Stricter Canadian gun control legislation introduced in the wake of last year's shooting massacre of 14 women on a university campus in Montreal has stalled over opposition from the government's own supporters.
Rural Conservative members of Parliament believe the bill was written by their urban counterparts, who don't understand lawful uses of guns and see them only as an extention of the criminal element. As a result, Justice Minister Kim Campbell, who is responsible for the bill, sidestepped an immediate vote on her gun bill and sent it to a special committee for further study.
Gun control is always a contentious issue, Ms. Campbell said. She noted that the last time government tackled the problem in 1978, then-Liberal Justice Minister Ron Basford was defeated in the 1979 election. Ironically, Ms. Campbell represents the same Vancouver Centre riding as Basford did from 1963 to 1979.
While supporting the need for gun control, rural Alberta lawmaker Arnold Malone spoke on behalf of several Conservative lawmakers in their opposition. "They (the bill's drafters) came to the notion of gun control from the perspective that the gun is evil, that it is the instrument that is wrong, and that it is the instrument that we somehow have to do something about," he said.
"The automobile also kills many people. We do not start from the perception that the automobile is wrong. We start from the perception that we will train the operator through written and oral examinations, and then in skill testing," Malone said. "I believe that ought to happen also with the gun."
He further said a special committee -- which would have the advantage over a normal legislative committee in being able to consider the bill as a whole instead of being restricted to its legal elements -- could find a better compromise. He hoped the special committee "would find the balance that on one hand will make urban Canada say that this is safe and this is good," and on the other hand satisfy those "who use a gun in their day-to-day lives."
The gun bill was introduced to Parliament June 26. Its main elements include the following:
The banning of automatic weapons, including converted semi-automatic weapons which are now permitted through a loophole.
Introduction of a 28-day period between applying for a gun permit and receipt of the gun.
A limit on the magazine of semi-automatic weapons to five or 10 bullets depending on the nature of the gun.
A required training course for all those who apply for a gun permit.
The submission of two references by applicants whom police could contact, which would be in addition to the current compulsory criminal record check.
Creation of an advisory council on firearms which would make recommendations to the minister as to how well the controls work.
Malone took exception principally to the changes in cartridge size.
"I am a fruit farmer, and rabbits can cause a lot of difficulty to my orchards. The presently proposed legislation would like to have it limited to a five-bullet clip in the gun. Those who know me at all know it takes more than five bullets for the rabbit to start getting scared when I go after them. Obviously I need more than a five-bullet clip," he said.
According to Liberal Member of Parliament Mary Clancy, it is estimated there are about 6 million guns in Canada. They may be purchased through about 10,000 licenced gun dealers. Annually there are 1,400 gun-related deaths in Canada, 1,100 of which are suicides.
Richard Clair, legislative assistant for Justice Minister Campbell, remained confident the bill would be adopted without massive changes.
"It's true that there is some opposition from rural MPs, but they haven't killed the bill," he said.