keep this great country a democracy. We are not the U.S.A.

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