Who ‘needs’ a gun?


This is an excellent editorial by Lorne Gunter at the National Post.  He perfectly summarizes one of the core issues of the gun control debate in Canada.

Who ‘needs’ a gun?

Lorne Gunter, National Post · Nov. 2, 2011 | Last Updated: Nov. 2, 2011 3:07 AM ET

On Tuesday morning, members of the National Post editorial board – a group that includes me – got into a fascinating email debate regarding the federal government’s decision to decommission the long-gun registry. We then segued into a discussion of the possibility of increasing restrictions for several makes and models of rifles that the previous Liberal government had deemed non-restricted.

“The point of getting rid of the gun registry was supposed to be that it criminalized farmers and hunters,” one of my colleagues wrote. “But now the Conservatives [might] delist sniper rifles and the kind of semi-automatic used in the Norway massacre. Why do farmers and hunters need sniper rifles that can pierce armour from a kilometre away?”

I do not own a gun. I have never owned a gun and can’t imagine I ever will. As objects of utility or recreation, guns hold little fascination for me.

My interest in guns is purely philosophical: I can’t trust any government that doesn’t trust my law-abiding fellow citizens to own whatever guns they want. It’s the instinct to ban – rooted in the notion that governments or “experts” know better than we ourselves what is best or safest for us – that scares me far more than the thought of my neighbour owning a sniper rifle. The banning instinct is never slaked. Once it has succeeded in prohibiting guns, it will turn itself to offensive speech or unhealthy food.

Even the notion that there are guns that can be readily identified as a “sniper” or “assault” rifle is specious. There is no definition of either that would be useful at law. Every country that has ever imposed a ban on certain types of rifles has encountered the same problem: It is impossible to define which rifles are safe for civilians and which are too dangerous, based on muzzle velocity, barrel length, bullet calibre, scope, etc. So in the end, each jurisdiction (Canada included) has been forced to resort to arbitrary and irrational criteria, such as that one model looks scarier than another. Typically the more military a rifle looks, the more likely it is to be banned, even if it is not operationally one bit different from a civilian “hunting” rifle.

But above all, it always worries me when the concept of “need” enters the debate, as in (to quote one of my colleagues): “Why do farmers and hunters need sniper rifles?”

The concept of “need” is antithetic to freedom in a democracy where the citizens are sovereign. No one needs a car that goes more than 110 km/ hr, because that is the highest speed limit in the country. So should any of us who want to drive more than a Smart Car or Fiat have to go cap in hand to a government official and explain our “need” for, say, a sports car, before we are granted the right to buy one? Many more Canadians – thousands more – are killed by speeding automobiles each year than by high-powered rifles that are beyond what ranchers “need” to kill coyotes.

If you are guilty of no crime, what you “need” is none of my business, or the government’s. In fact, it is the reverse. Any government that seeks to restrict the liberties of law-abiding citizens should have to prove it needs to do so, and that it is not just pandering to popular emotions and political sentimentality.

One editorial board member said he would feel completely “free,” even if he were prevented from buying a high-powered rifle. But it’s easy to give up a liberty that is unimportant to you. The reason we non-gun owners should stick up for owners’ rights is that someday it may be our rights that are under attack. Someday, the banners who are going after guns may decide that eliminating hate speech (as they define it) is more important than defending free speech. And if we free-speechers don’t stand with gun owners against the banners today, why would the gun owner stand with us tomorrow?

lgunter@shaw.ca

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