While the worrywart minions of America soil themselves with
gun-tragedy memories like Columbine and Jonesboro, our northern
neighbors are busily handing firearms to their younkers and telling them
to actively work on thinning the Canadian bird population.
Government Poohbahs in Ottawa are introducing legislation to
encourage children as young as 12 to hunt geese and ducks because
they’re concerned that too few youngsters are hunting these days,
reports Paul Waldie in the
Aug. 3 National Post, explaining that “Officials want to institute Waterfowler Heritage Days, during which children can hunt some birds without a permit.”
With the number of hunters plummeting like dead ducks, dropping all the way down from 500,000 in 1989 to the present 197,000 (most likely due to burdensome regulations, as the government readily admits), Ottawa is attempting to hike the numbers a bit. And not necessarily for reasons other than purely mercenary: “migratory bird hunting accounts for about $177.2-million in annual economic activity,” notes Waldie, “nearly $100-million in tax revenue and sustains about 4,000 jobs.” Not killing the ducks is killing the economy.
No surprise here, of course, but detractors are worried about other sorts of killing. “We think it’s going to put children at risk,” says Wendy Cukier, president of the Coalition for Gun Control. “It’s completely inappropriate.”
While participating young guns must complete a hunter safety program and troupe with someone 18 years or older, opponents to the new measure are worried about armed hooligans getting bored with the birds and maybe drawing a bead at, say, their cats or each other. Cukier and others cite fears of dribble-nosed depressants using guns to inflate the suicide stats, while ever-increasing young Al Capones wreak merry havoc throughout the provinces and bust the seams of the juvenile justice system.
Enter into the equation the typically boring Arkansas town of Jonesboro. Considering the geographical stretch, the school massacre in which two nogoodniks practiced their carnie-show fish-barrel shooting technique on their classmates in March 1998, probably was not in the minds of either the supporters or opponents of the Canadian law — but it should be in ours.
Cukier is worried that her country’s new law will make guns more accessible and encourage more teen-agers to pack heat — a fear which sounds similar to the charges against America’s so-called “gun culture,” in which firearms are readily available to those who want them, including the young. This was the much-bandied-about explanation for the Jonesboro shooting: too many easily accessible firearms.
So was that the real culprit? Not according to gun-control guru David B. Kopel, who notes that in the Andy Griffith days of Arkansas, kids could purchase shotguns, handguns and rifles from any gun store or firearms dealer — with no questions or background checks (revealing, what, a candy-store heist at age 6?). But this is not Arkansas, circa 1955. Today, federal and state laws crimp gun availability, completely banning firearm sales to minors. “It’s preposterous to say there’s been an increase in availability,” says Kopel, “when in fact the law has gotten much stricter.”
The problem is much more education than access — something Cukier doesn’t believe. “If you are concerned about responsible firearms use,” she says, “you don’t necessarily encourage young kids to use guns,” throwing out a terrifically absurd comparison to back up her argument: “The fact that my dad used to sit me on his lap when I was 10 years old and let me steer the car doesn’t make me a better driver.” Never mind that comparing cars and pistols is worse than comparing apples and oranges — more like elephants and kumquats.
But, letting her argument stand, she’s still wrong. “In a 1991 study of 675 ninth and l0th graders in Rochester, New York, for example, the children who were taught about guns by their families were at no greater risk of becoming involved in crime, gangs, or drugs than children with no exposure to guns,” notes Kopel in a 1993 article for Reason magazine. “But the children who were taught about guns by their peers were considerably more likely to be involved in various kinds of misbehavior, including gun crime.” Education does matter.
“In this light,” explains Kopel, “repressive gun laws are not merely ineffective. They actually foster misuse of firearms, including gun violence. By making firearm ownership illegal … anti-gun laws render legitimate gun owners invisible. Children are left with criminals and violent television characters as their only models of gun use. In cities where no child may shoot a BB gun with his parent, kids learn about firearms on the street and shoot each other with 9-mm pistols.”
Cukier says Ottawa’s hunting scheme “seems remarkably incongruous given everything we know about how to prevent crime and how to prevent injury.” Cukier apparently has rocks in her head.
Education and gun-use role modeling is precisely the answer to curb gun violence among a nation’s youth. Children learn from experience and example. Canada in an attempt to bolster hunting revenue has, inadvertently perhaps, also created a program that can utilize hands-on learning and experience to the betterment of all involved — and they might even bag a nice dinner in the process.
- See “Pecksniffs on Parade” for a look at how the press covered the Columbine shooters vs. suspects charged with torching three Sacramento-area synagogues.
- David Kopel’s 1993 Reason Magazine essay, “Gun Play: What Kids Don’t Know About Guns Can Kill Them,” is excellent on the point of broadened firearms education as a crime-reducer.