Published Dec. 24, 2012, in The Waterloo Region Record.
Let me start this Christmas Eve with a confession. I am, and always have been, a firm believer in gun control. This began long before the senseless massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary School this month, at Virginia Tech in 2007 or at the Ecole Polytechnique in 1989, among other atrocities.
I have never understood why a supposedly civilized society, one that is truly concerned with the safety of its citizens, permits some of them to walk around with weapons with which they can kill children, students, teachers, co-workers and other fellow citizens (or kill themselves). If I were advising the prime minister – which, don’t worry, won’t happen in a million years – I would urge him to ask Parliament to ban the private ownership of firearms, and to implore Washington to adopt a similar ban in the United States.
In my capacity as unpaid and unwanted adviser, I would recommend that Parliament, having imposed a blanket ban, then craft a series of careful exemptions and controls for legitimate civilian gun users – for farmers, hunters, perhaps target shooters.
None of this is going to happen, alas. The Harper government appears to be in the thrall of the gun lobby and the Obama administration is terrified of the National Rifle Association and its Second Amendment followers. Barack Obama has talked a tough game since Sandy Hook, but his “initiatives” have been weak-kneed. He is simply asking Congress to reinstate an ineffectual earlier ban on the manufacture of assault weapons.
Even if he can get Congress to act, which is by no means certain, his half-measures will do nothing to address the gun culture in the Unites States – a country where, it is estimated, there are more firearms than there are people.
Let tell you a personal story. Twenty years ago, I moved from Toronto to Tampa, Florida. One of my coworkers there was a Canadian woman who was married to an American whom she had met and wed in Toronto. When I arrived in Florida, they invited me to dinner. After dinner, the husband took me aside to say: “Look, the first thing you need to do is get yourself a gun. This is not Canada. Down here, you have to protect yourself and your family.”
“What?” said I, the naïve Canadian, “You have guns?” He had seven of them, he replied, in his home, office and car, including two in the bedside tables of the master bedroom. “Any (expletive deleted) who tries to break in will be dead before he gets through the door.”
A few days later, he took me to a gun show in the Tampa armouries. I had never seen anything like it: table after table laden with everything from revolvers to submachine guns to bazookas, and creepy-looking customers in camouflage garb wandering around with automatic rifles slung on their backs.
Gun shows were – and are – a major source of illegal firearms. Knowing this back then, the state of Florida had introduced a pair of controversial measures that angered the gun community. It required purchasers of weapons to wait a day or two for a background check. And it changed the rules for itinerant gun dealers. Previously, they could sell weapons and ammunition out of the trunk of cars at gun shows; now they were required to have an address, although a hotel room would do.
Matters are not likely to deteriorate to this extent in Canada any time soon, but there are worrying signs. The government listens to an advisory committee that is dominated by gun lobbyists. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Harper was forced to intervene when the committee proposed to loosen controls on ownership of prohibited weapons.
Last week, his government, having already done away with the firearms registry, quietly scrapped regulations that would have required gun dealers to, among other things, notify the police before they hold a gun show.
I hope it’s not the start of a slippery slope.