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GEORGE: Gun control and politics as usual

February 20, 2018 - 12:06 PM



Gun control is an issue that every politician and every political party on the national scene needs to come to grips with at some point. As many reasons as there are for why we should enact tougher regulations, there are equally compelling arguments for why we shouldn't.

With lives in the balance, it looks like the Liberals might be thinking about toughening up our current legislation. I think the Liberal proposals are mere baby steps along the road to a safer society.

We value our freedom in Canada. We tend to ask our politicians to at least attempt to justify their legislation before hitting us with a bunch of irksome restraints on our behaviour. When new legislation was proposed to take away people's freedom to drive without a seat-belt, out came the evidence to back the move. People went along, some grumbling.

So it seems it would be a pretty safe bet that new gun control legislation in Canada would be an easy sell. Not so fast.

Posturing for the 2019 federal election has already begun as parties begin tossing issues around to see if they'll stick. The Conservatives made the news this week both with agitating for a lifting of the ban on the infamous AR-15 and their leader's pronouncement that "Law-abiding Canadians should not have to justify to the government why they need a firearm."

Japan's current gun laws are some of the most restrictive in the world. They arose from an outright ban from the very beginning of the gun era. Japanese society had never made "gun culture" a part of their own culture, so it was relatively easy to implement strict laws in modern times.

Where the United States has 101 guns for every 100 people, Japan has 0.06. This places these two countries as first and last in the world when it comes to gun density.

Interestingly, from the perspective of firearm related deaths per gun per year, the United States and Japan placed 45th and 46th respectively in a field of 74. Does gun control work? It is indisputable that it does.

One need only look at Japan for evidence. Death by firearm is about one fifth as likely in Canada than it is in the United States. The U.S. has a little over one gun per person in circulation, while in Canada we have just under one gun for every three people.

The Japanese have less than two per cent as many guns per person as Canada and firearms account for three per cent as many deaths per year as Canada.

Number of firearms has some correlation with number of deaths, but it is clear that there are other factors at play as well. So if gun control works, and the restrictions can be easily justified based on the evidence, why doesn't the government just bring in legislation to ban guns? Because we are not Japan.

The Liberals are finally getting around to implementing their gun control platform from the 2015 election. Wrapped in between several administrative changes is the requirement for an enhanced background check and a requirement for sellers to card buyers for a license. Whether law-abiding Canadians are required to justify their motive for purchasing a firearm or not is speculation at this point.

To me, neither of these requirements are intrusive. If I choose to exercise my privilege to purchase a firearm, I would fully expect reasonable constraints to be in place. As a law abiding citizen, I would have no problem abiding by the law and complying.

We do background checks on people hoping to rent property, why would anyone have a problem getting one done before buying a gun? We have always carded people when they buy alcohol, it hardly seems out of line to ask the same when buying a gun.

Walking the line between restricting personal liberty and taking action to prevent social harm is difficult. Strict adherence to one point of view or another isn't helpful. Those who value freedom need to be open to necessary and reasonable restraint, irksome as it may be. And those who see an opportunity to reduce suffering using the power of the state must understand that we do not live in a country with authoritarian roots and to expect resistance.

Our history as a frontier has given us a different culture than Japan, one that changes at the blink of an eye and with the speed of a glacier. The majority of Canadians now live in urban areas, however, and as a recent poll showed, most of us would support a strict ban on handguns in urban areas.

No one in Ottawa is proposing such a thing of course, not yet. But the rate of firearm related homicides is rising in this country which promises to keep this issue top of mind in years to come.

The Liberals are not terribly serious about gun control. Neither are the Conservatives. Expect to see more on this in the media as we get closer to the election though. The new measures will not prevent people from using firearms to commit atrocities. They won't prevent people from using a firearm to commit suicide.

What the new measures will do is show that "something is being done".

Politics at its best.

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2018
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