Friday, September 02, 2005

Guns, Anarchy and New Orleans

Some slightly less than brilliant arguments are being put forward lately arguing that the situation in New Orleans (which is slowly descending into a "Lord of the Flies" anarchy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina) is a reason that Canada's gun laws are bad.

Apparently New Orleans has begun to collapse into a state where roving bands of armed thugs have control, and are exercising it in brutal ways. This ranges from muggings and rapes to emptying shops out of their goods. A few shopkeepers are armed and using their weapons to deter the looters.

The argument being bandied around is that Canada's gun laws don't allow you to own guns, therefore, it puts all of the control in the hands of criminals who do have guns. (I mean gun in the personal firearms sense, not the military munitions sense of the term) Apparently, if you don't object to the gun laws in Canada, you must be some kind of cowardly, weak-kneed liberal with no spine - or so the gun lobby in Canada would like to believe.

Let's examine the logic these clowns use. First - Canada's gun laws do not prohibit the ownership of firearms. There are specific classes of weapon which are prohibited from private ownership, but the average law-abiding citizen certainly has the right to own firearms. Acquiring the necessary licenses is little more difficult than getting a drivers license.

The next argument raised is that the gun registry is an invasion of privacy, and gives the government "too much control". Again, this is patently false. In my view, registering a gun is little different from registering a car. Yes, it obliges one to secure the weapon where it is difficult to access; to report its theft immediately, should it be stolen, and to keep it in a "not readily usable" state. I have to insure myself and my car as a driver, and I am obliged to ensure my car is in reasonable repair - otherwise I can be charged - especially if an accident occurs. These laws are little more than ensuring that due diligence is taken on the part of firearms owners in much the same way that registration brings a certain accountability with respect to my car.

Ah, argues the gun lobby, but the criminals still have guns and will use them in the commission of crimes. So what? Criminals use guns, knives, rocks, stolen cars and other things in the commission of crimes - that's why they are criminals. You walking down the street with a .45 stuffed in your pants isn't going to change that, nor is it going to change how a criminal sees you. You remain a target. Possibly a bigger one if the criminal wants your gun. Relaxing the gun laws is like removing speed limits because people speed. True enough, people still drive beyond the road and their abilities, even with speed limits. That doesn't make speed limits a bad idea per se.

As for the notion that one is a coward or otherwise weak of character because they do not have - or want - guns, that's just silly. Bravery, or cowardice has nothing to do with the ownership of firearms - those are character traits. Frankly, most of the people whose idea of bravery is being able to point a gun at someone else is likely to be sufficiently cowardly that they wouldn't know when to use a gun in the first place.

For the most part, Canada's gun laws are about trying to prevent the use of firearms in household arguments; to protect children from their parents' more dangerous hobbies, etc. With a little luck, when someone "goes over the edge" and starts to think about using a gun, the process of preparing the gun for use will cool them off. If it doesn't then they have just become the very kind of criminal that should be behind bars.

Criminal use of weapons is just that - criminal. I have no illusions that a gun registry, or other restrictions on firearms stops criminals. On the other hand, I have few problems with insisting that those who choose to own firearms take responsibility for the weapon, and its use.

To assert that Canada's gun laws are flawed based on the anarchy currently unfolding in New Orleans is an amazing leap of illogic. The real-life rendition of "Lord of the Flies" we are witnessing is a reminder of how short the distance between civil society and anarchy is. When it becomes a matter of survival, humanity will sink to depths that few can comprehend.

Canada's gun laws are predicated upon the notion of civil society. New Orleans is currently neither civil, nor social. The very infrastructure of cooperation that is part of urban society has been ripped away in a few short hours, rebuilding it will take years. One does not legislate on the basis of anarchy, but on the basis of civil society.

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