There have been a number of school shootings in the past several years. Of the various school shootings the only one where I can recall where I was and what I was doing when the news broke was the one that took place at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999. I was working for Canadiana in its offices at the National Library National Archives of Canada at the time. I was searching for books in the library stacks and another employee had a radio on. News that there was a shooting at a high school had been relayed and the radio announcer was assuring listeners that the school shooting was not in Ottawa. Twelve students and one teacher were killed in the rampage, with twenty-four students injured before the gunmen, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, committed suicide. Since then there have been a number of shootings in schools, Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007 and Sandy Hook Elementary School, on December 12, 2012, for example, in which children and young people were murdered, in each case by a mentally ill individuals in unlawful possession (with the exception of Seung-Hui Cho who lawfully acquired his firearms) of the guns used in the shootings. These tragedies are exploited shamelessly by gun prohibitionists who insist that it is guns that are the problem and thereby it is gun owners who are guilty by association. The typical refrain is something along the lines of “if not for those selfish gun nuts who refuse to give up their deadly toys, those children would still be alive.”
The faulty premise on which prohibitionists base their arguments is that it is guns, all guns, that are the problem and not the people who misuse them. Of course, there are guns designed and manufactured for use in 21st century warfare. In Canadian society while these kinds of guns are owned by private citizens, generally they are not used for hunting, but used on shooting ranges and kept in the gun collections of aficionados who have a passion for the collecting of well-crafted firearms. It is guns designed and manufactured for hunting and shooting sports (typically shotguns and rifles) that are commonly owned by private citizens, myself included, and used safely for these legitimate sporting purposes. In reality, a gun is like any other device manufactured by humankind: it can be dangerous when not handled properly. It was Grits Gresham who put it best in his video on duck hunting when he said “hunting involves shotguns and shotguns can be dangerous.” He hit the nail on the head. Hunting and target shooting involves guns, and guns can be dangerous, just as automobiles, chainsaws, knives, gas barbecues, etc. can be dangerous if mishandled.
There have been tragic incidents in Canadian society where families have seen loved ones suffer grievous injury and death at the hands of an assailant wielding a gun. One married couple, Bob and Dianne Pajkowski, of Toronto, lost their daughter Melissa who was shot to death after being taken at gunpoint in 1999 by her ex-boyfriend, a man with severe mental health issues. In speaking out in favour of the Firearms Act in 2010, Mr. Pajkowski observed, on behalf of himself and his wife “we are normally very private people and we do not want or seek the spot light. It is very difficult for us to be here today but we feel it critically important to do so, because we know what it is like to have a beloved family member killed by a gun.” (as cited in the Toronto Star) Similarly, Priscilla de Villiers, whose daughter Nina was abducted and murdered by Jonathan Yeo in 1991 (who was known to his wife, to the police and to the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry as a troubled and dangerous individual with an extensive history of sex-related crimes and weapon offences who was free on bail at the time of the murder, and believe it or not, in possession of a .22 calibre rifle) holds that it is guns that are to blame and gun owners are guilty by association in stating “it is time that we shift the focus of the debate from the “rights” of gun owners to the rights of the public to safety. In particular, the role of legally owned firearms in domestic violence against women and children must be acknowledged.” (Costs of gun violence and its impact on victims)
The Firearms Act is founded on this faulty premise and unfortunately, the Supreme Court of Canada subscribed to this line of reasoning in dismissing the challenge to the long gun registry provisions of the Firearms Act mounted by the Province of Alberta in 2000. The court ruled that the long gun registry was valid criminal law, asserting in general, “gun control has traditionally been considered valid criminal law because guns are dangerous and pose a risk to public safety. The regulation of guns as dangerous products is a valid purpose within the criminal law power. That purpose is connected to prohibitions backed by penalties.” (Supreme Court Judgements) Presumably, the evidence used to support this invalid argument comes from the personal tragedies that the Pajkowski and de Villiers families suffered. While I feel heartfelt sympathy for these families and all the others who have suffered such personal tragedy, I refuse to accept that I, being a gun owner, am in any way culpable. Furthermore, I demand a credible standard of proof before I will be convinced that it is guns that are the problem.
At present, there is no compelling evidence that this is the case. In fact, I have a term life insurance policy from Canada Life. When I applied for the life insurance coverage, Canada Life had me complete a questionnaire in which I was asked if I smoked tobacco, how often I consumed alcohol (I am neither a smoker, nor a drinker) and if I took part in past-times such as scuba diving and sky diving. Gun ownership was not on the list of questions, so it follows the actuaries who calculate the risks in determining who to insure do not consider gun ownership a threat to my life and health. In addition, I am underwritten in the sum of $3,000,000.00 in sportsman’s liability insurance through my membership (membership renewal fee is $52.40) in the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Membership in the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights confers $5,000,000.00 of third party liability insurance for the annual premium of $56.00 membership fee. The coverage extends to all legal shooting on ranges and/or in the hunting field, all range archery, all sanctioned activities of members with respect to all legal shooting sports & fishing activities, including at formal ranges and informal settings such as hunting and fishing. (CCFR) If guns are dangerous and pose a risk to public safety, how is it that actuaries in the insurance business have not discovered this?
I remember how it used to be that people reacted to the news of personal tragedy when a gun was involved. When I must have been twelve years old and living with my family outside of Kingston, Ontario I remember hearing a news report on the radio one day of a tragic incident that took place just across the border in the United States. A three year old boy found a shotgun in his home left unattended, picked it up and it discharged, killing his pregnant mother. The news report said the shotgun was “believed to have been unloaded.” Tragedies like these occur when people are careless with firearms. I remember learning in my hunter safety course that claiming “I didn’t know it was loaded” is never an excuse. I grew up with my father’s guns stored in the house. They were always kept out of reach and my mother and father, particularly my mother, were very strict about there be no tampering with the guns by myself or my siblings. What happened to that American family really emphasized the point. I cannot recall there being a great hue and cry raised in the aftermath of this tragedy. I think most people, quite reasonably, accepted it was carelessness on the part of the owner that led to the tragedy, rather than the shotgun. Despite what gun prohibitionists claim, this continues to be the case in the present.
Posted by Geoffrey