FYI

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Different gun laws, but both can be silly

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THE debates over gun laws that are ongoing in Canada and the United States take place in quite different contexts. In Canada, owners of long guns wonder why they are being persecuted by a law passed by a Liberal government that had been intimidated years ago by feminists after one lunatic killed several women in the so-called Montreal massacre. Two minority Conservative governments tried to repeal that law, but were stymied by an opposition centred in Ontario and Quebec, which does not reflect the farming and hunting population that Western Canada enjoys. The new Conservative majority government will remedy that inequity if it hopes to maintain any credibility within its western Canadian base.

In the United States, the issue is quite different. American gun-control laws are positively libertine by Canadian standards. The handguns and automatic weapons, grenade launchers and machine guns that are routinely available to most Americans -- U.S. gun laws are mostly state-based with a constitutional right to bear arms override -- are either draconianly regulated or simply unavailable in Canada. The differences are so marked the comparison becomes apples and oranges, but this week they kind of crossed paths.

A meeting of mayors from 600 American cities this week got spooked by al-Qaida and issued a call for tighter, Canadian-style gun laws. An American-born al-Qaida agent appeared on U.S. TV and issued a call for American Muslims to take advantage of America's liberal gun laws and to go out and buy arms and then shoot their fellow citizens: "This a golden opportunity," Adam Gadhan, also known as Azzam al-Amriki, said. "America is awash with easily obtainable firearms... So what are you waiting for?'

Most American Muslims are probably waiting for Islamic extremists such as Gadhan to make some sense. They are not about to run out and buy guns to kill their neighbours. American history suggests they would be more likely to take up arms to defend their constitutional liberties, liberties they cannot enjoy in any existing Islamic state.

In Canada, aspiring Islamic terrorists can find guns and explosives almost as easily as their American or European counterparts, which is interesting in that most of Europe has even stricter gun laws that Canada's.

This week, however, a Winnipeg judge seemed just a little envious of Americans' right to bear arms. Sentencing a young man to 21 months in jail for carrying a pistol in his waistband -- openly and self-admittedly, claiming a need for self-defence -- Court of Queen's Bench Justice John Menzies said that "I understand why you were carrying a gun. I've really struggled with this file. It is something that has bothered me."

The Crown disagreed, arguing, indisputably, that the law is the law. Even so, as both the constrained situation in Winnipeg and the "Wild West" rules of the United States -- as the prosecutor slightingly referred to them -- would seem to prove, the law can also be, egregiously, an ass.

 

...by Tom Oleson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2011 J12

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