Where were all the gun owners?

The author of this article spent a considerable amount of time working for one of the local Reform candidates during the recent election. The most striking thing about this election, from my point of view, was the tremendous apathy displayed by most of the electorate, Reform Party members included. To be sure, the diehards were there, just as they were the previous election, and my hat goes off to these people. But the simple fact is, there were not nearly enough volunteers working for Reform to run an effective campaign.

This is the only election I can recall, federal or provincial, where almost no door to door canvassing was done (in my riding at least). Why not? After assigning people to work in the offices, to man the phones, and to put up signs, there was no one left to do literature drops or canvassing. Donations were down considerably as well. The question I have been pondering since June the second is "Where were all the gun owners?"

In January of 1995 the Sporting Clubs of Niagara crammed 2,000 gun owners into the CAW Hall for a meeting with two of our local Liberal MPs, John Maloney and Walt Lastewka. In retrospect, this was an essentially useless excercise, since both of these trained seals voted for C-68 in the end anyway. Harrassing and haranguing back bench Liberals may be fun, but it accomplishes nothing unless you are willing to back up your words with action. The purpose of this meeting, in the final analysis, was too convince these two Liberals that 2,000 people would be working to get them unelected if they supported C-68.

I can tell you what happened after the rally, not because I have inside information, but because I know how the Liberal Party is structured. Walt and John went back to Ottawa with their tails between their legs and begged Allan Rock to drop his gun control Bill. They told him thousands of gun owners were going to throw them out on their asses come next election. Allan advised them not to worry. Gun owners were nothing more than giant gasbags full of hot air. We would squawk, flap our wings, bitch, whine, complain, and bellyache. But when it came time for a fight we would run and hide under our beds clutching teddy bears. To our eternal shame, Mr. Rock's assessment of the character of gun owners in Ontario has proven to be essentially correct.

I would estimate, based on the people I know who were donating time and or money in my riding, that no more than forty or fifty gun owners contributed in any significant way to the Reform Party in the four Niagara Peninsula ridings. Where were the other 1950 people who crowded into the CAW Hall two years ago? Where were the twenty thousand [1] Niagara Peninsula gun owners who did not even show up at the CAW Hall? I believe we can categorize these do nothing gun owners.

1. The lazy gun owner. Would rather sit by his pool drinking a beer than get involved in the tedious, time consuming business of fighting an election. His motto is "I'm too busy. Let someone else do it."

2. The tightwad gun owner. Usually combined with laziness. Would rather spend his money on a new Hammerli. To bad he is going to have to turn it in for destruction if the Liberals get elected again. His motto "I'm broke. Let someone else pay for it."

3. The welfare bum gun owner. Many northern and rural areas of Ontario have levels of gun ownership that rival Alberta's. Yet all of these places voted Liberal. Even that backstabbing traitor Robert Nault (a shooter who voted for C-68) was re-elected. How can this be? The key to this apparent contradiction lies in the fact these regions have a high rate of unemployment and depend heavily on federal support programs. The Reform Party wants to turn UI into a true insurance plan, end welfare transfer payments, and drastically reduce regional pork barreling. The Liberals want to take everyone's guns, but promise to keep the welfare money flowing. Gun owners in many northern areas realized you cannot be a ward of the state and a free man at the same time. Faced with this choice, they opted for dependency. They have traded their freedom for an unemployment insurance cheque.

4. The Loyal Liberal gun owner. This syndrome seems to predominantly affect certain ethnic groups. These people support a political party for exactly the same reason other people support a hockey team. They like to be on the winning side. It gives them a sense of belonging. It is impossible to argue with a Loyal Liberal on a rational basis since their belief system in not built on logic, but on blind loyalty. Loyal Liberals have much in common with Toronto Maple Leaf fans. Neither the Liberals nor the Leafs have been worth a damn since 1967. Neither has any hope of improvement in the foreseeable future. Yet people still support them, and proudly display their colours.

5. The political insider gun owner. A variation of the Loyal Liberal. These gun owners will actively work to get Liberals re-elected. They think the fact they distribute literature for a back bench Liberal means they are politically connected. They believe "their man" will look out for them, and they are somehow immune to any new laws or regulations.

6. Idiot gun owners. When Allan Rock tells them long gun registration will be a valuable crime fighting tool, they nod their heads in stupefied agreement. When Wendy Cukier asks "We register cars so what's wrong with registering guns?" they respond with a perplexed shrug of their shoulders. Almost as difficult to talk to as a Loyal Liberal.

7. Uninformed gun owner. A variation of the idiot gun owner. Does not read the paper, listen to the news, or discuss politics with any of his friends, who are all just as clueless as he is. Does not know anything about C-68, gun registration, confiscation, user fees, or anything else. The earth could be taken over by hostile aliens and he would not know about it until he was herded onto a flying saucer for transport to Alpha Centauri.

8. I'm alright so screw everybody else gun owner. Who is in this group? The black powder shooter who couldn't care less about handgun owners. The target shooter who will not defend the right to hunt. The hunter who will not speak out for the military arms collector. The federal government has been very good at separating one group of gun owners at a time from the herd then bringing them down. This is precisely the tactic the British anti-gunners used with great success. Canadian gun owners must learn quickly to defend all types of firearms ownership, or we will suffer the same fate as our brothers in Great Britain.

9. The Traditional Tory gun owner. Exactly the same as a Loyal Liberal but cheers for a different team. His motto "My grandfather voted Conservative, my dad voted Conservative, and so do I."

It is not my intention to paint a pretty picture of Ontario gun owners. Personally, I am disgusted at the pathetic level of support given to the Reform Party by these people. The lesson we must learn from this election is that forty or fifty people cannot carry twenty thousand slackers on their backs. When everyone passes the buck to someone else, one hundred and one Liberals get elected.

In spite of the fact we got our butts kicked, those gun owers who donated their time or money to the Reform Party have reason to be proud. All four Niagara Liberals experienced significant reductions in their margin of victory from 1993 to 1997. This trend was not duplicated in Ontario as a whole, where the Reform Party actually did marginally worse than the previous election. Three of the Niagara ridings were among the top ten in Ontario for Reform (In terms of the smallest margin of victory for the Liberals). Why did the peninsula buck a province wide trend? Re-organization of the geographic boundaries helped slightly, especially in Erie-Lincoln. Preston Manning visited the area, but then so did Jean Chretien. I believe much of the drop in Liberal support can be attributed to the Sporting Clubs of Niagara, to our sea of green campaign, our newspaper ads, letters to the editor, and newsletter distribution. If fifty people can cause a swing of a few thousand votes, several hundred could have achieved a Reform victory in at least two of the Niagara ridings. We must remember this for next time. We can make a difference.


[1] Author David Kopel reports that 15% of Ontario households own a gun. This number was obtained by random telephone surveys and is almost certainly too low, since many people are reluctant to admit gun ownership to a stranger on the phone. Also, we could expect higher rates of ownership in small town and rural areas. Nonetheless, using this 15% figure, and estimating 35,000 households per riding in the four Niagara peninsula ridings gives an absolute minimum of 21,000 gun owners in the Niagara area. The true value is probably be twice this number.