Back to Canadian Politics – About Guns, Eventually.

Now that health care reform is quieting down in the US, I’ve started taking a look at what’s going on more locally.  Canadian politics is an interesting beast, particularly right now.  We’ve got a Conservative Prime Minister with a fairly strong minority government.  If you’re an American, here’s a quick explanation of how our system works.  Unlike the US, we don’t have a two-party system.  Canada’s got three major national parties, and a regional party that winds up with a lot of seats, and actually has wound up the official opposition before.  We don’t have a separate executive branch, we have a fused legislative and executive function, consisting of a bicameral Parliament.  The House of Commons (think the House of Representatives) consists of 308 elected members.  Customarily, the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons is invited by the Governor-General, the Head of State, to become Prime Minister, the Head of Government.  The other chamber, the Senate, is appointed.  It’s called the chamber of “sober second thought”.  Plans to reform the Senate float up, including an elected Senate, but they never really get anywhere.  The Canadian Senate’s a whole other issue I’ll maybe tackle some other time.

Anyhow, when the part with the most seats doesn’t have more than 50% of the seats in the House of Commons, the situation that exists is known as a “minority government”.  The government requires the cooperation (or at least, the abstention) of other parties’ representatives in order to pass legislation.  That’s the current situation, and it’s led to all sorts of dramatics.  While the current PM, Stephen Harper, seems to be somewhat reviled, his main contender, Michael Ignatieff, doesn’t have much support either.  When Ignatieff blusters, Harper threatens to make any measure a confidence measure, meaning that if the government is defeated it loses the confidence of the House and the government falls.  Since Ignatieff knows he cannot win an election, that’s usually enough to shut him up.

Anyhow, the latest dramatics started before the Olympics, when Prime Minister Harper trundled over to Rideau Hall, the Governor-General’s official residence, to ask the Queen’s Representative to prorogue Parliament – to shut down the government essentially, extending the Christmas break until after the Games were over.  Their claim was that they wanted to make sure they had a focus on the big show in Vancouver.  The scuttlebutt was really that the government wanted to avoid the brewing scandal over detainees in Afghanistan.  Whether that’s really the case is fodder for many many other blog posts, and beyond what I’m interested in.

I’m really circling without getting to the point I want to blog about, but the backstory is somewhat important.

Prorogation causes any pending government bills to “die on the order paper”, and quite a few did.  One that didn’t is what I wanted to write about because it’s now getting some attention.  It’s Bill C-391, which scraps the Long Gun Registry component of Canada’s gun control policy.  The LGR is probably the single most controversial aspect of the policy, one that is universally reviled by gun owners, cost far more than it was supposed to, and in my opinion, delivered absolutely nothing of value to Canadian taxpayers.

Following the Montreal Massacre, where Marc Lepine, a disturbed misogynist shot and killed fourteen women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, there was public demand in Canada for more effective laws to prevent gun violence.  The Firearms Act, Bill C-68, was brought into effect in 1995.  Along with reworking licensing for gun owners it required the registration of of all firearms.  Previously handguns were subject to registration, but longarms weren’t.

The registration wound up costing some $2 billion, far beyond the projected cost, and continues to cost $75 million per year, and the Auditor General found a lack of evidence that it improved public safety in Canada.  Every dime spent on its ongoing maintenance in good money being thrown after bad.  You’d think, of course, that that’s reason enough to spot pouring money down the drain, money that could be channelled into actual public safety – whether it’s more efforts at dealing with gun smuggling, keeping kids out of gangs, fighting domestic violence more effectively, whatever else might work.

But you’d be wrong.  The anti-gun lobby in Canada seems to think that it’s a worthy investment.  And it’s tragically wrong.  The Long Gun Registry has become the very model of a white elephant, a useless gift to a special interest group that consumes massive amounts of resources (to wit, cash), provides little if any value, and is basically impossible to get rid of.

I’m a gun owner.  I pared down my collection (not that it was ever large) before I moved just to make things easier, but I owe handguns and one of those “evil” semiautomatic rifles that anti-gun people hate so much without even knowing what they are – a Chinese Type 56 Carbine, the venerable SKS.  Norinco SKS clones are cheap – or rather were, and there’s so much ammo for them floating around that it’s just fun to take to the rank and blast away with.

I play by all the rules, including the registration requirements, because the dealers I buy from do.  In truth, compliance isn’t a big deal, it’s just that I begrudge the whole process since it’s so wasteful.  I don’t get what it accomplishes, though I also don’t play with the paranoia that some have that somehow the man’s going to come confiscate my hardware.  That being said, tell that to owners of Norinco Type 97s who bought them legally only to have the RCMP decide to recommend they be reclassified as prohibited.  I wonder what people who paid $3,000 each for Tavors are thinking, worried if the same will happen to them.

My actual biggest grudge with the gun laws here is the ludicrous “Authorization To Transport” process for restricted firearms.  In Ontario, as a member of a gun club, I had to apply for a Long Term ATT – which allowed me to take my restricted weapons to and from the range – any approved range in the province – but via most direct route, no stops or nothing.  If I deviated and couldn’t justify where I was when I happened to have firearms with me, I’d face prosecution.  The ATT process is particularly stupid because it’s basically a rubber stamp.  Buying a handgun for example requires a restricted PAL (firearms license) and a reason.  The reason is always target shooting, which requires membership of a club, and the club applies for your LTATT.  They are basically NEVER declined, so what the hell is the point?

When I moved here, though, for example, I had to call, talk to some pinhead at the CFO’s office, explain the move plans, give them the dates and times, and wait for the paperwork (mercifully they faxed it), then do it all again when my move dates changed.  It’s just silliness.

The thing is that the anti-gun crowd spins the whole thing as though C-391 is going to somehow open some sort of font of gun violence.  When I ask them why they think so, some of them answer as though they think that the entire license process is being scrapped (it’s not), that the changes apply to handguns (they don’t), and so on.  It’s just frustrating to try to have a discussion on an issue when those most passionate about it prove to be the most ignorant.

And of course, there’s to much static in the discussion, meaningless statistics, and claims about universality of opinion that it’s hard to really explain.  The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, a political lobby group, supports it – yet I’ve never met a cop who claimed it was of any value – and some 900 cops have told MP Garry Breitkreuz that it’s useless.  His website actually has a lof of great info on the topic, so if you’re interested, go and take a look.  It’s quite enlightening.

What really bugs me isn’t restricting firearms ownership – to me that’s a reasonable and prudent public policy, but it’s spending the money spent on the issue stupidly.  That’s what gets me, we have these sacred cow programs that really don’t do anything.  A penny spent on the LGR is money that could be (as I said above) paying more cops, or more customs officers, or after school programs, after all.  It’s instead being poured down a very large drain, and we are getting nothing for it.

One of the best examples of this is the rather ridiculous project embarked on by the Toronto Police Service.  Toronto has a gang and gun violence problem, to be sure.  So what did they do to address it?  They looked up people whose licenses had expired (and who in many cases were in the process of renewing), and seized their firearms.  But since there’s an amnesty on, and the search and seizure was legally a little sketchy, in a lot of cases they just took the firearms into storage while the paperwork is sorted out.  While this plan did get some unwanted weapons off the street, sure, it really didn’t do much at all.  Most of what was seized were old shotguns and hunting rifles, not exactly the handguns that are being brought in for gangsters.

They claimed it was some huge success, and I laughed, because it wasn’t really much of anything, other than an intrusion into private citizens’ lives more or less for a technicality.  You know it’s bad when the Toronto Star has a columnist (whose shotgun was seized) attacking them for how silly it was.

Ultimately, if the registry sticks around, whatever.  I don’t care that much about it, because the vast majority of the money is already gone and can’t be retrieved, but it’s sad that we live in a country where people who know so little about an issue make so many decisions about it.  I’ll give you a great illustration.  I mentioned the Montreal Massacre above.  The rifle that Marc Lepine used in that terrible crime was a Ruger Mini-14, a common, popular target and varmint rifle.  It’s a semi-automatic, gas operated rifle in .223 Remington calibre, fed by a detachable box magazine.  It’s called the Mini-14 because it basically scales down the US M14 rifle’s gas system.

Today, Mini-14s remain non-restricted weapons, but interestingly, AR15 type rifles are restricted by type.  AR15s, for the uninitiated, are the civilian variant of of the M16 type rifle, the C7 used in the Canadian Forces.  But if you want a technical description, well, here it is.  An AR15 is  a semi-automatic, gas operated rifle in .223 Remington calibre, fed by a detachable box magazine.  Sound familiar?  Same as a Mini-14. Why’s one restricted and the other not?  No one has ever really been able to tell me, though I’ve heard some amusing rumours, like Wendy Cukier of the Coalition for Trampling on the Rights and Freedoms of Law Abiding Citizens Gun Control looking through a Guns & Ammo annual buyers guide and picking what looked “scary”.  I don’t think it’s that simple, but it may just as well be.

The point I’ve tried to make is that while some gun laws are logical, reasonable, suitable to a civilized society, the ones we have just aren’t good, and getting rid of bad ones doesn’t mean making it a free-for-all, we just are acknowledging our failures and reallocating resources more effectively.

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