As the United States continues to debate the merits of stronger gun control legislation, firearms advocates in Canada believe our own laws go too far. Sheldon Clare, president of Canada’s National Firearms Association, spoke with Yahoo! Canada News about the U.S. gun control debate, the National Rifle Association, Canada’s legislation and what changes should be made to improve our own gun culture.
In a condensed version of that interview, Clare said Canada’s gun laws should be moving toward America’s, not the other way around.
Yahoo! Canada News: Gun ownership has become a significant topic of conversation in the U.S. Let’s talk about our situation here in Canada.
Clare: I think it is important to understand that the lawful firearms owning public is a safer demographic than the general non-firearms owning public. That has been shown in research to be the case. … In terms of the situation in Canada, we have been operating under successive, oppressive firearms control regimens for decades. None of which have done anything whatsoever to have any effect upon firearms crime rates, or violent crimes at all. There are several articles in peer-reviewed journals which demonstrate that Canadian firearms control legislation does not work in doing what it claims it has been wanting to do.
Do you feel, then, that the Canadian gun laws are stricter than they need to be?
Quite a bit. We have many problems that have created all kinds of unintended consequences for otherwise innocent firearms owners. These problems include paperwork crimes, getting people charged with expired licences and getting their property seized. Or they lose various statuses to own various classifications of firearms. All of this has nothing to do with crime control, and all it is doing is trying to change a culture of firearms ownership – which is a long and proud one in Canada.
The issue most are familiar with is the now-dead long gun registry.
The long gun registry was actually a political construct, really. The registration of long guns was brought in by the Liberal government in their 1995 legislation. It did not occur until much later because it was an incremental approach. It has been shown quite conclusively that the registration of anything, including handguns, does really nothing whatsoever to prevent people from using them in crime or violent fashion. Putting a piece of paper next to a gun does not prevent its ill use.
Let me ask you a broad question. What is the No. 1 issue that is facing Canadian firearm owners at the moment? What would you change?
There are many things that need to be changed, but if I could get rid of one thing in the short term, beyond repealing Bill C68 and C17… the licencing requirement from the 1995 legislation, which required all firearms owners to have a licence merely to own their own property.
One thing being debated in the U.S. right now is the need for background checks. We have that in Canada, are you opposed to those?
Besides the fact they don’t really work? In effect they are a feel-good legislation. People feel they will stop someone somehow. They haven’t. Some of these people who have engaged in significant violent events have been licenced and had registrations for firearms. In effect that has done nothing.
Quite frankly we don’t have a huge problem with violence in Canada. It has been dropping over the years, mainly due to an aging population. That seems to be the main factor.
The NRA has been labeled as overly extreme on some of these positions…
They have only been labeled extreme by people who take extreme positions. The NRA — and I am not a spokesperson of the NRA or a member of the NRA — The NRA’s primary purpose and reason for being is to provide skills training for people. That is why it was founded back after the American civil war.
Most of what the NRA does is teach people about shooting and giving them shooting skills. Advocacy came about because of misplaced efforts to try to regulate lawful citizens and their firearms use.
If you had your way, would you go to a U.S. situation, where there is more access to guns for the general public?
I think our criminal code stuff is in dramatic need of change. Most of the firearms regulatory provisions should not be in the criminal code. There are things like safe storage and so on, most of this should be handled by education, and skills-based training should be voluntary education. If they want to learn about a particular style of shooting they should follow the lead of hunter safety courses.
I want to touch on a couple more topics making headlines in the U.S. and get your take. For example, the argument that large magazine clips are not necessary.
I think the whole magazine thing is a red herring. It really doesn’t matter. If the effect is to stop people from doing mass shootings, well, people can do mass shootings against unarmed people with just about anything, and have devastating effects.
Semi-automatics, large capacity magazines are extremely common. Pump-action shotguns are extremely common and considerably more devastating in effect on a per-shot basis. High-capacity magazines really don’t matter. Magazine capacity is ridiculous, and we have magazine capacity limits in Canada, which should be repealed.
We have had our own school shootings here in Canada. Would armed guards help up here?
I think that armed guards are the only thing that would make a significant difference. The first thing that anyone does when they are confronted by a bad person with a gun is to call a good person with a gun to stop that person. Otherwise you have a person in a target-rich environment without opposition. The idea of armed guards in schools is not an NRA idea, by the way, it is an idea that originated with Bill Clinton, who is a Democrat and the president of the United States when he originated and funded it.
One thing I would say is that there shouldn’t be anybody armed that doesn’t want to be. It has been argued that there should be armed teachers and so on and so forth. Nobody should be armed who isn’t trained and willing to be trained. Otherwise you are just wasting your time, you are just going to cause more problems.
NRA head Wayne LaPierre recently said that owning a gun is about survival, and gave examples of gang warfare and terrorists and hurricanes — when chaos takes over. Do you agree with that?
I think owning a firearm is a practical choice. Firearms have a lot of utility. They are a tool, they are useful and clearly capable of providing protection from bad events and bad things. The key thing for firearms use is a voluntary education system, rather than anything compulsory or legislated. The heavy hand of the state doesn’t need to be doing this. We have worked well in Canada for over 100 years without a heavy regime, and we did not have the firearms crime that warrants the legislation that we now have.
Photo courtesy of National Firearms Association's Facebook page.
The Weekly One-on-One appears each Wednesday
On Yahoo! Canada News.