Bob Hepburn: Why is Canada's gun lobby so powerful?
It’s become an all-too-familiar story across Canada in recent years — a deadly shooting rampage followed by grieving survivors and neighbours attending memorial vigils and the inevitable renewed calls for stiffer gun controls.
It happened again this week when four people were killed in “unprecedented” shooting spree in Penticton, B.C.
Such deadly cases are occurring with more and more regularity. Last July, a gunman shot and killed two people, including a 10-year-old girl, and injured 13 others as he fired on pedestrians and restaurant-goers on Danforth Ave. in Toronto.
Last August four people, including two police officers, were shot to death in Fredericton. In 2017, a mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City resulted in six worshippers being killed and 19 others injured. And major cities, including Toronto, are experiencing record levels of shooting deaths.
Gun violence has grown so bad that Canada now ranks fifth among the 23 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in rates of firearm deaths.
Despite the horror of these killings, Canada has done virtually nothing in recent years to bring in stricter gun control laws.
In fact, just last week, Conservative senators on a Senate committee gutted the federal government’s latest firearms bill of almost all its gun-control measures.
That’s in stark contrast with New Zealand, which last week beefed up its gun laws by passing a bill banning most semi-automatic weapons. The ban came less than a month after 50 Muslim worshippers were gunned down in a terrorist attack in two mosques in the city of Christchurch.
So why has Canada failed to act despite widespread public support for stiffer gun laws? The reason is primarily twofold:
First, the pro-gun lobby is large, vocal and well-financed.
Second, gun-control advocates are relatively weak. To be blunt, after each mass shooting, Canadians send prayers and flowers — and then do nothing.
While clearly not as well organized as the National Rifle Association in the U.S., the main pro-gun organizations in Canada have been extremely successful in fighting any moves to impose more controls on guns.
In words similar to NRA-speak, the National Firearms Association says it focuses on “the protection of real democracy” in Canada and fighting for “property rights.” The Canadian Shooting Sports Federation claims more than 30,000 members. The Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights (CCFR) brags on its website of dozens of “accomplishments.” Earlier this year the CCFR openly urged its members to file misconduct complaints against Canadian doctors who support stronger gun control laws.
These groups tell their members and individual gun owners to join letter-writing campaigns, drowning MPs and senators in letters and emails.
Their biggest successes have been the repeal of the federal long-gun registry in 2012 and the chill they have put on all political parties when it comes to more controls.
And they are still at it, best evidenced with the gutting by Conservatives at a senate hearing of Bill C-71. The bill, which still needs full Senate approval, would expand the scope of background checks on anyone wanting to buy a firearm, strengthen record-keeping for sales and a few other minor measures.
In reality, though, the bill is a joke, doing nothing to restrict gun use and reflecting the timidity of politicians to take on the gun lovers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made no real effort to champion pro-gun controls as he tries to appease rural Liberals. Conservatives say they want to tackle gun violence without taking guns away from “law-abiding sports shooters.” The NDP and Greens are also huge disappointments to gun-control advocates.
On the other side, the Coalition for Gun Control has been fighting since 1991 for stiffer measures. Despite its best efforts to mobilize Canadians, too many of us who want stricter controls merely sit on our hands when it comes to pushing politicians to do more — unlike the gun-loving minority who make their voices heard loud and clear.
Without real action by the silent majority on this issue, Canada will remain a very long way from a ban on handguns or assault weapons — which is just how the gun lobbies want it.
Bob Hepburn is a politics columnist and based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @BobHepburn