Harper harbours gun-slingers

Has the Newtown massacre changed our leaders’ views on gun control? Hardly.

Photo via Flickr

In my last column, before the break, I predicted that, despite the tragedy of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, nothing significant would change in U.S. gun control. This is one of those occasions where I’d love to be proven wrong, but everything I’ve read or watched since Dec. 14 reinforces my pessimism.

The main point of my column wasn’t that we should give up on the U.S., however, but that we need to channel our energies to fight what’s happening in our own backyard, where we can actually affect change.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, having eliminated the gun registry and all its data in every corner of the country except Quebec, have now set their sights on loosening the remaining gun laws. They have stacked an advisory panel that once included representatives of crime victims, human rights advocates and mainstream police officials. Gone are people like Marilou McPhedran, a lawyer specializing in the rights of women, children and the disabled.

“When Stephen Harper came to power in 2006, a dramatic shift occurred,” McPhedran told Toronto’s Now magazine. “I received a vague letter hinting at no more meetings, and I was never invited to another one.”

The Tories also dumped Ryerson prof Wendy Cukier, head of the Coalition for Gun Control, as well as representatives from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Police Association and the Centre for Suicide Prevention.

Today, the 14-member Federal Firearms Advisory Committee consists almost entirely of pro-gun advocates, including Tony Bernardo of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association.

In an interview with CBC, Bernardo defended the excessive representation of gun advocates on his panel, saying people like Nathalie Provost, who was shot in the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989, had no place on the advisory board.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “being shot does not make you an expert in firearms control any more than being run over by a car makes you an automotive engineer.”

No, but it sure as hell gives you a critical perspective, which the current panel clearly lacks.

The Tories have recruited alcoholics to re-write the liquor laws.

* * *

In the United States, pro-gun advocates have adopted the vocabulary of an eight-year-old to describe their adversaries. “Gun-grabbers,” is the label they apply to anyone who favours gun control. Because in their minds, gun control legislation means Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents will storm your home to wrest away your weapons, which, when you’re not using them to poke holes in paper targets, are the only thing preventing the U.S. government from becoming a Stalinist state.

In the fear-mongering reaction to Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein’s proposal for legislation to replace the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004, Feinstein has been re-dubbed FineSwine and is the focus of vitriolic attacks by the gun lobby. One critic, former National Rifle Association president Marion Hammer, even called Feinstein racist because her legislation is purportedly targeting weapons that look ugly.

In Canada, the Conservatives have adopted a similar rhetoric. Any attempt to legislate and codify gun ownership is deemed “harassment of law-abiding citizens.” Whereas the licensing of drivers and registration of motor vehicles is what? In both cases, the laws only penalize those who aren’t law-abiding and help police track down people who use vehicles/guns to commit crimes.

Meanwhile, the Harper government has quietly postponed its promise to require Canadian arms manufacturers to stamp all of their weapons with serial numbers, part of a commitment to cut down on international arms smuggling. But, as the CBC reported, “the Public Safety (ministry) backgrounder also noted that last June’s repeal of the long-gun registry decreases the utility of such gun markings, making them ‘only of limited use in the tracing of non-restricted firearms used in crimes.’ ”

That’s because the Tories have made it unnecessary for gun dealers to record gun serial numbers in their transactions in the rest of Canada. But in Quebec, every party has taken a firm stand on keeping the gun registry, and gun sellers continue to record who owns and who buys weapons.

Honestly, if Harper continues to degrade the reputation of Canada with his positions on things like gun control, peace in the Middle East and the environment, the next referendum may be led by Quebec anglophones who can no longer identify with what the PM has done with our country.

To join the fight for gun control in Canada, contact the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control or Poly se souvient.

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear at least once a week in this space. You can follow him on Twitter or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.

Leave a Reply