THERE ARE ABOUT three million firearms in the hands of this country’s civilians, one for every second man. So many of them are owned by fools that the time has come to outlaw them. In 1959 a hundred and sixty-seven Canadians were killed and about a thousand were wounded through ignorance and carelessness in the handling of firearms. Statisticians say that the casualty figures for I960 will be even higher. In a typical year nearly half the Canadians shot down are hunters mistaken for game. Nearly a quarter are teenagers who skylark with weapons that don’t belong to them. Most of the remaining quarter are children under the age of twelve who pick up a loaded gun that has been left lying around by adults. In Ontario alone, last year, thirty-four hunters died in tragically ridiculous accidents.
A hunter clubbed a rabbit with a loaded shotgun butt and received the charge in his stomach. A boy of fifteen poked the butt of his loaded rifle down a rabbit hole and the gun went off. One man fired from a boat and killed another man he mistook for a moose. A man in a grain field was killed when a hunter thought he was a wolf.
Two men in a canoe waved their arms and shouted “Don’t shoot!” but a hunter shot at them anyway and killed one. The hunter thought the men were ducks, he said. A man wearing a green parka was watched for fifteen minutes by a hunter who still took him for a bear and shot him dead. A hunter with a telescopic sight killed a man who was standing on a lakeshore by a canoe, taking him for a deer. A father bent down beside a deer he’d just shot and his son, thinking the deer was still alive, fired and killed the father. A man with arthritis used his shotgun as a cane, holding it by the muzzle, and killed himself.
Hunters lost their lives by climbing trees, fences and rocks with a round in the gun chamber and the safety catch off and by driving cars with loaded weapons beside them. One man lost half his foot when he tried to hide a sawed-off shotgun from a conservation officer by shoving it down the side of his rubber boot.
Hunters who kill or wound their fellows are usually charged with criminal negligence. But often they are given lenient sentences. Last fall Cecil Terry of Sudbury, Ontario, was convicted of criminal negligence in the shooting of the brothers Jim and Alec Austin. He mistook them for deer. Jim Austin was in hospital for ten months. Terry was fined two hundred dollars and prohibited from obtaining a hunting license for two years.
Ontario made an attempt to reduce accidents last fall by putting all new applicants for hunting licenses through
a safety test. But tens of thousands of men who had taken out licenses before were exempt. Anyway, the tests amounted to little more than questions and answers about safety precautions, and an elementary demonstration of gun handling.
Stumblebums among hunters can be weeded out only by radical changes in licensing practices on a national scale.
The army should institute evening and weekend classes for hunters in the routine infantry weapon training course. No man should be given a license to hunt until he has passed this course. Such courses would eliminate from the hunting field thousands of men who are physically or mentally unfit to carry firearms. The army methods make the observance of safety precautions automatic and instinctive. Loading and unloading, proper holding, taking aim and firing become smooth, slick, assured actions that give the man pride in himself and imbue his companions with confidence.
To protect children from the dangers of the firearms that are left lying around by half-witted hunters, the army should make arrangements immediately to extend its armories and provide racks in which all privately owned sporting weapons would be stored during the closed season. Hunters would be required to check their weapons in and out of these armories as hotel guests check baggage.
Hunting weapons may be bought without formality by any Canadian over the age of eighteen, but non-hunting weapons, such as pistols and machine guns, require a permit. However, it is almost as easy to get a permit for a pistol as it is to get a license to drive a car. And no handling test is involved. Last year the RCMP registered nearly fifteen thousand pistols newly acquired by civilians. This brought the total of lawfully held pistols to nearly half a million. Officially the RCMP has “no idea” how many unregistered or illegal pistols are about. But one well-qualified officer guesses there are another half million, making a million in all.
A man wanting a legal pistol merely visits a licensed gunshop, or an individual who has a registered weapon for sale. The prospective buyer makes a note of the pistol’s calibre, magazine capacity, year of manufacture, serial number and maker’s name. Then he takes these details to the officer in charge of firearm registration at his local police station.
This officer is authorized to use his discretion in granting or refusing a permit. Provided he is satisfied that the applicant is a person without a criminal record and requires the pistol for self-defense, or as a collector’s item, he issues the permit.
The applicant then goes off with his permit to buy CONTINUED ON PAGE 48
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Despite the most careful aim, I once fired at a German major and killed the man next to him
the pistol. The deal is recorded on transfer forms that vendor and buyer fill up and forward to the RCMP in Ottawa.
Pistols are held under two kinds of permit. One authorizes a man to keep the firearm in his dwelling or place of business. The other, which is issued much more carefully, permits the owner to carry the firearm on his person.
The first kind of permit may go to a man living in an isolated dwelling, to a bank official, to a jeweler, or to any other man whose job or possessions make him especially vulnerable to armed holdup. Permits to keep a weapon in a dwelling also go to individuals who’ve decided to register a war souvenir or to one of the growing number of firearm collectors. Permits to carry a pistol on the person go, in some cases, to bank messengers, payroll clerks, railway guards, bullion transport drivers, diamond salesmen and many other applicants.
Occasionally such a permit is issued to a man who feels his life is threatened. Last month, in St. Catharines, Ontario, a man was given a permit to carry a pistol because he believed he was in danger of another attack from a man who’d been convicted of throwing acid in his face. Recently I was told at RCMP head-
quarters: “There has been the odd case of a criminal getting a permit to carry a pistol because the police had good reason to believe that other criminals were out to shoot him.”
The issue of all these pistol permits raises my hackles. A pistol is the most dangerous of all firearms in civilian society. not only because it is easily concealed but also because it is the most inaccurate weapon ever invented and therefore jeopardizes the lives of people who are not being shot at.
During the last war I carried a Smith & Wesson .38 pistol for five and a half years. To the best of my knowledge I killed only one man with it. a German sergeant.
At the time I was not even aiming at the poor fellow. I was aiming at the man next to him, a German major who was in the act of throwing a grenade at me. Although every wit in my brain was attuned to the instinct of self-preservation, I missed my target by two feet at a range of fifteen yards.
A few years ago a Toronto bank manager had a similar pistol experience. Shooting at a fleeing robber, he killed one of his own clerks.
Under modern conditions the plea of
self-defense does not justify the possession of so capricious a weapon. I have yet to hear of any civilian other than a police officer using a pistol effectively to defend himself or to prevent crime.
In the past few months, in Ontario alone, small arms have caused many tragedies. A fifteen-year-old Brighton girl was shot dead in the home of a friend by a small child who was playing with a revolver. A forty-five-year-old North Bay man. returning home drunk, gave a loaded pistol to his five-year-old son and said “Shoot me.” The boy became excited, killed his father, and danced around the room shouting "I shot my daddee. . . .
I shot my daddee.” In Richmond Hill a four-year-old boy wounded his threeyear-old sister with an automatic pistol he got off a shelf in his parents’ bedroom. Then there was the man who laughed when his wife showed fear of a pistol he’d brought home. He threw the pistol to her crying “Catch! It won't bite you!” When the woman caught it the pistol went off and the bullet passed through her husband’s brain.
The existence of a firearm collection is a standing inducement to crime. Not long ago Police Chief James Mackey of Toronto said that firearms are highly coveted by burglars because such crooks cannot get a permit to buy a weapon.
Collectors of modern firearms often have no lawful right themselves to weapons in their possession. I am speaking of weapons brought home from the war as souvenirs. These now change hands among collectors for a price. But strictly speaking they belong to the army, whether they are captured weapons or otherwise.
Many souvenir machine guns and submachine guns are registered by the RCMP as collector’s items. No law compels the owners to render them useless by removing a breech block or dismantling the trigger mechanism. Thus when they are stolen, as they sometimes are by housebreakers, the underworld comes into possession of lethal weapons.
There is no excuse for such collections. Any collector genuinely interested in their scientific or historical characteristics should spend his time browsing in military museums. The steady demand of collectors keeps in business licensed gunshops that openly advertise non-sporting weapons, thus increasing desire for them. Police say many weapons are now being smuggled across the border from the United States, where sales an. almost wholly unrestricted.
In such American magazines as Guns and Guns & Ammo there are hundreds of advertisements for every conceivable type of pistol and machine gun. Dozens of dealers also offer grenades, bulletproof vests, swords, and other paraphernalia of violence. Indeed a perusal of these journals, obviously aimed at the tough-guy market, leaves me wondering why they don’t sell breastplates, plumed helmets and stick-on duelling scars.
This growing obsession with guns is leading to a rising wave of death and accident. The-way to curb the obsession is to confiscate all private collections in Canada, outlaw the sale of new guns, and disarm the police.
In Britain, where the police are unarmed, the crook who carries a pistol is despised by his fellows. When a British policeman is shot dead by a crook it is nearly always another crook who informs on the identity and whereabouts of the murderer.
If the Canadian police were disarmed tomorrow most of the pistol-packing criminals would follow suit. They are in crime for money, not to lose their lives. They carry weapons to defend themselves from the police, not to initiate a gun-
fight. In resisting arrest by an unarmed policeman it is unlikely that an armed criminal would risk capital punishment or life imprisonment by firing.
It is the gun in the policeman's fist that begins the battle, for then the crook is fighting not for his liberty but for his life.
Another good reason for police disarmament lies in concern for public opinion. Sensitive people see a hint of the bully in the uniformed man with a big pistol at his waist. Many are outraged when police fire pistols at youths in stolen cars, often killing them and sometimes
causing the death of innocent bystanders as they throw the fugitive vehicle out of control. I shall never forget the bitter comment made by the late Gilbert Harding, of British TV fame, when he was stationed by the BBC in Toronto a year or so after the war. On a day on which the police had shot dead a teenaged car thief Harding approached two officers on Jarvis Street and said: “Good evening, constables. Shot any more children today?” Why police officers fire at fleeing offenders always puzzles me. They are supposed to be men with respect for the
law. Yet if they kill a man who is running away they are, in a single arbitrary act, arresting him. trying him, and sentencing him to death for a crime that might not merit capital punishment.
Any police officer who lacks the courage to do his job without a pistol should not be in the force.
The time has come to stop looking upon ourselves a a Wild West nation, to stop behaving like Billy the Kid and to set our neighbors to the south an example of twentieth-century dignity in the possession and employment of firearms, if
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