Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Guns and Government

Operating hypothesis: gun registration is such an issue because it is about the symbolism of freedom verses safety.

I am decidedly against gun registration. I waver, hum and ha when it comes to automatic weaponry. I wonder why people would ever need automatic weaponry, but it's not ultimately about need, of course, it's about saying no to an overly intrusive government. Is it about providing the possibility of effectively overthrowing an unjust regime too? Some people consider the right to own any kind of weaponry basic to democracy, others think it polarly opposed to democracy. Now, these cannot be absolutes, though, clearly: who would say that a citizen has a right to possess a nuclear device or a deadly strain of infectious disease, or even cocaine? Some would want to permit one or two on this list; it's hard to imagine a rational person in favour of the first. Security is not a completely spurious consideration, in other words.

Israel, as well as various other modern democratic nations, turns all of its adult (some of these countries, just male) citizens into deadly weapons with mandatory military training. Wouldn't this be fairly close to just giving every citizen a gun? Sure, Israelis know how to march and are, thus, generally in better shape than Canadians, but is this training ever considered to be a potential breach of national security? No, it is considered to be quite the opposite. So what's the difference with guns? Don't they improve national security? Well, there are some differences, but they are still comparable. I would imagine that someone with military training is made able to kill someone like me with his or her bare hands. I hope that he or she never decide to try it - but you know people, mistakes and anger happen. Should people who are able to kill me with their bare hands be made to register themselves? And I'm no wimp: I'm over 200 lbs of manly goodness and power. Someone who might not be able to kill me with his bare hands might still be able to kill my 90 lbs friend down the road.

But let's get serious here. No one considers hunting rifles weapons of crime, just like they don't consider compound bows weapons of crime. Clearly, they could be used to commit crimes. They would be little match for a police man's sidearm, but they are still able to kill people. So is the knife I use to cut rhubarb and grilled cheese sandwiches, as is the chisel I use to clean up wood joints, etc. What .22 hunting rifles and AK47s have in common is a name only. If weapon control is about giving police an advantage over criminals, then one might wonder how restricting .22s in any way contributes to that. If it's about making it more difficult for terrible slaughters like that in Montreal in 1989 or Columbine to occur, again, rifles as a whole seem no more relevant to this than knives. I bet more people were murdered with knives than with hunting rifles. I bet astronomically more were.

The gun registry makes life more difficult for decent people, and doesn't bother criminals one little bit. Is part of the push for limiting guns governed by hostility toward hunting and meat-eating? Likely. I imagine that the biggest advocates of ATV restrictions are people who hate to see them whiz by their homes or favourite walking trails. It's fine to think the world would be better without ATVs, but I think people should be clear about their motives. I think one of the stupidest things in the world is people who purposely make their motorcycles louder. In fact, they are ridiculously loud sometimes: the little jerk who puts that larger, louder muffler on his Honda Civic's got nothing on the Harley guy. Talk about obnoxious. But suffice it to say that if I ever got involved in trying to get laws restricting that kind of noise pollution, I wouldn't disguise it as something else. If you hate the hunting of animals, don't say that you support gun laws because you want to limit gun crime.

In the end, it's hard to imagine that registering and limiting the possession of hunting rifles has any relevance at all on the shape of street crime in Toronto. It's hard to justify making the life of hundreds of thousands of rural Canadians more difficult and more expensive in the off chance that some gang-banger will incorporate a single-shot .22 into his next crime-spree. The same sort of pay off would occur if we made it a criminal offence for someone not to carry around an epipen. Imagine if someone gets stung by a bee or struck by a randomly, haphazardly discarded peanut butter sandwich and dies of anaphylactic shock, just because you didn't happen to have yours with you!

Guns are neat. I've only discovered that recently.

Why not just have people in Toronto and Vancouver register their weaponry and leave the rural hunters alone? Think about it. Suddenly it seems really silly to think that if this were the law the criminals in those cities would rush to register their weapons. People who don't want to break the law are the ones who got their firearms registered. Robbers and murderers and drug dealers are not included in this group.


  1. This is from Stats Canada:

    Police reported 594 homicides in Canada in 2007, 12 fewer than in 2006. Stabbings accounted for one-third of the homicides in 2007 and another third involved the use of a firearm. Handguns were used in two-thirds of all firearm homicides, primarily in urban areas. Police reported that one in five homicides were gang-related.

  2. Thanks, Ed. So, not too many with .22s. But - and I haven't followed the story very closely - there was that woman who shot her husband in NFLD while 'hunting' - she must have used a rifle, right? So there's at least one rifle murder to about 200 with knives.

  3. She used a rifle and she's on trial for murder.