Ottawa is targeting the wrong kind of gun owners with new legislation meant to reduce crime, says Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston.
“I certainly abhor the gun violence that’s happening more frequently,” especially in the U.S. where mass shootings are occurring almost weekly, said Johnston. “Everyone gets the urgency, it’s an emotional issue.”
But the mayor feels the Liberal government is being “too general” in its zeal to fix the problem, going after regular gun owners instead of the criminals who purchase or supply illegal firearms in cross-border transactions.
“I am not a gun owner, but I know lots of folks that are, and they are extremely responsible,” said Johnston.
He wishes the federal government would instead launch a Canada-wide version of the Operation Pinpoint program that’s run by Red Deer RCMP. Habitual criminals are closely watched after their release from jail as police know they are responsible for much of the city’s crime.
Johnston said, “It has successfully been capping crime because that segment of the population is more apt to commit crimes.”
The legislation introduced in the House of Commons Monday by the federal government aims to freeze buying, selling, transferring or importing handguns across Canada.
This is raising fears among members of the Red Deer Shooting Centre, who feel this could curtail their sport. CEO Derek Bostock said he’s aware of exemptions for Olympic shooters, but not many others.
“They are going after sports shooters, but not targeting those who transport and distribute illegal guns,” added Bostock, who questions the fiscal prudence of the government buying back legally purchased firearms from people who have already been vetted.
Bostock and the centre’s general manager Kurt Stubbe also believe there would be major impact on the 40,000 to 50,000 Canadians who are employed in the firearm-related industries.
But Ian Wheeliker, executive director of the Central Alberta Outreach Centre, calls the bill “a step in the right direction” when it comes to preventing domestic homicides.
If passed, the federal bill would revoke firearm licences from those involved in acts of domestic violence or criminal harassment. It would also require the permanent alteration of long-gun magazines so they can’t hold more than five rounds, and introduce stiffer criminal penalties to fight gun smuggling and trafficking.
Intimate partner/gender-based violence, and self-harm involving guns is also considered in the federal legislation. It would create a “red flag” law, getting courts to make people who are considered a danger to themselves or others give up their firearms to police.
Wheeliker noted guns are a significant factor in incidents of domestic violence — especially in northern and remote communities. The Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative found that the fewer the guns, the more it was possible to prevent domestic homicides.
And it isn’t enough just to target known criminals, said Wheeliker, since a recent review in Nova Scotia found that almost 50 per cent of domestic homicide perpetrators did not have any prior criminal records.
Wheeliker has owned a gun for hunting, and understands the need for farmers, and others, to have firearms to carry out their livelihoods. But he questions the need for people to have guns, just as a hobby.
Although most gun owners are responsible, he noted improperly stored firearms are known to have factored in the deaths of dozens of adults and children over the years.
“I guess you try to find a balance…”
Regulatory federal changes in 2020 previously banned roughly 1,500 military and assault-style weapons in Canada.
In a news release Tuesday, the province said the new measures “amount to a federal ban on handguns” and “puts a burden on law-abiding firearms owners instead of on violent criminals”.
“Once again, the federal government is targeting law-abiding firearms owners instead of going after the criminals who are the source of Canadians’ public safety concerns,” said Teri Bryant, Alberta’s chief firearms officer.
“We need to put more boots on the ground to ensure only those fit to possess a firearm responsibly are licenced and to stop the flow of illegal guns at our border.
“The federal approach does not reflect what Albertans want or need.”