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Knee-jerk gun ban won’t solve problem, says Canadian Shooting Sports Association

A duck hunter takes aim near Fenelon Falls, Ont., on Oct. 25, 2011.

FRED THORNHILL/fred thornhill The Globe and Mail

Although far less powerful than America's National Rifle Association, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association serves a similar purpose and advocates many of the same positions.

"We support and promote all manner of shooting sports from traditional target shooting competition to modern action shooting sports, hunting, archery, and everything in between," the CSSA says. "We are also very politically active at the provincial and federal levels in the fight to preserve Canada's long firearms tradition, and the right of responsible Canadians to have unrestricted lawful access to firearms."

Tony Bernardo, spokesman for the CSSA, believes the current furor over the Newtown shooting is largely misdirected, that there is grave risk of knee-jerk reactions that won't solve the problem. In the emotional aftermath and media frenzy following the killing of 20 children and six adults, Mr. Bernardo says he has received death threats, and even long-time friends have accused him – as a gun-owner rights advocate – of being responsible. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Bernardo offered some insights.

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Q. Canada has tough gun control laws; especially for handguns and military-style long guns. Should America follow that lead?

A. There are some things that the Americans can learn from Canada; most importantly, that feel-good measures don't work. Such measures are unbelievably expensive but they don't actually fix the problem. The lesson that can be learned from Canada is that mental-health care and social cohesion have more to do with the lower rates of gun deaths than gun control.

Q. Would Canadian-style gun laws have made a difference in Newtown?

A. Connecticut had a gun-control system in place not that much different than Canada's. The firearms were all licensed and the owner was licensed and Connecticut has safe storage laws, that's really not a lot different than here in Canada.

Q. There is a lot of debate about renewing the "assault" gun ban from the 1990s that has lapsed.

A. Although the AR-15 is a restricted firearm in Canada, it would not be in introduced today. The AR-15 is the most-produced gun platform in the world, there are variants of the AR-15 that are specifically designed for hunting, for target shooting. As a matter of fact the oldest sporting organization in North America is the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association and its primary competition rifle is the AR-15. Quite truthfully, the focus on the AR-15 as being an assault rifle is a misnomer.

Q. What specific elements of Canada's gun laws might be usefully adopted in the U.S.?

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A. The heavy scrutiny at the initial licensing stage in Canada is a good system. Another good thing is that our gun laws are federal and we don't have a hodge-podge of laws from one state to the next. But even before the gun-control system, Canadians didn't shoot each other with much regularity anyway; Canada is a pretty peaceful country.

Q. One of the fundamental differences between Canada and the United States is that handguns are widely and legally available in the U.S. and almost impossible for ordinary Canadians to own. Is that part of the reason for the huge difference in gun deaths?

A. No, that's not the reason. In Canada, we have so demonized handguns that it is impossible to have a rational conversation about them. Even within Canada's firearms community there are many who demonize handguns. Social conditions play a much greater role in [gun deaths] than the availability of the tool. We should be looking at the 'why' not the 'how.' If you remove this method of homicide, people will kill each other another way, and it's not like you are going to stop people killing each other, it's been going on forever.

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International Affairs and Security Correspondent

Paul More

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