Turning Legal Gun Owners Into SOCIAL LEPERS

Barbara Kay, National Post

Published: Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Citing concern over the "sinister uses" of guns, University of Toronto officials are closing down their 88-year-old shooting range. No word yet on the fate of the university's chemistry labs.

More than just one more example of political correctness run amok (which of course it is), I take this gesture as academic ideologues' invitation to government to follow suit and ban gun sport and gun collecting nationally. Alas, I think the initiative might find broad public support. To many liberal Canadians nowadays, tolerating gun use in any capacity is akin to complicity in Bambi's mother's murder, fatalism regarding school massacres and genuflection to American imperialism.

Such a ban would be a mortal blow to civil liberties and property rights in this country, but it wouldn't take much muscle to finish the job: The implementation of the Firearms Act in 1995 has already battered gun lovers to their knees.

Unlike the United States, Canada has little in the way of a criminal gun culture. Consider: Thirty-five thousand Canadians have purchased $5-million liability insurance policies from the National Firearms Association (NFA), which cover their legitimate gun-related activities all over North America. Their annual premium is just $7.95. Why so cheap? Because, as NFA president Dave Tomlinson dryly explained in an interview, his company virtually never receives claims. Legal gun-owners are unusually responsible people. If they weren't, his company would be out of business.

But the 1989 Montreal Massacre of 14 women by Marc Lepine drove rational attitudes to guns, perhaps forever, from the collective Canadian psyche.

Ironically, in spousal or partner killings of Canadian women by men, guns are the culprit in only about 25 cases per year -- this in a country of over 30 million people. Spurned men are far more likely to kill themselves than their partners. Women are six times as likely to be assaulted with other weapons as with guns. Nevertheless, since the Lepine massacre, guns have become synonymous with violence against women, and gun control with protection for women.

Enter the Firearms Act, which had nothing to do with general gun crime (at a low ebb when the Act was introduced), or actual prevention of homicidal intent, and everything to do with appeasing feminists' irrational fear of a frightening -- but statistically tiny --menace.

The good guys who suffer the most are gun collectors -- invariably men -- in the process of a marital breakdown. For in its obsession with protecting women, the Firearms Act now accords spouses control over their husbands' right to renew their licences (in principle, the control operates bilaterally; but in reality, it almost invariably comes down to women controlling men's renewals) and, in many cases, the right to continued ownership of their property.

Jeremy Swanson is a poster boy for this phenomenon. A knowledgeable South African-born amateur war historian and ballistics expert, he worked as a civil servant for the War Museum in Ottawa, whose rigorous background checks he successfully passed. (In 1997, he was named the museum's top employee).

Owner of a small antique firearms collection (please don't call them "weapons," he insists), Swanson has never broken the law in his life. He passed the Canadian Firearms Safety Test in 1999 with a 98% score. Even throughout a bitter divorce process, Swanson's ex-wife never alleged domestic or child abuse. Swanson's collection was safety trigger-locked, and stored in a firearm safe, with ammunition stored separately. His wife retained possession of the only two keys, and Swanson had never attempted to re-enter his home after being asked to leave it.

Six months after their separation, in October, 2001, Swanson's wife, who was legally authorized to store the collection elsewhere if she didn't want guns in the house, instead asked the Ottawa police to take the collection -- principally four antique rifles, two non-firing BB guns (falsely recorded as rifles), a toy Luger replica (falsely recorded as real) and some jokey paperweight dummy grenades (all together ominously labelled by the police as a "mini-arsenal")-- into "safekeeping."

Then his real troubles began. Swanson was never informed by the police of the seizure (he found out six months later by chance). From that day to this, he has never been interviewed by the police, let alone arrested or charged with any crime, nor has either a past or present chief of police ever responded to his pleas for a meeting. Although police attempts to declare him a "danger to himself and others" have come to naught, they have entailed several humiliating summons to criminal court.

Swanson remains in the Kafkaesque limbo of a man with no criminal record who for six years has been treated like a criminal, not to mention a social leper, on the basis of ? nothing. Sadly, I am told by insiders versed in firearms-related law, the injustices Swanson has suffered are in no way unique.

In a recently-published book discussed on these pages last Thursday, Mistakes Were Made:Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson argue that many social and cultural problems spring from humans' inability to admit when they're wrong. How right they are. And as further evidence to those adduced in their book, I would cite: the blinkered ideologues who punish responsible gun users for the sins of criminals; police who automatically privilege the idle or fabricated concerns of disaffected women over men's property and civil rights; and governments who continue to throw good money after bad in perpetuating an institution that fails utterly to deter gun crime, but succeeds magnificently in stigmatizing an identifiable minority of law-abiding citizens as criminals in waiting.