Why we must build better awareness and understanding about firearms ownership
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Welcome back to “Thoughts of a centrist, non-partisan firearms owner in Canada.” The first article started a long-overdue discussion about the toxic rhetoric from both sides surrounding firearms in Canada. There, I laid out a three step approach for enabling more thoughtful and nuanced discussion between opposing sides: to stop giving attention to extreme perspectives; to acknowledge and challenge manipulated, false, and misleading information; and to build better awareness and understanding about legal firearms ownership for reasonable and responsible firearms use in Canada.
This second article now takes a critical look at ourselves, and at addressing unhelpful and nefarious elements within our own community. We must start by recognizing that the Canadian firearms community is not homogeneous – it is as diverse as our nation. There is no baseline set of common interests, no unanimous voice. We have members from each of the major political parties, who follow a myriad of different faiths and religions, along with different cultures, heritages, identities, races, and preferences. The most common thread that connects us as a community is that we have all, at some point, chosen to undergo the training and licensing processes necessary to own and use firearms in Canada.
THE FOUR HORSEMEN WITHIN OUR COMMUNITY
Regardless of which part of our community that you hail from, there are four nefarious elements (aka The Four Horsemen) that we collectively need to address for the betterment of our common interest – Criminals, Extremists, Radicals, and the Mentally Ill. Firstly, criminality amongst firearms users is a serious challenge for our community, with two key types negatively affecting our collective. The first, and most frustrating form of criminality, is crimes committed by individuals who do not belong to our community – i.e. who are not legally allowed to possess, acquire, or use firearms. The horrific events in Nova Scotia earlier this year that saw 22 Canadians murdered is a troubling yet fitting example of this type of criminality: unlicensed individual, history of assault and threats, prohibited from owning firearms, known to the police, and use of smuggled firearms (and reportedly at least one taken from a deceased police officer killed during the rampage). In an ideal world, no Canadian should expect to be punished for the actions of that criminal - unless they aided or abetted him in some way. Sadly, that's not what our Liberal leaders thought. The second, and more difficult types of criminality for us to discuss, are crimes committed by those who belong to our community, i.e. legal firearms owners. This includes both violent and non-violent crimes. Violent crimes include domestic abuse, assault, murder; non-violent crimes include straw-man purchases, unverified private sales, and smuggling. Crimes of these types exist in Canada, they are not fabrications of the anti-gun community. Regardless of the fact that these instances, where a member of our community is engaging in criminal behaviour, represent an extremely small portion of the overall crime within those same categories, most (non-firearms owning) Canadians will simply consider all crimes of this nature as 'gun-related crime'. This perception gap is highly problematic for firearms owners. Remember, there are about 34.5 million more of them than there are of us.
Secondly, extremism amongst members is an even more critical issue for our community to tackle. When we think of extremism, we usually consider it happening in some far-off land than here at home in Canada. Sadly, we have a fair amount of it here as well. Recent years have seen individuals from the firearms community in Canada commit extremist acts in our country, using legally acquired firearms. Some of those have been non-lethal events such as the Rideau Hall event earlier this year. Others have resulted in terrible and tragic events that will stain our nation's history forever. Examples include the accelerationist police shooter, Justin Bourque – who was licensed and purchased firearms legally, although he was in illegal possession at the time of his rampage due to a failure to renew his license. The Quebec mosque shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, was also a license holder who purchased his firearms legally, although he omitted information from his application that may have precluded him from being granted his license in the first place.
Thirdly, our community need to address radical beliefs amongst its members. Radicals are individuals that hold religious, political, ideological, or identity beliefs that are counter to common Canadian norms. Radicals come from all walks of life and every class, and exist within every culture and every society, including our firearms community in Canada.
In Canada, the radicals most commonly identified and discussed in relation to firearms are those associated to right-wing militias, white supremacist ideologies, organized crime networks, and outlaw motorcycle clubs. Missing from common considerations are other racial supremacists, Marxists, socialists, anarchists, anti-government activists, religious zealots, and a whole host of other radical groups and ideologies that are present and active in Canada, and whose followers also happen to be legal firearms owners. These gaps tend to exasperate certain forms of reciprocal extremism, in addition to increasing the probability of unintended consequences arising from counter or preventative initiatives themselves.
We see nefarious examples of radicals raising their heads and voices in the Comments sections of virtually every discussion posted on the firearms topic, proclaiming things like: "The best thing we can do is send Bill Blair an endless supply of Everclear for him to kill himself with." Their comments are inflammatory, usually from a place of ignorance and echo-chamber bias, and the results are counter-productive to the interests and goals of our community.
A key challenge for the firearms community when considering radicals is to recognize that unless a radical person has been previously been convicted of a violent crime, or otherwise fail to meet vetting and screening processes due to mental health or other disqualifying criteria, there is nothing that would prevent these citizens from obtaining or renewing a firearms license. Radical beliefs and the associations of believers are protected in Canada. Finally, our community need to address mental illness amongst its members. Mental illness is a Canada-wide problem that affects all parts of society. There isn’t a segment of society that isn’t touched by mental health challenges on one way or another, and our community is no different. Many of us, our family members, or our friends have done battle with these dragons. Most often, these battles are won and life continues on. Other times, things don’t end up so well. We need to better acknowledge and resolve specific risks associated with firearms owners, such as suicides, murder-suicides, and domestic violence. These sad events, such as the deaths of Shanna and her daughter Aaliyah in a murder-suicide at the hands of a troubled Lionel Desmond, are beyond tragic. So many failures contributed to that event – my deepest condolences to all touched by that tragedy.
Canada suffers from a suicide epidemic, with approximately 4,000 deaths per year, of which 75% are Canadian males; 16% of all suicide deaths are by firearms. While the 16% statistic is horrific, a recent study by Caillin Langmann: Effect of Firearms Legislation on Suicide and Homicide in Canada from 1981 to 2016, concludes that "firearms legislation had no associated beneficial effect on overall suicide and homicide rates. Prevalence of firearms ownership was not associated with suicide rates."
WHAT WE MUST DO
As a community, we must collectively take action against those firearms users who damage our community, reputation, and overall perception through their nefarious actions, whether they are criminals, extremists, or radicals, and to provide greater support to those firearms owners who may be suffering from mental illnesses.
For crimes committed by non-licensed firearms users, the majority of our community already does a pretty good job at clarifying the differences between us and them – we need to quickly let the baying mob know that these crimes were not committed by legitimate or licensed firearms owners. For crimes committed by licensed firearms owners, we need to do a lot better. In a country where eligibility for firearms ownership is a controlled and licensed activity, and not an inalienable right, members of our community must go out of their way to be viewed as a partner in reducing and ending crime – this is necessary to protect our minority activities. We must show, loudly, that the majority of our community do not agree with their criminal actions.
Tackling extremists also takes a lot of effort, from a multitude of different sources. As private citizens, there isn't a lot we can do once a person has crossed the thresholds from radical to extremist, but we can do a lot before they get to that point. And therein lies the key for members of our community: learn to recognize different cues and signs that a person might be considering extremist acts, to help focus efforts on preventing these conditions from forming.
We also need to get better at differentiating and separating our community from the rhetoric of radicals, while at the same time redirecting those people’s considerations or sharing some deradicalization resources with them (if it seems serious enough). This isn't a solution that will magically change the beliefs of these individuals, but it will help mitigate the negative impacts their inflammatory words have on how the majority of Canadians view our community as a whole.
I’m not sure what to do about the mental health problem in Canada, let alone the firearms-related elements. I do know that as a community, as Canadians, and as humans, we need to better look out for one another. We must take a more active role in creating and supporting initiatives and programs.
Collectively, we need to share thoughts and strategies about how we, as a law-abiding and responsible community, can better address the issues amongst firearms owners that I have highlighted in this article.
Our small firearms community in Canada is under constant attack from the majority of Canadians, who do not understand us and who want to impose greater controls upon us, especially whenever and wherever firearms are used irresponsibly or illegally. We must address and separate ourselves from the nefarious elements within our own community – the criminals, the extremists, the radicals - and we must support the mentally ill, to demonstrate to the majority that we are what we say we are – reasonable and responsible firearms owners.