Gun control is a difficult subject when viewed closely. It didn’t used to seem that way for me. I used to live in a city, have no guns, and saw no need to own them. I felt that assault rifles and automatic weapons had no place in civilian hands. That hasn’t actually changed. What has changed is my understanding of firearms, my understanding of the people who enjoy them, and my understanding of existing law as it applies to firearms in Canada.
Let’s get another thing straight up front. I would favour legislation that would demonstrably improve citizen safety with respect to gun violence. I feel for the victims of gun violence, whether they be innocent people going about their lives, or drug dealers being targetted by other gangs. To me life is sacred, and murder is always a crime regardless of circumstance. I abhor gun violence of all forms - whether hate fuelled rampages, or tit-for-tat gang shootings. If anyone can show a mechanism that would reduce either form of violence, I will be for it, even if I need to give up some privilege in order for that to happen.
Please read that italicised sentence carefully. The operative word is demonstrably. I am not supportive of legislation or regulation that has no real world impact on gun violence, because such legislation would have significant negative impact on me while giving no benefit to anyone else.
Now for a little background on my change of attitude. I moved to a farm in 2017. I kept chickens from day 1. Over the course of a year, I lost dozens of birds to predators, including rats, foxes and raccoons. I did lay traps, allow my dogs out regularly, but I couldn’t be around all the time, and the losses continued. Additionally, I wanted to be able to hunt, especially geese, and possibly deer. Accordingly I registered for a combined Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC) and Ontrario Hunter Education course. The course was great - knowlegeable and engaging instructors, with a highly motivated class! I learned how to handle each of 5 basic action types of long gun (break action, pump action, lever action, bolt action and semi-automatic). I learned safety principles (ACTS and PROVE), ammunition types, safe handling and storage, and then hunting - safety, identification, precautions, regulations etc.
Three months later I received my PAL (Possession and Acquisition License), and purchased my first gun. It was an uninspiring .22 semi-automatic, on the advice of people on various web sites dedicated to gun enthusiasts. Wishing to add a larger hunting calibre, I purchased a Lee Enfield online, and this sparked my passion for old service rifles. What I received was a sporterized 1916 SMLE Mk III*, in good condition. I later refurbished the rifle, and it is the pride of my growing collection of WW I rifles.
Subsequently, I completed the RPAL (Restricted) course so I could buy handguns. I have not yet sent in the application - may even be out of time to do that. I am ambivalent about having handguns in my home. My understanding is that simply having one significantly increases suicide risk (not that I am ever suicidal), but the thought of the increased risk does disturb me, particularly the risk of accidents - handguns being - well - handy.
So where does this liberal stand now? I understand sport shooting. It is fun, and safe. At least as safe as driving, safer than ATVs and better for the environment (yes I know, some people hunt using ATVs. Not me). How do I square this with people being murdered with guns? The fact is, I find difficult to imagine that my World War I bolt action rifle will ever be used for nefarious purposes (I can picture a thug struggling with a stripper clip trying to load the 9 lb rifle). I follow the law and keep my guns in a safe in the basement, and my ammunition elsewhere. I keep two loud dogs, and try to live right with my neighbours. I can really see why people in the country who own guns can’t understand why city folks want to take them away.
I do see it that my lawful rights would be infringed if a ban were to remove my guns from me, and I don’t see that public safety would be improved one jot.
Now - if anyone can show me how a specific piece of gun control legislation will reduce gun homicides, I am more than willing to consider it. Here are some things I think would reduce gun violence.
- Increased enforcement of existing laws - more officers actively engaged in tracking down illegal guns, straw purchases etc. Earmark some of the license money from lawful gun owners to fund this.
- Attachment of the people involved in the chain of illegal gun sales to any crimes subsequently committed using those guns. So if I sell a gun to someone who is not licensed to own it, and that gun is then used to commit a crime, then not only have I broken firearms laws already - I am also an accomplice.
- Fund/Create a special department to work closely with US law enforcement to discover and apprehend gun smugglers (often closely linked to other aspects of organized crime).
- Create local community liaison officers who work with local community representatives to work together on the root causes of crime, gangs and gun violence.
- Increase funding for cyber detection, to seek out signs of disaffected and polarised young men before they go on killing sprees.
- Work in concerted fashion to create and increase opportunities for youth in at-risk neighbourhoods.
- Work to improve K-12 education focussed on at-risk neighbourhoods.
Problems with Gun Bans.
The main problem is that gun-specific bans are exactly like breed specific dog bans. Ontario banned “pit-bulls” to reduce the number of mauling incidents. Then ensued a bunch of confiscations and court cases where it was discovered that no-one knew exactly what a “pit-bull” was, and no-one could show that so-called pit-bulls were a problem in the first place. The same is true of guns.
A military term meaning a rifle of an intermediate calibre weapon capable of select fire, with a detachable magazine capable of holding at least 10 rounds.
What does that mean? Intermediate calibre is between large hunting calibres (such as .303, 30-06, 308 etc) which are approximately 8-10 mm in diameter, and small calibre such as .22 and .177 (less than 1/4”). Typically we are talking about 5.56 mm diameter - close to the same bullet size as .22, but with a larger cartiridge (so more propellant and velocity). The key real-world advantage to an intermediate cartridge is a lighter, shorter weapon, lower recoil (than the full calibre), and overall handiness.
Select fire is the ability to fire automatically (as long as the trigger is held), or semi-automatically - one bullet per trigger pull.
Detachable magazine is relevant because it would allow the shooter to carry multiple loaded magazines and switch them as desired.
This all adds up to a portable killing machine with rapid fire, rapid reloading and large amounts of ammunition. Someone with a backpack of magazines could easily carry one hundred rounds and discharge them in a matter of minutes.
However, this type of firearm is already illegal - on two counts. Civilian ownership of automatic weapons is already prohibited. Also, no long gun that is a centrefire calibre can have a magazine of more than 5 cartridges by law. On the other hand, there are any number of rifles that look like your grandfather’s hunting rifle, semi-automatic, chambered in intermediate cartridge sizes, with 5 round box magazines. The only distinction between those and the so-called Assault Rifles is the style.
So: which is more dangerous - this?
You have probably already guessed it is a trick question. They are more or less the same at short ranges (less than 300 m). The AR15 may be more accurate. The SKS fires a heavier round. They have the same size magazines (5 limited by law in Canada - 10 in coutries without that limit). They are both semi-automatic (by design - there is no simple “mod” that can make them automatic). They both are being used by hunters and sports shooters all over Canada.
So what does the government mean by “military style assault weapons”? It would seem they mean the AR15 or Mini14 type rifles. These are intermediate, 5 round (in Canada) magazine semi-automatic rifles. They are light, carbine length rifles that fire one bullet per pull of the trigger, with detachable box magazines.
So - should we embark on the route of banning the one rifle? Or both? Why - what exactly are we trying to achieve? If we are trying to reduce gun violence, will banning either of these produce a measurable result?
This has been tried. The US (yes, the United States of America) banned “assault rifles” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Assault_Weapons_Ban] in 1994 under Bill Clinton. That ban banned the SKS pictured above amongst many other weapons - ironically Canadians can still buy it! You can see how effective that ban has been. Right?
Another quiz. Which is more dangerous, this:
This time the trick is the other way round. The second gun (Colt Model 1911) is the more deadly. It is semi-automatic, and has a 7 round box magazine. The revolver (Webley MkVI) has a 6 round capacity, and is slower to acquire a target, fire and to reload. So far, I have only heard handguns being treated as a single category. Further - there are both centrefire and rimfire handguns available (think of them as powerful and less powerful).
There are more than a few problems associated with the proposals I have heard on handguns. A city by city ban would be ineffective. It is simply foolish to imagine that criminals will be affected in the slightest by preventing people from owning guns in some cities. There may be some impact on suicide or domestic violence - but I would need to see some statistics to be convinced of that. Then if there is some impact - do we only ban them in cities - and leave rural people with their guns? I just don’t see a piecemeal solution being useful.
On the other hand, the justification for handgun ownership is not as strong as for long guns. There is no game for which it is legal to hunt with a handgun in Canada. Self defense (using a gun) is not a protected right in Canada. The only reasons for owning handguns are sport-shooting and collection (like historic handguns). There is a fair bit of money associated with handgun sales and range shooting (speaking to economic justification). My own interest would be a bit of sport and a bit of collecting, probably once I no longer have kids in my house. It would be neat to kit myself out in the gear of a WW I soldier, somewhat like britishmuzzleloaders does, and do re-enactments. It would also be neat to engage in “two gun matches”, like Forgotten Weapons host Ian McCollum.
So to summarize - at the risk of being persona-non-grata at my local club, I could see semi-automatic pistols in centre-fire calibre being considered as more dangerous, but again no kind of ban deals with the fact that the overwhelming majority of crime guns are smuggled in from the US. Even if a small number of legitimate sales are being diverted (through theft or straw man purchases), and these are stopped by a gun ban, criminals wll simply get all of their guns from other sources. We have a very porous border. The actual impact on criminal handgun use would be to raise the price of black market handguns a little. A bit like closing down all Esso stations would marginally increase gas prices. There are plenty of other options. To law abiding citizens, it would mean giving up a hobby, with likely years of practice and large sums of money invested, without seeing any benefit to anyone as a result.