Following a sweeping ban on semi-automatic gun models in Canada, former Bulkley Valley Rod and Gun (BVRG) club president Brian Atherton says he has faith in his fellow humans.
“Ninety-nine point nine per cent of people are good people, I truly believe that,” said Atherton. “I don’t care what their skin colour is, their orientation, whatever, they’re good people and they’re not going to do harm to their neighbour. You get the 0.01 per cent or whatever that are going to be aberrations and you can’t make laws based on that.”
Atherton spoke to The Interior News about the club’s decision to financially support a constitutional challenge to the ban by the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights and Canada’s National Firearms Association with a $4,450 contribution.
It’s been over three months since the Liberal government announced the ban on some 1,500 models of semi-automatic weapons May 1 in the aftermath of April 18–19 shooting this year in Nova Scotia when a gunman killed 22 individuals before he was shot by police.
Three of the five guns the shooter used were illegally obtained in the U.S., while the fourth was obtained illegally in Canada and the fifth was the firearm of Const. Heidi Stevenson, the police officer he killed. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has declined to specify the specific models of weapons used.
While many in urban centres have celebrated the changes, Atherton said he has serious reservations about what he classified as an attack on an overwhelmingly law-abiding demographic in Canada.
He highlighted the Nova Scotia shooter had obtained his weapons illegally, adding any hypothetical laws the Canadian government could have imposed would not have made a difference when the weapons were obtained from the United States.
Atherton also noted the shooter had been reported to police as owning illegal firearms.
He also challenged any comparison between gun violence in the United States and Canada.
“It’s a different culture,” he said, adding drug and gang violence in the U.S. plays a significant role in their statistics on gun violence.
“There’s Chicago, [it’s] supposed to be a gun-free city [but] they have more murders in a month than we have in six months,” Atherton said.
Atherton worries that the May 1 ban is just the beginning of more bans including allowing municipalities to ban handguns, something he opposes.
The Liberal Party made a promise to put forward legislation to allow that in the leadup to the 2015 federal election, while NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has voiced similar support for such legislation.
But Atherton says that is a cop-out, giving the example of the legalization of cannabis and expressing frustration that provinces and territories were told to figure the specifics out themselves versus comprehensive federal legislation that would apply to the entire country, such as what currently exists with firearms.
“Now with the handgun stuff they’re abdicating the responsibility again, because it’s a tough thing to do,” Atherton said.
On that note, he said when he hears calls to put funding into things such as mental health and addiction, he fully supports them, adding that hopefully it will lead to less of a need to call the police to deal with situations arising from a lack of funding in these areas, including with regard to gun violence.
“Maybe we will need less police, if we have less need to call the police because we’ve done preventative things,” he said.
Atherton also questions the way the Liberal cabinet orchestrated the ban through an Order in Council. He is hopeful it can be reversed, but added its immediate successor could vary widely depending on the political climate within Canada following a future election.
“I’d be afraid that if the Liberal government [had] a minority … the NDP will partner up with them and it will go through Parliament anyway,” he said.
Likewise, Atherton said the OIC will create tough times for the BV Rod & Gun Club — whose membership jumped from just under 100 to over 350 during his time as president because anyone who owns a restricted firearm is required to join a local rod and gun club. He can foresee many people who joined the club to adhere that regulation leaving.
He thinks future bans could exacerbate the situation, especially if Justin Trudeau’s government emerges from a future election with a majority of seats in the House of Commons.
“God help gun owners if they get a majority,” he said. “God help gun owners in Canada because they will do ridiculous things. If they ban handguns, the club will fold. It’ll be it because there won’t be enough members to keep it going.”
Atherton said he feels most Canadians, regardless of whether they own guns personally, want the same thing when it comes to legislation in Canada.
“They want laws that are effective,” he said. “They want to feel safe and protected. They want people who are bad people dealt with and that’s the exact same things I want.”
Atherton said it’s important not to base laws or rules on aberrations and, instead, to create utilitarian options that keep people safe while simultaneously respecting the rights of legal gun owners using an example of bicycle injuries to illustrate the position.
“If the number of people on bicycles who collide with people opening the driver’s door [was] five people died a year … we would make it mandatory that doors opened vertically,” he said
He added the legal gun owner demographic is generally even more conscious of laws than the average citizen due to the nature of gun licences and that anyone with one is given a background check 365 days of the year.
“We are free-thinking human beings and we have freedom to make bad decisions, we have freedom to make good decisions,” he said. “Most people make good decisions and I think those people should be supported.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Atherton feels firearms such as pump-action, bolt action and lever action rifles will always be available to legal gun owners.
“I think those will always all be fine, I truly do,” he said.
When it comes to semi-automatics, he is less certain, saying that while he feels semi-automatic centre-fire rifles will always be available, that the current environment has made him and others he has spoken to reluctant to make new purchases of guns that could potentially be banned in the following months or years.
“Am I going to go buy a new handgun when I think they might be banned in a year?” he said. “If I buy a semi-automatic rifle that’s not in this category, is it going to get banned in a year? A lot of people will be thinking that way.”
As for the prime minister, Atherton did not mince words.
“I wish he would go back to being an art teacher,” he said with a laugh.