On February 10, 2014, Blaine Calkins, used the slogan, from my cold dead hands, a slogan popularized by the National Rifle Association (NRA), in speaking in the House of Commons. Blaine Calkins is a Conservative Party Member in the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This was quite daring of him, given the invective that is directed toward NRA by gun prohibitionists, some of whom can be found in the ranks of the Liberal Party of Canada. A tired old canard perpetually tossed out by gun prohibitionists in the debate over firearm ownership in Canada is that the NRA is somehow undermining their efforts to advance gun prohibition. Michael Bryant (Attorney General for Ontario from 2003-2007) commented in 2010:
I got elected in 1999 and I became aware soon after of the NRA’s involvement in the debate — not in a huge way, but in a significant way. Canadians need to know the role the NRA has played in the gun registry debate. For a lot of people in Canada, if they knew that the NRA was part of the effort to get rid of the gun registry, they would think more about their views. And they would think, ‘well, wait a minute, I thought this was about, you know, wasting taxpayer dollars. The NRA’s involved? Really? That makes me very uncomfortable. (as cited in CBC News)
Is this true? Is the NRA involved in the debate over gun ownership in Canada? If this really is the case, is there anything sinister in this?
Before addressing these questions it is worth taking a look at the oft maligned NRA to see what, if any, basis to the criticism Michael Bryant and like minded individuals have heaped on the organization. The NRA was founded in New York state in 1871 by Army and Navy Journal editor William Conant Church and General George Wood Wingate. Its first president was U.S. Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, who had worked as a Rhode Island gunsmith. Not unlike the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association, founded in 1868, the mandate of the NRA was to train young men in the use of rifles and marksmanship. In 1901, the U.S. Congress created the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice, that included representatives from the NRA, National Guard, and United States armed services. Annual rifle and pistol competitions was authorized, and included a national match open to military and civilian shooters. Two years later, in 1903, the U.S. Congress authorized the Civilian Marksmanship Program that involved the NRA and continued to fulfill the mandate to train young men who might later be called to serve in the U.S. military.
It was not until 1934 that the NRA became active in legislative matters during the debate and passage of the National Firearms Act. The NRA supported passage of the National Firearms Act, as it did the Gun Control Act of 1968. (The NRA Once Supported Gun Control) This legislation created a system to license gun dealers and imposed taxes on the private ownership of machine guns. Yes, even with the 2nd Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights, the U.S. has plenty of firearms laws on its statute books, both at the federal and state levels. It was in 1975 that the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) was founded. The mandate of NRA-ILA is to preserve “the right of all law-abiding individuals to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” (NRA-ILA) Since the mid-1970s, the NRA has stood firm in its opposition to gun prohibitionists and governments (federal and state) who have tried to curtail Second Amendment rights. One of the NRA’s accomplishments in this right was when President Ronald Reagan signed the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act into law in 1986. One notable component of the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act was the provision that no government agency in the U.S. is permitted to impose a gun registry. The law states:
No such rule or regulation prescribed [by the Attorney General] after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or disposition be established. Nothing in this section expands or restricts the Secretary’s authority to inquire into the disposition of any firearm in the course of a criminal investigation. (as cited in Wikipedia)
While the NRA is active in legislative matters, particularly since 1975, its primary mission is to educate the gun owning public in the safe and responsible use of guns for use in hunting and shooting sports. There is the NRA Hunter Services Division and the Youth Hunter Education Challenge. There is also the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program for children which teaches children to take the following steps if they stumble on a gun laying unattended:
STOP! Don’t Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult.
The NRA publishes a number of magazines including American Hunter, American Rifleman, Shooting Sports USA and Shooting Illustrated. The NRA published quite a number of books on hunting and shooting including Home Firearm Safety, The Hunter’s Guide, The Basics of Rifle Shooting and Basics of Pistol Shooting. In its history, the NRA has more than fulfilled its mandate to educate the gun owning public and helped to make hunting and shooting sports among the safest past-times U.S. citizens enjoy.
Back to the question of NRA involvement in debate over gun ownership in Canada. Given that the NRA produced a substantial body of information on gun handling and gun safety in its myriad of publications, it is safe to say that some of this information is disseminated beyond the borders of the U.S. That and the fact that a good deal of the guns and ammunition sold by retailers in Canada are manufactured in and imported from the U.S., it comes as no surprise that Canadian gun owners looked to their American cousins to share information on gun safety and advocacy for gun owners’ rights. One key point to note, however, as Tony Bernardo, Executive Director of the Canadian Institute for Legislative Action/Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CILA/SSSA) observed in 2010, the NRA provides “tremendous amounts of logistical support, and while the NRA’s constitution prevents them from providing money, they freely give us anything else.” (as cited in CBC News)
Beyond offering logistical support to CILA/CSSA, NRA publications on the safe use of guns found their way in to government publications in Canada. The Hunter’s Guide, the textbook published in 1982 and used for many years by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources for the Hunter Education Program incorporated material published by the NRA on the proper handling of guns, notably pistols. You will find on the verso of the title page of the Hunter’s Guide the following citation: “Revised by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources with permission from the National Rifle Association of America and the Alberta Department of Energy and Natural Resources.” The Hunter’s Guide was distributed by the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) and consists of 301 pages. It is a comprehensive guide to hunting, hunting regulations, wildlife management, hunter safety, proper and safe gun use and the science of wildlife management.
Of those 301 pages, there is one page that demonstrates how to use handguns safely. This\ was included as the safety test one was required to pass before being granted their Firearms Acquisition Certificate (FAC), the precursor to the current Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) included handling of handguns, whether you intended to acquire handguns or not. This was a provision mandated by the passage of Bill C-17 in 1991 by then Minister of Justice Kim Campbell in the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. The fact that the NRA had a hand in the publication of the Hunter’s Guide did not go unnoticed by prohibitionists. In 2000 controversy erupted when the OFAH donated copies of the Hunter’s Guide to Ontario School Boards for addition to school library collections. Gail Nyberg, Chair of the Toronto School Board in 2000, objected to the donation and ordered the books returned to the OFAH. Her complaint stated:
it sends a message that it’s okay to me. That our government, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and a legitimate group, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters think it’s okay to have handguns. Well I don’t think it is okay to have handguns. We’ve had to deal with school violence. The possibility of guns and weapons are all over North America. I just think it’s highly insensitive. (as cited in CBC News)
In spite of the misgivings of gun prohibitionists in Canadian society, when one looks objectively at the record of the NRA in fulfilling its mandate to promote safe and responsible gun ownership in the U.S., involvement of the NRA in Canada may well be undermining gun prohibitionists in advancing their agenda, but there is nothing sinister in this. That the NRA allowed for some of its copyrighted materials to be used in the Hunter’s Guide shows its involvement in Canada is benign, if not providing a valuable public service. That Canada’s hunting and shooting sports organizations are offered logistical and moral support from the NRA is fine also. You can be sure that Canadian gun prohibitionists are receiving the same support from their U.S. counterparts. That involvement of the NRA in Canada may undermine the efforts of gun prohibitionists such as Michael Bryant and like minded people in our society pleases me no end.
Posted by Geoffrey