Opinion

COLUMN: U.S. could take some firearms tips from Canada

You can buy an assault style semi-automatic rifle in the U.S., but Kinder Surprise are banned there to protect children from the potential choking hazard posed by little prize toys inside the chocolate.

In Canada you can buy the choking hazard and the rifles.

Assault or tactical style rifles and shotguns have gained popularity in both countries in recent years and notoriety as a weapon of choice for homicidal psychopaths to murder children, teachers, movie theatre audiences and emergency responders.

I guess their owners have their reasons for wanting something that looks and operates like an AK-47 or M-16 even if it doesn’t offer reliability or accuracy advantages over a basic bolt action rifle.

I also think it’s a bit strange people would use a modern combat weapon to hunt animals, but check around on You Tube and you’ll see some pretty bizarre “hunting” behaviour I’m certain would never be condoned by true sportsmen.

I wouldn’t lose any sleep over those weapons being banned, but I wonder if calls to ban them in the U.S. are missing the mark.

Regardless of whose firearm homicide statistics you consult, there’s no question you’re far more likely to be shot in the U.S. than in Canada. I think for 2011 the U.S. murder by firearm toll was close to 16,000 compared to under 200 in Canada. (The U.S. leads wealthy nations in firearms deaths, but actually ranks something like 10th among countries that make the effort to gather and report statistics. Not that it matters to the children and families of Newtown, Conn.)

In percentages the numbers told an interesting story. Canada’s firearm death rate is far lower than for the U.S., but handguns, not rifles or shotguns, account for around 65 to 70 per cent of firearms deaths in both countries.

Based on that, if I were to ban a type of firearm it would be handguns, which are already restricted in Canada. Unfortunately restrictions on handguns don’t deter criminals from using them.

Chicago is the firearms capital of the U.S. Illinois, ironically, has some of the toughest gun control laws in the U.S. But laws can only work if they’re enforced and many states don’t even bother enforcing firearms legislation they have on the books.

After nearly 30 years of not owning a rifle, I decided (prior to the recent horrific stories out of the U.S.) that I’d like to take up target shooting again. (I have no interest in hunting and prefer to enjoy the outdoors through mountain biking and photography.)

A lot has changed in three decades. In Canada you now need a firearms possession and acquisition licence to buy a gun and ammunition. Which means you first must pass a firearms safety course and test before applying for the licence and then wait about a month for it to be issued, because in Canada, police do some basic background checks on licence applicants.

After studying the course material and regulations online, I discovered that instead of being restrictive, the regulations promote safety and – most importantly in my mind – represent a national cultural shift toward responsible firearm ownership.

The U.S. currently has no national policy like this – something President Barack Obama is calling for and the country is struggling with. New York and other states have brought in strict firearms laws, but are battling the importation of firearms from other states that don’t follow similar sets of rules.

Even if the U.S. develops uniform national firearms legislation, it will still take years to make the cultural shift that will be needed to bring some sanity to the attitude toward firearms use – something Canada has a good head start with.

So, if I were asked which country I feel safer owning and being around other legal firearms owners in, I’d have to go with the one that sells Kinder Surprise.

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