Last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper caused quite the stir during a speech when he related gun ownership to public safety, particularly for rural residents who often lived “minutes away” from emergency responders. It immediately blew up (as anything a Federal politician says or does during an election year is likely to) with legal experts quickly pointing out that Canada doesn’t need vigilantes and that shooting someone entering your home is a crime and so on and so on. In response, Harper’s supporters fired back, vocally flocking to social media and trotting out all the usual points defending gun ownership (much as the anti-gun crowd pounced on the story, armed with their favourite anti-gun points). A few days later Harper addressed the uproar, labeling attempts to brand his remarks as approval for wild west, vigilante style justice as absurd. The whole argument flared up again when Quebec lost a court battle to retain data from the long gun registry that the current government buried in 2011.

First of all, the political fallout from the Prime Minister’s speech is a whole lot of ado about a whole lot of nothing. Harper wasn’t talking about any particular piece of legislation or law change or campaign promise, he was addressing his base, as both he and his opponents do every election, and when Harper has dangled the gun ownership bait in the past it usually results in a brief but helpful bump in campaign donations from his grassroots supporters. Here’s a newsflash, guns are a big deal to Conservatives, even Canadian ones, and while the unspoken narrative that the Big Bad Left will one day come for everyone’s guns usually gets batted around once or twice prior to Canadians venturing to the polls, Harper wasn’t making that connection here (don’t worry, he has plenty of time to get around to it before the election in October). So everyone can relax.

But this isn’t directed at Stephen Harper or the Conservative policy on guns (or Canada’s gun laws, for that matter), but rather the crowd that stampeded to the Internet following the speech to defend everything guns. I saw this story on the Ottawa Citizen’s website and (mistakenly) decided to peruse the comments section after reading it (my initial reaction to the whole thing was a ‘meh’ accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders). The story had been up less then an hour and there were already hundreds of comments posted, and it took no time at all before the gun debate was in full and hyperbolic swing, with both sides calling the other names at the drop of a hat. But some of the remarks I saw from the pro-gun crowd. Someone needs to remind them that, from a public relations standpoint, they really need to learn how to take it down a notch or five and reign in their crazier members, because wow.

The “you need guns to protect yourself from intruders/predators/monsters in the closet” and “a bad guy with a gun can only be stopped by a good guy with a gun” arguments were on full and enthusiastic display, but there were plenty who took those lines of logic a few disturbing steps further.  One angry response to a post condemning gun ownership was, and I quote, “tell that to your wife when she’s getting raped by someone who’s broken in!” In fact, I saw the “they’ll rape your wife if you don’t have a gun to defend her” narrative a handful of times, and in each case they drew a chorus of agreement and applause. And remember, this was the Ottawa Citizen and not some fringe web site or pseudo-news source. After reading the long list of home invasion and rape scenarios I had to ask, where the hell do these people live? This is, after all, Canada but to hear some of the gun activists talk, they were living right next door to Mordor and regularly fighting off bands of bloodthirsty, baby eating Orcs. Seriously, if you live in a place where you’re genuinely concerned that someone is going to break into your home and violate members of your family while you watch helplessly, have you considered moving? Are these people aware that violent crime in Canada has been declining for the past thirty plus years? And remember the remarks in question were concerning rural gun owners; I grew up in the country, where help from the authorities is sometimes “minutes away,” and to my knowledge, we never had any difficulty with roaming bands of plundering intruders. Wanna know why? Because we lived in the country. There were precious few people around (but no shortage of big, loud dogs) so unless you’re living in an episode of Criminal Minds, the narrative that people who live in the country are eventual prey for wandering rapists is a tad much. I’ve often heard gun owners lament that they’re unfairly branded as fear mongers but when one of your loudest talking points has more in common with a violent nightmare then actual reality, your kind of inviting it.

To say I don’t like guns is a titanic sized understatement-my distaste borders on outright hatred-but I also realize that most Canadian gun owners are reasonable, intelligent people (regardless of their political leanings) and I’m more than happy with Canada’s current gun laws. Are they perfect? No. Do some people who shouldn’t have guns manage to get their mischievous hands on them? Unfortunately and tragically, yes. Nor am I trying to claim that crime doesn’t exist in the Great White North, but Canada probably has the best gun management and ownership laws in the western world short of an absolute ban. So the debate that erupted following the Prime Minister’s remarks wasn’t just unnecessary, it was dumb. Nearly as dumb as some of the rhetoric the pro-gun crowd unleashed in its wake.

Shayne Kempton


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