Meet the fanatics who dictate Tory gun policy
Why are we talking about guns killing people? Deadly things are lurking in your home right now! You’ve got your bathtub, your electrical sockets. Don’t underestimate the really tall ladder – that silent butcher could leave you just as lifeless as a .44 bullet.
If you follow this argument, you might just be able to get into the headspace of Gary Mauser, a retired professor from Simon Fraser U’s faculty of business administration and a major force on the public safety minister’s Firearms Advisory Committee.
This is the kind of person the Tory government likes to listen to – which explains why Mayor David Miller’s call for a handgun ban has been a no-go on the Hill.
The Harperites’ inherent suspicion of government, plus their need to placate the yahoos and mercilessly exploit the urban/rural divide, has increased the prestige of the Canadian gun lobby far beyond what the national cultural fabric can accept.
Who are these people and how did they get a policy monopoly?
Once upon a time, the Firearms Advisory Committee included experts from all sides of the gun debate. Former member Marilou McPhedran, principal of Global College at the University of Winnipeg and a lawyer specializing in women’s, children’s and disabled rights, says it was “evident that some members had ties to the U.S. National Rifle Association,” but meetings were substantive.
“When Stephen Harper came to power in 2006, a dramatic shift occurred,” says McPhedran. “I received a vague letter hinting at no more meetings, and I was never invited to another one.”
She wasn’t the only one dumped. So was Wendy Cukier, a Ryerson prof and head of the Coalition for Gun Control. In addition, the Cons banished pro-control reps from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Police Association and the Centre for Suicide Prevention.Now the committee has Mauser, Greg Farrant of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CSSA) prez Tony Bernardo, three firearms experts and/or dealers, a doctor from Nova Scotia whose pro-gun letter rants can be found in various newspapers, a champion shooter, a cop who appeared in NRA ads, a couple of past presidents of the Sporting Club of Niagara (a gun club) and an ex-RCMP assistant commissioner who denounces the gun registry.
According to Cukier, the pro-gunners have managed to persuade the Conservatives to renew an amnesty for gun owners who let their licences expire, pay back over $50 million in licensing fees to gun owners and defeat efforts to employ gun marking and tracing techniques.
“What’s worse is that the government just continues the rhetoric – this notion that the legislation is predicated on the idea that criminals will register their guns, and because they don’t it’s a failure,” says Cukier.
But what is oddly irrational about the firearms gang is the way handgun owners and rifle carriers hang together despite the fact that mostly rural folk have to carry the moral load when cries over handgun violence in urban areas get frantic.
It’s easy to think this coalition could crack under pressure. Mayor Miller, trying to build bridges, certainly hopes so. “Some rural organizations,” he says, “get concerned because they think this is about their hunting rights. But if they are satisfied it’s simply about handguns, you won’t see the protest.”
Well, not exactly. Gun activists are intensely loyal to each other.
“Once [governments] get rid of handguns, they’re going to go after shotguns and rifles,” says CSSA’s Larry Whitmore.
The CSSA was formed by a union of the Ontario Handgun Association and the Ontario Smallbore (rifle) Federation. The group’s website tells visitors, “The disarming of citizens has been a tragic failure – violent crime has increased everywhere it’s been tried, as it serves only to embolden the still-armed criminal.”
“It’s a united we stand, divided we fall’ type of situation,” says Whitmore of his vast gun-loving constituency. But don’t assume his opponents are an invicible monolith.
Cukier’s group, for example, has no consensus on trying to ban handguns. It wants to ban semi-automatic military assault weapons, put strict controls on handguns and license and register everything else.
“There’s no question the lobby is trying to mix it all up,” says Cukier.
The gun folks are taking this “united” thing pretty far. Whitmore flat-out denies that the CSSA is funded by the NRA, but he admits to ties: “We do communicate with them.” That might mean inviting the head of the NRA to speak at an annual general meeting, as the CSSA did in 2006. Sometimes it means CSSA prez Bernardo goes on a trip to the U.S. to appear on Cam And Company, an NRA Web propaganda program.
Recently, the NRA helped promote a CSSA boycott of T.O. on torontothebad.com, presumably in response to Miller’s anti-handgun bid.
Farrant tries telling me about the “difference between those who legally own firearms” and “those who illegally obtain them and use them to kill people.” Nice, neat boundaries, but then there’s Kimveer Gill, who took his legal gun and shot up Dawson College in 2006, and a “law-abiding” member of a gun club who shot bystander John O’Keefe at the Brass Rail in January of this year. Whitmore doesn’t see the point.
“How many times has that happened in the last 15 to 20 years? Two or three? It’s a very, very rare occasion when you see a legal gun owner go off like that,” he argues.
I ask if he’s heard the news of a pair of hunters in BC who shot the head off a 12-year-old cancer survivor’s tiny Jack Russell terrier this week. He hasn’t, but the RCMP is already confiscating the “legal” firearms involved. I’m not sure if puppies count in his running tally, though.