Published in the CUFOA Newsletter, June 3, 2011.
Future historians may well see Bill C-68, adopted by the Canadian Parliament in 1995, as a model of sorts.
The federal Minister of Justice at the time, Allan Rock, a would-be intellectual who later became president of the University of Ottawa, knew that words are important. As a politician, he knew that telling the truth does not necessarily further a political career. As a member of the liberal establishment, he knew that talking like a do-gooder was all that mattered. As a lawyer, he knew how laws can be made tortuous, indecipherable and irresistible. And he had in his Department hundreds of bureaucrats who thought like him.
Here is what they did. They crafted a bill – finally called Bill C-68 – that did two things, two achievements that were very different but whose interaction would be incredibly potent. Bill C-68 first, and most visibly, created the Firearms Act and a whole new bureaucracy to implement it. The Firearms Act dealt with the administrative aspects of registering guns and licensing gun owners. Second, Bill C-68 amended the Criminal Code to create a host of new crimes for anybody who did not obey the Firearms Act.
They sold the whole mumbo-jumbo as an innocent gun registration requirement. But licensing is the most important, the most subversive and destructive, part of Bill C-68. Most gun owners got their first license believing that they were just registering their guns, while in fact they were applying for permission to register their guns – which is what a gun license is.
The focus on gun registration – the least damaging requirement of Bill C-68 – had the intended effect. People, including those opposing C-68, started using “the gun registry” as shorthand for the Kafkaesque process of humbly asking the government for an intrusive license that allows the successful applicant, in a second obligatory step, to register his guns in order to keep them.
While in the opposition, the Conservatives promised to “repeal Bill C-68.” As they came closer to power, they promised to abolish “the gun registry.” Once in power, they started saying, “the long-gun registry,” to stress the fact that, God forbid, the 1934 handgun registration requirement was not questioned. Many of them had come to love the licensing requirements imposed by the Liberals in 1995.
Thus, the masters of words won the battle by deflecting the anger of naïve gun owners – and their representative associations – from licensing to “the gun registry.” Many people still mistakenly believe that the Conservatives’ promise to “end the long-gun registry” will save the gun owners who the government knows have let their firearms licenses lapse. “As of December 2010”, states the Government in the Canada Gazette of April 13, 2011, “more than 224,000 holders of expired licenses were believed to still be in possession of their firearms.”
The duck hunters without firearms licenses are in for a rude awakening, for they will remain paper criminals after the “long-gun registry” has been abolished.
It is the intrusive, invasive process of licensing – not the “gun registry” – that makes merely possessing a firearm in Canada so cumbersome and onerous. It is only if and when licensing is abolished that the admonition of George Orwell, the author of Nineteen Eighty Four, can have any meaning in Canada: “That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer's cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”
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