Public safety and the politics of gun control in Canada

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Gun mayhem in the U.S. hit just in time to catch the Canadian gun lobby and the Harper government doing a little victory jig on gun de-control.

Vic Toews, a U.S. Republican-style guns-and-prisons guy who carries the Orwellian title of Public Safety Minister, has just scrapped prospective regulations covering gun shows -- those conduits for rogue guns -- to cap off the killing of the national gun registry in the usual Harper government spirit of triumphal vandalism. That is, not just killing it but gleefully riddling it with bullets by destroying the actual data on which it was based to make sure a future government can't revive any of it.

Quebec, site of the 1989 mass killing that inspired it, wants to set up its own registry and has gone to court to retrieve the information for its territory. Toews and company are fighting this tooth and nail.

The "and company" part is the secretive Firearms Advisory Committee, made up of gun lobbyists and enthusiasts, some of whom worked with the National Rifle Association in the U.S., according to the Coalition on Gun Control, and which even the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs can't get onto. Their role is to promote guns, and Toews is their man. This, in turn, works beautifully for Stephen Harper politically. When they go a tad far -- which they did recently, in view of the Connecticut shooting, by proposing that the "prohibited firearms" category in Canada be done away with -- Harper can "distance himself," as the news stories put it, and look like a paragon of moderation.

The point, however, is to promote guns -- especially those with no rationale except military-type assault, or other nefarious uses. As it turns out, the assault rifles under the gun, so to speak, in the U.S. are quite freely available in Canada. Just Google "buy assault firearms in Canada," or some such, and get an eyeful. Most outfitters are out West, in Toews country, although apparently you can get them anywhere. In the Toronto Star, Linda McQuaig recently reported seeing "a large selection of (combat-style weapons) on display under a glass counter at a sports and hunting store in rural Nova Scotia last summer."

Harper and Toews have taken to nervously insisting that Canadian gun laws are still restrictive, but this availability of weapons suggests otherwise. Indeed, the RCMP website lists 16,998 "restricted" guns for Nova Scotia alone (handguns and certain short-barrel weapons), and 7,036 "prohibited" ones (sawed-off guns, short-barrel pistols and full automatics). If they're prohibited, why are they around, on the RCMP website yet? Non-restricted firearms are ordinary hunting rifles and shotguns.

The bigger picture is that Canada is in the U.S. shadow and our government is an imitator of right-wing American stuff. There, the U.S. constitution, which has been the leading light for democracy in the world for 250 years, is now displayed as a rag that encourages gun-crazed madmen to kill children. Unless America takes its constitution back from the extremists, the gun issue will add to the perceived decline of the U.S.

But the real mechanism of gun-mania is the gun industry and its sinister sweep. It's an $11-billion business in the U.S., and it grows every time someone goes on a rampage, ahead of restrictions that never come. The U.S. industry supplies the drug cartels (70 per cent of guns seized in Mexico) and other criminality (70 per cent of crime handguns seized in Toronto, as of 2010). The influence of this industry's main agent, the NRA, goes as far as to block government research into the effects of gun use. The independent work done, however, leaves no doubt -- the more guns, the more death, in statistics that vary even among U.S. states which have different levels of gun restriction.

Meanwhile, Canada is party to UN protocols (typically, the U.S. is not) to control gun trafficking, which it keeps putting off, adding to our sinking international reputation.

While we await the drama to unfold further in the U.S., however, the firearms issue in Canada must be kept before the public for what it is: a choice between the madness of assault weapons, in particular, loose in the society, or public safety, of which Vic Toews is absurdly the minister.

Ralph Surette is a veteran freelance journalist living in Yarmouth County. This article was first published in the Chronicle Herald.

Photo: mostlyconservative/Flickr

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