One of the more daft policy proposals floating around Canadian politics at the moment is Andrew Scheer’s idea of creating a federal ombudsman for legal gun owners.
“I would like there to be an entity, a person with some authority to interact with government, with officials, to advocate on behalf of firearms owners,” Mr. Scheer said while campaigning for the job of Conservative leader last year. It’s a position he still holds as Leader of the Opposition.
The notion that the nation’s target shooters and hunters are so hard done by that they need a special representative in Ottawa is truly astonishing. Do they really deserve to be treated with the consideration reserved for war veterans, Armed Forces members and the victims of crime, all of whom have federal ombudsmen in their corners?
Not in the least. What’s next? An ombudsman for sport-fishing enthusiasts?
As mad as it is, the call for an ombudsman epitomizes the myth of the persecuted gun owner favoured by lobby organizations like the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, and by politicians like Mr. Scheer who are eager to win their support.
You could see the myth at play again this week, after the federal government tabled gun-control reforms that are being brought in to counter a rise in gun-related offences and homicides that has occurred, perhaps coincidentally, since the Harper government relaxed the rules in 2014.
Among other things, the new bill would: make gun sellers keep a record of every sale, including the name of the buyer; oblige the seller of a non-restricted firearm to verify that the buyer has a valid permit; and make background checks deeper and more vigorous.
It would also require owners to get a permit to transport certain firearms to a gun show or for repairs, an additional bit of annoying paperwork.
The reaction? The bill “targets Canada’s most vetted citizens,” the CCFR said on its website in all-caps. Critics accused the government of “hassling” legal gun owners.
It’s maddening. Canadian firearms enthusiasts live in a country where it is easy to buy, own and transport a hunting rifle or shotgun, and almost as easy to build a large collection of more exotic weapons, including semi-automatic rifles of the kind so often used in American mass shootings.
Yes, you have to get a permit. And certain weapons have to be registered with the police, such as semi-automatic rifles and pistols used for target shooting. There are also controls on how gun owners can transport their firearms, and how they must store them in their home.
But that is what a gun-control regime does: It lets people enjoy firearms while balancing that right with the need to minimize the public-health risks inherent in the widespread ownership of lethal weaponry.
Those risks are obvious when you look at the extreme case of the United States, where gun control is lax to the point of non-existence. Improperly stored weapons kill thousands in the U.S. every year, toddlers included. Rules that allow a teenager to walk into a gun shop and walk out an hour later with an AR-15 are a proven recipe for disaster.
And so Canada sets rules, and those rules necessarily target legal gun owners. And then every time the federal government tightens those rules as part of an effort to reduce rising gun offences, gun-rights advocates complain of being persecuted for the crime of being law-abiding.
That’s frustrating. Gun control wasn’t designed to fight crime or disarm gangs. Its role is to oversee the safe legal ownership of firearms, to limit the consequent public-health risks and, as much as possible, to prevent legal guns from falling into the wrong hands through theft, poor screening or carelessness.
If gun violence is rising partly because the wrong people are getting legal firearms, then it makes sense for the government to revisit the rules.
If the proposed changes irk you, by all means fight against them. But gun owners have no reason to feel persecuted. It’s not personal. Gun control is a balancing act in our society, and everyone needs to play their part.
When you consider that the other side of the equation is that gun control can never be perfect, and that, for instance, a legally owned gun was used by its legal owner in the slaughter at a mosque in Quebec City last year, playing the victim seems even less appropriate.