The words “gun lobby” and “gun nut” are slurs invented by prohibitionists–people opposed to gun ownership and hunting–to besmirch the character of gun owners and hunters. I heard the term “gun nut” used on American television sitcoms like “All in the Family” as early as the 1970s. I shrugged it off at the time as inconsequential. I had no reason to believe as a boy that there was anything wrong with gun ownership and hunting. I remember how other children brought things like duck wings for show and tell in kindergarten and primary school. Wings taken from the wild ducks that their older brothers and fathers shot while out hunting. Other children proudly told the class about their fathers, who had returned from successful big game hunts. My dad and my uncle enjoyed hunting cottontail and jackrabbits when I was a boy. It was not until late in 1989, following the mass shooting at the engineering school at the University of Montreal that I first heard mention of the “gun lobby” used as a pejorative term in public parlance. It came as an unwelcome surprise.
Growing up gay, I grew a thick skin. Starting in middle school, I was called names like “fairy,” “faggot,” “pansy,” “queer.” That and I heard people around me openly express their contempt for male homosexuality–it never crossed their minds that there could be a gay man in their presence. My impression is the anti-gay attitudes I ran up against mainly came from people who only did not know any better. Their perception of gay men came from the stereotype of the limp-wristed and lispy male homosexual and the commonly held belief that male homosexuality was a mental illness. There are still people for whom their hatred of gay people is malicious–people who insist that gay men prey on children and spread diseases to the broader public. Either way, gay men were viewed as a menace to the common good and fair game for the abuse hurled at them. I understood that we live in a less than perfect world where people form prejudices against others for any number of reasons.
When I served in the Canadian Army as a Reservist at CFB Petawawa in the summer of 1980, there were men in the transportation company I worked who talked about “rolling the faggots” at Majors Hill Park in Ottawa. The park was a cruising ground–unbeknownst to me at the time. “Fag bashing” is something I did not know of at the time either. It was the murder of several men in the spring and summer of 1989 in and around Majors Hill Park that made me aware of the danger. The men were attacked because their attackers assumed they were gay. One of the murdered men was not gay. He was a waiter at the Chateau Laurier Hotel. He was thrown from the interprovincial bridge to his death in the Ottawa River as he walked home from work one night. His attackers were caught, tried and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. I remember when I joined the local fundraising committee for Ducks Unlimited Canada in the 1990s. At the first meeting, the topic of same-sex relationships came up among the committee members. I sat there quietly as some unkind remarks were made. I was in a long-term relationship with another man at the time–I met Mika several years later when I was single once more. I got along fine with the men on the fundraising committee who had no idea I am gay and was in a same-sex relationship.
Given this reality, it was in 1989 that I cautiously reached out to the Gays of Ottawa. I am naturally skittish about joining politically motivated interest groups–I value my individuality, the ability to think for myself and pride myself on my self-reliance. Gays of Ottawa was an organization dedicated to the advancement of gay rights in Canada. It was part of the “homosexual lobby” as I heard one of Pat Robertson’s minions call it in an interview with Anita Bryant–whom he referred to as a victim of the “homosexual lobby.” Despite my trepidation about turning to the Gays of Ottawa, I found my visits to the GO Centre beneficial. I met other gay men at social events and a weekly discussion group. In the discussion group, I met gay men of different ages and backgrounds. The group had an array of guest speakers who gave talks on issues such as gay men’s health–it was in the thick of the AIDS crisis. We heard from lawyers and financial planners who offered advice on how gay couples could safely manage their affairs as same-sex marriage was not lawful until 2005. I realized the strength in numbers–that individuals in a given demographic could band together for their mutual benefit.
Despite my reluctance to join organizations, I did take up membership in the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters in 1988. At the time, it looked as Ontarians hunting privileges were under threat from anti-hunting campaigns. Also, I am dedicated to the conservation of wildlife habitat and resources. As I said in the opening paragraph, it was in 1989 that I first heard mention of the “gun lobby” used as a pejorative term in public parlance. Yes, overnight Canadian hunters and sport shooters became the “gun lobby” who have “firepower” and are somehow culpable for an isolated act of insanity. The reality is 1989, and in the present, Canadian hunters and sport shooters are a demographic–a disparate group of individuals from all walks of life who share a passion for gun ownership, hunting and sport shooting. There are, of course, several organizations that promote hunting and shooting sports in Canada. No one saw the need for an organized “gun lobby” as gun ownership, hunting and sport shooting are integral facets of Canadian culture and identity. My father assured me that “they will never ban guns in Canada” in light of the hysteria that followed the mass shooting in Montreal. I think most Canadian gun owners of my generation and the generation before us felt the same. Gun ownership is too firmly entrenched in Canadian society to be threatened. Also, there were already a plethora of regulations–federal, provincial and municipal–that governed the use of firearms in Canada.
It was the passage of Bill C-17 by the Mulroney government in 1991 and Bill C-68 by the Chretien government in 1998 that forced my hand in joining the so-called “gun lobby.” Despite the passage of these pieces of legislation and the pending gun ban introduced by the Justin Trudeau government, the myth of the pernicious, large, well-funded gun lobby in Canada persists. In fact, prohibitionists complain that the Canadian gun lobby is “while clearly not as well organized as the National Rifle Association in the U.S., the main pro-gun organizations in Canada have been extremely successful in fighting any moves to impose more controls on guns.” (Toronto Star) I am a member of the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights. The thick skin I grew from the prejudice I experienced growing up gay, and the slurs hurled at me conditioned me to some degree to withstand the bigotry and prejudice I see expressed on social media about Canadian gun owners.
The most defamatory accusation aimed at Canadian gun owners is not unlike the same one directed at gay men in the past: that we threaten the public, women and children in particular. In the 1990s, Priscilla de Villiers, whose daughter Nina was abducted and murdered by Jonathan Yeo in 1991, said, “it is time to 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) Never mind that Jonathan Yeo was known to his wife, to the police and the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry as a troubled and dangerous individual with an extensive history of sex-related crimes and weapon offences. He was free on bail at the time of the murder, and believe it or not, in possession of a .22 calibre rifle. Yeo was stopped at the U.S. border when he tried to flee Canada by U.S. border agents. He was stopped from entering the U.S., and he and his rifle were handed over to Canadian border agents who promptly released Yeo and his rifle. They said they had no legal basis to detain him. It was then that Yeo went on to abduct and murder Nina de Villiers. In 2020, the Liberal Deputy Prime Minister Christia Freeland said in a statement, “on average, one woman dies of domestic violence in Canada every three days. […] These guns [semi-automatics the Liberal government intends to prohibit] make it easier to commit mass murder. The culture around their fetishization makes our country inherently more dangerous for the most vulnerable: women and girls. It is unacceptable in 2020 that gender is still a factor in how safe you feel.” (cited in the CBC)
I am not too fond of it that Canadian gun owners are libelled openly any more than I liked it when people publicly expressed their contempt for gay men as I grew up. Yes, I had an unpleasant experience with some members of the fundraising committee for Ducks Unlimited Canada I joined. I think though that in their case, they spoke freely, assuming that I am heterosexual. To their credit, I think they would have regretted the unkind remarks they made at our first meeting once they got to know me as an individual. Then again, I received the following comment on one of my blog posts on gun ownership:
I think male homosexuality repellent, and therefore do not follow those issues closely. Because I am a genuine (which is to say, 19th century, tolerant, John-Stuart-Mill-type liberal) I believe that things which are none of my business are, you know, none of my business: You do not need, nor would receive, my approval, much less “celebration” for whatever passes for your lifestyle choice. But whatever consenting adults want to do that does not harm or threaten others is NONE OF MY BUSINESS. It is most certainly none of the government’s business, and I believed that, and supported homosexual rights, from the times when homosexuality was an imprisonable felony in Canada.
I am heartened to see therefore, that with your lifestyle, you account responsible arms ownership on the list of things that are None Of Government’s Business.
When the government wants to prosecute those who harm or threaten others, they have my entire support. When they want to persecute those whose lifestyle choices are contrary to contemporary fashion, the resistance, subversion, and defiance are called for.
Generally, though, I am welcomed in Canadian hunting and sport shooting circles. I live openly as a gay man in my Common-law marriage with Mika, and no one cares. I am judged as an individual according to the content of my character. As I said, Canadian hunters and sport shooters are a demographic–a disparate group of individuals from all walks of life who share a passion for gun ownership, hunting and sport shooting. I count observant Muslims among my hunting buddies. They know I am gay and in a relationship with Mika and could not care less. As gun owners, we have complied with every piece of legislation imposed on us by a succession of federal governments. We succeeded in our collective effort in resisting at the same time. The repeal of the long-gun registry is one of our accomplishments. There is strength in numbers, so just as when I reached out to the Gays of Ottawa in 1989, I proudly join in the fight with my fellow gun owners to stand up for our rights and freedoms. As hard as it is at times, I will take insults and slurs cast at me by ignorant and malicious gun prohibitionists in stride. It is a less than perfect world in which we live, after all. That said, I remain confident that we will win the fight.
Posted by Geoffrey