Northern Manitobans with gun knowledge question the value of federal 'assault-style' rifle ban

A Thompson city councillor took a stand May 11 on behalf of himself and a colleague in opposition to the federal government’s ban on possessing about 1,500 semiautomatic rifle models in Canada in the wake of a mass shooting in Nova Scotia that left 23 people dead.

Speaking for himself and Coun. Duncan Wong, Coun. Jeff Fountain rose during the mayor’s report at the conclusion of that meeting to express his views.

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“On May 1, 2020, the Canadian government, by means of a rarely used Parliamentary procedure, banned 1,500 makes of - quote, unquote - assault style rifles. This ban was enacted – not through legislation – but through an order-in-council, which means that there was zero debate in the House of Commons. This decision was made with no input from MPs elected to represent their constituents. We denounce this. In addition to the sidestepping of democratic process, the federal government exempted First Nations under Section 35 of the constitution. Citing hunting rights for Indigenous peoples, the federal government has upheld their ability to hunt with these rifles, while telling non-Indigenous peoples that these rifles are inappropriate for hunting and have no practical use. In doing this, the federal government has told Canadians, loud and clear, that they are willing to create and maintain two different categories of Canadians. We denounce this. As a human being I believe every law-abiding citizen has the right to self-defence, not only from criminals but also from a tyrannical state. This order puts the burden of crime on law abiding citizens and jeopardizes the right to self-defence. We denounce this. Essentially, what this order does is eliminate these firearms for law-abiding citizens, but makes no effort to address the real problem of illegal gun smuggling and theft. We denounce this. It is our understanding that council will discuss this matter to formulate a response on behalf of the City of Thompson. Both Coun. Wong and I feel strongly that the erosion of rights must be immediately and sternly opposed. For this reason, we, as representatives of our community, have provided our stance today and will always speak in favour of freedom for this – the True North, strong and slightly less free.”

Fountain told the Thompson Citizen that he feels the existing firearms regulations for Canadians were appropriate.

I believe firearms should be regulated to ensure the owners do not have criminal record, can demonstrate safe handling and storage and do not have any serious mental health issues,” he said. “For restricted firearms the owner had to belong to a gun club, could only use the firearm at a recognized gun range or competition, had to inform the RCMP of travel times to the gun range and had enhanced storage requirements. This was on top of the PAL [Possession and Acquisition Licence] requirements and training as well as being subject to unannounced storage inspections. I couldn’t imagine a stricter set of controls.”

Wong told the Citizen that, while he agrees with some of the existing regulations regarding gun ownership in Canada, he would like the country’s citizens to have the right to bear arms, as the Second Amendment guarantees in the United States.

“The government has targeted the wrong group of law-abiding gun owner,” said Wong. “This gun ban has nothing to do with ‘public safety.’ It will not do anything to the problem [of gun violence].”

The belief that the ban on what the federal government called “assault-style” rifles will not be effective in reducing gun crimes or mass shootings is shared by several other Northern Manitobans who spoke to the Citizen.

Former Thompson city councillor Penny Byer said banning certain rifle models does nothing to address the root causes of crime.

“The problem with gun crime is not the type of firearm; the problem is with the cause of the violence. Poverty, mental health issues, addictions and societal problems are at the root of firearms offences,” she said. “The federal government should be focusing on addressing these issues.”

Her husband, Ron Byer, who is a certified firearms safety instructor, said the way the government banned specific firearms is at odds with the democratic process.

“Banning 1,500 models of firearms by order-in-council at a time when the country is distracted by the COVID-19 crisis, and not seeking input from a broader spectrum of knowledgeable firearms specialists, is definitely not an open and transparent act on the part of the federal government,” he said.

The Byers said that more effective ways of dealing with gun crime in Canada include more efforts to prevent guns from being illegally transported into the country and making the penalties for such importation and any other crimes involving guns much stiffer.

Mike Parsons, who is a member of the Thompson Wildlife Association and Thompson Handgun Club and has children who are members of the Thompson Junior Rifle Club, says many people believe that gun ownership is unregulated or grossly unregulated, but that restricted PAL holders have their names run though the RCMP’s Canadian Police Information Centre every 24 hours.

"In no manner do I suggest completely unregulated ownership, but I strongly support a 'ground up' overhaul of the current regs,” he said. “Certainly we need rules. We must have checks in place but they must be sensible, and most importantly they must be effective!  Firearms owners want a safer Canada as much as anyone. We want an end to crime and violence as much as anyone. No other sport or discipline is as self-policing and intently focused on safety and education as the shooting sports. And no other Canadians are as vetted and as mindful of the law and regulations as licensed gun owners. We have to be. Or we lose our privilege. The Trudeau Liberals have sacrificed time, resources, and our country's unity by focusing on us, and somehow convinced a credulous majority of enthusiastic supporters that imposing more rule and restriction on the lawful, will rule and restrict the lawless.”

A Lynn Lake resident, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Citizen that he has completed the safety courses required for a PAL and a restricted PAL, though he does not have any plans to possess firearms. He too takes issue with the way the ban targets the possession of particular guns based on their features or how they look, rather than unsafe behaviours regarding their use.

“It’s not the appearance or functionality of the tool – it’s what the individual chooses to do with it. Responsible firearms owners do not ordinarily go out of their way to use firearms against people any more than responsible non-firearms owners go out of their way to stab people with a barbecue fork. I do not believe that this order-in-council will have any impact on the unlawful use of any firearms for unlawful purposes in Canada because, shocker, criminals do not obey our laws.”

Another Lynn Lake resident, who also requested anonymity, concurs that banning specific firearms won’t prevent mass shootings.

“The man responsible for the recent attack on my home province of Nova Scotia was prohibited from owning firearms in Canada,” he said. “It has been widely reported that he travelled to the United States to purchase the firearms used during his rampage. Show me how any of these new regulations would have prevented this atrocity from happening.”

He also said that the rhetoric from some gun owners is part of the reason why many Canadians think “assault-style” rifles should be banned.

“If you find yourself in the minority of firearm owners spouting off about this most recent legislation equalling tyranny and oppression, please stop,” he said. “You sound, to the non-gun owning public, like a crazy person. You are precisely the person whose gun ownership they fear. You make us all look like caustic toddlers engaging in some form of Rambo cosplay. I have lived in China, I have seen tyranny firsthand, this is not tyranny, it is not the first step on the road to tyranny. Take it from personal experience, if in the infinitesimally small chance you wake up tomorrow and find yourself in a dystopian police state, you’ll find that the collected works of George Orwell, a pen and some paper are far more useful tools on the road back to freedom than an AR15.”

A former gun owner in Flin Flon, who also requested that his name not be used, said the recent gun ban was an over-reaction to a criminal using unlicensed firearms to carry out a mass shooting.

“[Prime Minister] Trudeau and [Public Safety Minister Bill] Blair are depending on the ignorance of the average Canadian when it comes to firearm regulations to pull the wool over our eyes and to punish the most vetted and law-abiding citizens as criminals by a stroke of the pen,” he said. “Today you may be a law-abiding citizen but by tomorrow morning you might be a criminal due to what you purchased legally and is in the back of your closet under lock and key. This whole operation stinks to high heaven and is not supported by many LEOs [law enforcement organizations] and has been opposed by the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs as well as many others. The confiscation will cost Canadians billions in buyback costs and will do nothing to fight where the real problem lies: in smuggled guns and gang activity. I myself, along with many others, just don't understand this government’s reluctance to fight crime but continue to pick on the legal owners.”

At least two online petitions have been started in response to the federal government banning specific models of firearms. Petition e-2574 calls on the government to scrap the May 1 order-in-council  and pass legislation to target criminals and stop the smuggling of firearms into Canada. It had 213,394 signatures as of May 25. Petition e-2576 also asks for the order-in-council to be repealed and had 50,301 signatures as of May 25.

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