Opinion

Those who want total ban on handguns lack understanding of firearm sports

Highly supervised shooting sports in Canada are operated under strict monitoring and rules of safety, writes James Melnick.

Highly supervised shooting sports in Canada are operated under strict monitoring and rules of safety

Sunlight reflects off the sight on a competitor's handgun during the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) Canada National Championships in Pitt Meadows, B.C., in July 2014. The competition tests speed and accuracy under a scoring system. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

This column is an opinion by James Melnick, a criminal defence and human rights lawyer. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

As a criminal defence lawyer and gun owner who is experienced with all manner of legal firearms (as well as those recently banned), I have followed the line of argument for and against the ownership of firearms with interest. My concern is with the dialogue surrounding the "conceivable need" for firearms in general, and AR-15 platform firearms and handguns specifically.

The conversation around the issue of "need" is myopic, and avoids the real assessment that should be undertaken in order to have a proper conversation leading to potential firearms legislation reform.

Those who claim that there is no conceivable reason why an ordinary person needs to own a handgun are only doing themselves the injustice of appearing to have no imagination at worst, or no proper understanding of firearms sport in Canada at best.

Many highly supervised shooting sports in Canada are operated under strict monitoring and very strict rules of procedure and safety. One need only research sports such as the International Practical Shooting Confederation of Canada (IPSC) and International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) for a cursory understanding of this fact.

Competitors at an IPSC handgun shooting competition fire at targets as they move through stages on a supervised course. (Dennis Genereux/CBC)

The need for a gun to participate in such sports is identical to the need to have a golf club to hit the links, or to have a baseball bat to hit a home-run. A gun is not a tool in this sense. It is a piece of sporting equipment that, when placed in the hands of properly trained men and women, provides enjoyment and convivial competition among users.

Suggesting that objects are somehow less worthy of possession and can therefore justifiably be taken away from the owner if they are not "needed" is to misunderstand the meaning and strength of the term "need."

Let's be honest, there are very few articles of possession that active participants in a democracy truly need. Few serious sport shooters will rest their claim to the ownership of firearms in need or utility. Those of us being forthright will admit that shooting firearms is enjoyable, and it provides us with a sense of community and collegiality.

Responsible and legal firearm owners do not carry firearms outside of legally permitted areas.

We do not threaten the safety of citizens, nor the efficiency of police work.

Most of us certainly do not claim to need handguns for any reason beyond the pure love or enjoyment of participating in the shooting sports.

Of course handguns could be modified to be less dangerous, as suggested by some critics. Smaller calibres and actions could be adopted. And so can golf clubs be made of plastic, hockey sticks only out of wood, and all race cars be made to reach speeds no greater than the legal speed limit. However, all of this would alter the landscape of enjoyable sporting pursuits.

The real point that is highlighted by the gun control debate is that as a society we undertake to balance the risk to the public against the personal pursuits of law-abiding individuals. If the recreational activity of a law-abiding citizen creates an unmanageable risk to the public, only then does it require regulation or prohibition.

Is the ownership and use of lawful firearms creating an unmanageable risk?

No accurate, comprehensive statistics have been provided to suggest this is the case. None whatsoever. Those in favour of enhanced firearms legislation have relied on tragedies and terrible crimes to support the need for such controls.

What is needed is a comprehensive review and meaningful analysis of the types and sources of firearms used in committing crimes in Canada. Only then can we decide the proper or necessary steps in moving forward with appropriate firearms control.

This course of action requires no one to conceive of, nor defend, the need to own firearms. Rather, it requires grappling with real numbers and facts. That is how we create informed policy.


About the Author

James Melnick is a criminal defence and human rights lawyer practicing in London, Ont.

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