Latest gun debate reflects increasing polarization of public debate

If the recent reaction is any indication, the latest government efforts to overhaul Canadian gun laws this fall is likely to spark yet another testy and emotional debate on gun ownership in this country.

In a July 23 announcement, public safety minister Steven Blaney told reporters the Conservative government plans to introduce new legislation that would ease restrictions on gun transportation and allow for a renewal grace period for gun owners who’s licences have expired. 

Right now, gun owners with expired licenses risk immediate jail time, which Blaney said was “not acceptable.” People should not be criminalized for paperwork errors, he said. 

Under the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, those with expired licences would not be al-lowed to buy ammunition or new guns but would no longer face possible jail time because of the lapse in licence. The length of the proposed grace period has not been set. 

The new rules would also decree mandatory firearms safety courses for first-time gun owners, combine the two existing licences into one and change the Criminal Code to prevent individuals convicted of domestic abuse from legally owning guns. 

Public and political reaction to the announcement was instantaneous. 

Gun owners and firearms groups, along with several Conservative MPs, took to Twitter to praise the federal government’s ongoing efforts to remove bureaucratic red tape from the file. 

They said the move was the natural next step now that the highly controversial long gun registry is defunct. 


Opponents disagreed. 

The Coalition for Gun Control said the proposed legislation was a step “backwards.” While other countries are strengthening their gun laws, Canada’s laws were growing weaker by the day, the group charged. 

Many more opponents, mainly members of the general public, were seething on Twitter, expressing their dismay by how far Canada’s gun legislation had sunk. Several folks even went as far as to accuse all gun owners of being potential murderers, accusations that were rapidly shot down by gun supporters.

One is wise to avoid reading too much into Twitter reaction, considering the ongoing debate amongst journalists about its accuracy. However, the slew of comments on the gun file is indicative of a growing trend in conversations about Canadian policy. 

Lately, it seems, debate on controversial subjects such as gun control is too often mired in extremes. Those who are vehemently in support of something butt heads in dramatic fashion with those who are just as opposed, while middle-of-the-road debate is tossed to the sidelines. 

While radical points of view have always existed in debate, the rise of social media now means these extremes are easily accessible. The risk, then, is that these outermost viewpoints, which tend to garner a lot of reaction, can sometimes overpower moderate debate. 

Reactionary debate is also more likely to push people’s buttons and force individuals to take a stand on an issue they may know little to nothing about. GMO debate, anyone? 


Forcing people to make up their minds is a strategy that political parties have often used in the lead-up to elections as a way of gathering more party support.

With a federal election looming in the wings, each party is now attempting to distinguish itself from the other. Triggering debate on emotional subjects is a tried-and-true way of doing just that. 

Amending gun legislation plays to the Conservative base: often farmers, hunters and gun enthusiasts sick and tired of jumping through one bureaucratic hoop after another.

Throw in the words “common sense” in the bill’s title and already the Tories have an edge because who can argue with common sense? Those who do risk being accused by the Conservatives of favouring red tape, or worse.

Debate in this country is becoming more politicized by the day with an “us against them” mind-set managing to creep into policy chatter far too often. 

Not all Canadians are gun owners, nor are all Canadians against owning guns. Politicians and stakeholders would be wise to remember there is a role for guns in this country just as there is a need for ensuring public safety. 

Respectful, middle of the road debate with opinions and viewpoints from all sides is a Canadian tradition and one worth protecting before it’s too late. 


Kelsey Johnson is a reporter with iPolitics,

  • I will not rest against firearms legislation until we have our full capacity magazines and the short barrelled handgun prohibs totally removed. I will do my utmost to see that both of these things as well as a few more infringements against my right, that’s right I said RIGHTS! are remove for gun laws in canada!

    • Doug H

      In Canada gun ownership is a privilege and not a right.

      That is the whole issue in a nutshell.

      In Canada we believe that you can own a gun if you are capable of being responsible and handling it in a safe manner.

      Not everyone should own a gun. There are plenty of crazy and irresponsible people out there.

      But that being said if a person is responsible we should leave them alone.

  • Canadian

    “Several folks even went as far as to accuse all gun owners of being potential murderers, accusations that were rapidly shot down by gun supporters.

    That is a summary of the “gun control debate” in Canada and explains the “extreme” nature of it.

    On one hand you have law abiding non criminal non violent gun owners who are guilty of nothing

    On the other hand you have politicians, police groups, womans groups, anti gun groups *blaming them* for murder……. for shooting sprees, gang related violence in cities or other crimes they hand nothing to do with.

    YOU try being accused of murder or being a murder, being scapegoated and stereotyped……….and being “nice” about it.

    The accusations are extreme so to rebut them would appear also.

  • David Anderson

    Ill-considered, ignorant and downright irrational gun legislation is what is creating an ‘us-against-them’ attitude. I have yet to hear any rational explanation by anyone opposed to the new ‘Common Sense’ gun legislation exactly how it decreases public safety in any way.

    Frankly I don’t think this new legislation goes nearly far enough. I have yet to hear any sensible explanation of why a handgun with a 4″ barrel [prohibited, subject to eventual confiscation when the licensee dies or lets his license lapse] is any less safe than one with a 4.2″ barrel [restricted]. I have yet to hear a rational explanation why AR rifles are restricted [may only be shot on approved ranges and transported under very strict rules] when other rifles of the same caliber with identical capabilities may be used for hunting or casual target shooting anywhere it’s legal to shoot. I have yet to hear a sensible reason why I cannot shoot a pistol on my own property when it is safe and perfectly legal to shoot a much-more-powerful rifle.

    I have yet to hear a rational explanation for magazine limits. If I want to shoot 100 rounds from my .22 target pistol without pausing to reload [a very ordinary practice when target shooting] I need 10 magazines [10 rounds is the legal limit for pistol magazines]. My pistol was designed to use 12-round magazines…the ownership of which, in Canada, could cause me to lose my gun license, have thousands of dollars of firearms, ammunition and related materials confiscated, lose my job and possibly earn me a jail sentence. Basically it would ruin me for life. In order to shoot 100 rounds with the prohibited magazines, I would need nine.

    The current gun laws are a minefield of legal traps for honest, legitimate gun owners. Gun owners know the laws very well…we have to, in order to safeguard ourselves from very serious criminal charges over the most trivial and technical ‘offense’. Most [I would say practically all] the people who are aghast with any relaxation of the current rules do not have the faintest idea what the current laws are, much less be able to justify their provisions. They are just terrified by what they see on TV [usually American crime shows] and the overheated, malicious rhetoric of people who hate guns and gun owners for reasons I can only speculate about. Such people are quite sure that _any_ restriction is a good one, regardless of reality or a moment’s though. Honest, harmless gun owners have to deal with this every day.


    Major General, (an Australian Treasure)
    Cosgrove was interviewed on the radio recently.

    Read his reply to the lady who interviewed him
    concerning guns and children. Regardless of how you feel about
    gun laws you’ve got to love this!
    This is one of the best comeback lines of all time. It is a portion of an ABC
    radio interview between a female broadcaster and General
    Cosgrove who was about to sponsor a Boy Scout Troop visiting
    his military Headquarters.
    So, General Cosgrove, what things are you going to teach these
    young boys when they visit your base?
    We’re going to
    teach them climbing, canoeing, archery and shooting.
    Shooting! That’s a bit irresponsible, isn’t it?
    I don’t see why,
    they’ll be properly supervised on the rifle range.
    Don’t you admit that this is a terribly dangerous activity to be teaching children?
    I don’t see how. We will be teaching them proper rifle discipline before they even touch a firearm.
    But you’re equipping them to become violent killers.
    Well, Ma’am, you’re equipped to be a prostitute, but you’re not one, are you?
    The radio cast
    went silent for 46
    seconds and when it returned, the interview was