Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Freedom from gun terror: Why understanding American history can help keep Canada sane

| January 11, 2013
George Washington

One of the effects of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook last year is that -- slowly, slowly, ever so slowly -- gun control is coming to the U.S.A.

The sheer lunacy of the substantial cohort of firearms-proliferation advocates and their politically influential organizations in the United States after the massacre of six-year-olds on the anniversary of the death of George Washington has effectively driven forward increasingly mainstream efforts to impose some sanity and order on gun sales within our large and noisy neighbor's borders.

One useful aspect of this harsh debate has been the exposure of a popular misreading of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that "a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

It is simply nonsense to suggest, as has become the conventional wisdom in the circles that advocate gun proliferation, that the intention of the Founding Fathers of the American Republic was to encourage the placement of a firearm in every household as a tool to enable the overthrow of the state should tyranny take root.

This is a preposterous and perverse -- and in many cases, quite intentional -- misreading of the intention of the Fathers, which is quite clear on the face of the words of the Second Amendment.

Indeed, the purpose of the Second Amendment, which took effect on Dec. 15, 1791, with the other nine amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, was the preservation of the nation and its government, tyrannical or not.

That is not to say the Founders favoured tyranny, and least of the monarchial sort. But since the new United States had both powerful enemies encamped right upon its doorstep -- and that would be here in Canada, my fellow citizens -- and an instinctive distrust of standing armies based in the circumstances of its birth, the Fathers deemed it necessary to possess a well-regulated militia to ensure the security of their new nation. The secondary clause of the Amendment defines the mechanism for making the militia effective -- principally, to ensure its swift mobilization and deployment in the event of a threat to the new country.

That aristocratic old federalist and tax-raiser George Washington, of all people, would laugh through his wooden teeth at the suggestion the new Republic needed to be populated by an armed rabble that could rise up on a moment's notice and overthrow its government, which in the late 18th Century was made up of people some of us might dismiss in 2012 as "the 1 per cent."

By the way, the quote frequently attributed to Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence adopted in 1776 and the third president of the Republic, to the effect that weapons in the hands of the population are "a last resort to protect themselves from tyranny in government," is a misattribution, a fiction.

This is an important historical distinction for Canadians to understand because we hear it so often from our own weapons proliferation advocates and their Canadian gun organizations. Often, this false claim about the intentions of the Founders of the American Republic is stated as if it were required for the preservation of a free state, or even a universal human right, that ought to be, or had better be, imitated in Canada.

So it is helpful for us Canadians to know that it is a gross misreading of history, as risible on the dark side of the Medicine Line as it is here in our more peaceful Dominion.

This ludicrous claim is cynically tolerated -- even encouraged -- by the profoundly un-conservative and un-Canadian government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the contemptible reasons it has proved to be an effective wedge issue to pry votes in some areas away from the opposition and as a fund-raising tool.

This course of action was made more tempting to him, no doubt, by the fact that Canadian weapons-proliferation advocates are well organized and lobby effectively -- thanks to advice and subsidies from their wealthy and experienced allies in the U.S. firearms industry and its political arm, the National Rifle Association, and advocacy from home-grown right-wing groups like the Fraser Institute.

However, for those of us who recognize the need for sanity in the face of anti-social efforts to encourage the proliferation of firearms in our country, this should be cause for hope, not despair.

Because, for all their blustering repetition of the American firearms lobby's vicious logorrhea, advocates of gun proliferation in Canada have to know that this is simply a different country, with a different history and a different Constitution. And that is not going to change, Harper's best efforts notwithstanding.

Our Canadian Constitutional arrangements in particular mean that restrictions on gun proliferation are not merely desirable, they are quite possible.

There is no Second Amendment here to be perversely misinterpreted by "conservative" Supreme Court jurists, and there is a Constitutional guarantee of Peace, Order and Good Government, or at least the circumstances to enable the latter. As for the frantic claims of the gun nuts that they have a Common Law right to be armed to the teeth with assault weapons, they are codswallop.

So in that sense, the wording of the U.S. Constitution and the naïve fictions used to justify its intentional misinterpretation within the United States have no relevance whatsoever in Canada beyond questions of political action.

And the political question, my friends, can be won by advocates of sane regulation and responsible measures to impose reasonable restrictions on the proliferation and nature of firearms available in Canada.

There was a certain amount of triumphalism in gun-proliferation advocacy circles -- some of it seen for a time in the comments section of this blog -- after the Harper Government passed legislation eliminating the national rifle and shotgun registry and vandalizing the data already gathered under its aegis.

This was just the start, many proliferation advocates boasted, and they would be going on to achieve much more. For a moment, with Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau's craven surrender to their not-so-awesome political clout, it may have seemed to some of us as if they were right.

But that is not so. On this side of the border it is simply a question of political will. Our Constitution makes sane limits on firearms proliferation eminently achievable if we choose to exercise that will. This means organizing ourselves as effectively as the proliferation advocates, of course, but this is hardly an insurmountable task. And remember, in politics, a wedge can work more ways than one.

Indeed, the victories under Harper's destructive rule by those who would see Canada terrorized by guns like the United States should spur us to seek solutions that are more permanent and more difficult to dismantle than mere registration.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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