Gun ownership still a double-barrelled debate

Gun ownership still a double-barrelled debate

This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

Life in Quebec Magazine is a lifestyle publication covering Quebec and is published 4 times per year.

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Gun ownership still a double-barrelled debate

By Brett Taylor

Recent events in Québec, including the precautionary lockdown of a high school west of Montreal, the Québec City mosque massacre, the daytime shooting of a dépanneur clerk in front of witnesses in the east end of Montreal and an armed robbery scare at the Fairview Pointe-Claire shopping centre, have some people questioning Quebecers’ relationships with guns.

During the latest incident, few customers in the mall, if any at the time, knew that what was happening was a smash-and-grab jewelry heist and that no firearms had been used. A glass display case was smashed, someone screamed “Gun!” and shoppers raced to find cover in stores or scrambled for an exit.

Lorri-Ann Richey was buying shoes with her daughter in a nearby store when a wave of terrified shoppers sprinted toward her. An integration aide for the Lester B. Pearson School Board in southwestern Québec, Richey is familiar with the lockdown drills practiced in schools to protect against a hypothetical armed intruder. She never expected to be part of an actual lockdown.

“I was in the checkout line and I heard this loud noise, like the sound of a lot of feet running,” Richey says. “I looked to see what it was and there were something like 30 people running … toward the exit. They were yelling, ‘Run!’.

“I thought someone had been shot,” Richey says. “You hear so many things about crazy people with guns going into a place and opening fire.”

Richey grabbed her daughter, joined the scramble of people outside the shoe store and headed directly to the nearest exit. Once outside, she kept moving until she and her daughter were blocks away from the shopping centre. Despite learning later that the gun scare was unfounded, Richey’s opinion on firearms remains negative.

“I’m against guns. I don’t like them. They scare me,” Richey says. “It should be tough as hell to own a gun.”

In fact, getting licensed for firearms in Québec is not tough as hell. It’s not quite as simple as it is for our neighbours to the south, particularly in states such as Colorado, Idaho and Florida, where people can purchase firearms without a licence, registration or permit, and it’s not as easy as it is in Alaska, where citizens are permitted to carry both open and concealed weapons. However, it’s still a relatively straightforward process.

Legally registered guns in Québec are more common than one might think. The number of restricted firearms registered in Québec rose 7.7 per cent between 2014 and 2015, according to a report by the federal Office of the Commissioner of Firearms. In all, 73,669 restricted firearms and 28,281 prohibited firearms were registered to individuals and businesses within the province that year.

This may seem like a lot of guns, but these numbers skyrocket when non-restricted firearms, by far the most common type of firearm in the province, are included. Non-restricted firearms stopped being counted in 2015, when the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the destruction of Québec’s long-gun registry data.

There are a lot of firearms in the province. So, who’s buying them and why?

If the exhibitors and visitors at the recent Salon Expert Chasse, Pêche et Camping in Montreal were any indication, there’s a good bet most buyers are white males, with a penchant for khaki.

In addition to guns, it was apparent that visitors to the salon liked their camouflage. There were camouflage boots, camouflage pants, camouflage T-shirts, camouflage windbreakers, camouflage backpacks and plenty of camouflage baseball caps.

What was also apparent at the salon was the number of children. Sons not yet old enough to walk were pushed in strollers by mothers, while pigtailed little girls held on to fathers’ hands and tried to keep in step as they browsed through the Winchester and Browning hunting rifles on display.

Jeff Lawrence, a 29-year-old sales director from Montreal, first became interested in guns while working toward a police career, but it was hunting that fostered his affection for them. While in CEGEP, Lawrence dated a woman from a family of hunters, and the two of them would often take long wilderness hikes.

“I was in my early 20s and heading into [a police technology course], so I had my licences,” he explains. “I was hiking and I wanted to find a way to get game meat at the same time.”

One morning, Lawrence and his girlfriend set off on a hike, but this time he brought along a Stoeger 12-gauge shotgun. They returned home with a couple of partridges for dinner that night.

Lawrence calls his first hunt a “beautiful experience.” In the years afterward, he added deer and black bear to his quarry. “You can fill up an entire freezer with the meat of a bear,” he explains.

Lawrence says while he knows some people are offended by hunting, he has little patience for the “hypocrites” who judge hunters while they themselves eat store-bought meat.

He is, however, firmly opposed to trophy hunting. He says those who go out and kill an animal solely because of the size of its antlers are engaging in a “dick-measuring contest”  and aren’t really hunters.

“There’s no sport in sitting in a blind, shooting at something that’s walking by,” Lawrence says. “Guys like that might as well gear up in their thousand-dollar [camouflage], walk into a grocery store and pick up a lobster.”

It would seem that the family who hunt together stay together. But the next generation of Québec firearm owners might be taking a bead on a different kind of target.

“Going out and shooting is a lot of fun. Years ago, you went out with your dad, went hunting and butchered the meat,” explains Dan Edmonds, owner of Lauzon Chasse et Pêche in L’Île-Perrot. “When we grew up here, this was a welfare town. If the old man didn’t go out and shoot his moose and deer, they weren’t eating meat all winter. Now, that’s totally changed. You’ve got your IGA and your Métro and you don’t have to go out and shoot your meat.”

Edmonds says while his gun sales have increased in the four years he has had the store, the number of hunters he sees is dwindling. He estimates that hunters used to account for 98 per cent of his business. “Now it’s probably 65 per cent hunters and the other 35 per cent want to shoot paper [targets at a shooting range],” he explains, adding, “We sell a lot of guns to women.”

Edmonds’ own daughter is a shooter, but she prefers clay pigeons to the real thing. “We go together and she beats me. She out-shoots me trapshooting,” he says with a father’s pride.

But despite Edmonds’ daughter’s prowess and the success of the award-winning hunting documentary Un film de chasse de filles, shooting is still a man’s sport, right?

“No, it’s not,” says Jean-François Perreault, a co-owner and range officer at Club de Tir de Lanaudière in Joliette. “Not at all.”

Perreault, a retired police officer with 27 years of service, says many men walk onto a range with a preconceived notion of their abilities. They’ve seen the action movies, they’ve played the video games and their egos convince them that handling a firearm will be easy. The women who come to the range, he explains, don’t have the same ego and will often listen and learn better.

“I’ve seen women who can handle a .44 or .45 [calibre gun] better than some men,” he said.

Perreault has been operating the shooting club for six years. He says while men account for most of the more than 1,000 members his club boasts, he is seeing an increase in new memberships among women.

“People now try to have some fun in couples. [Shooting can be] a very nice activity for men and women.”

It’s an activity that Richey won’t be trying any time soon.

More than a week after her scare at the shopping centre, Richey said that she and her daughter went to a different mall to buy shoes, but the anxiety remained.

“I know that people hunt and that people shoot targets, but I just don’t understand it … I just don’t get it.”

Owning a gun in Québec

Legally obtaining a firearm in Québec is a relatively straightforward process, depending on the type of firearm you wish to purchase.

All firearms in Canada fall into one of three classes – non-restricted, restricted or prohibited.

The RCMP defines a non-restricted firearm as “any rifle or shotgun that is neither restricted nor prohibited.” Most long guns fall into this category, and this is the most common firearm licence held in Québec. According to the federal Commissioner of Firearms report, 391, 557 of the 493,507 firearms licensed in Québec in 2015 were non-restricted firearms.

The Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) allows a Canadian to buy an unrestricted firearm. The first step in obtaining a PAL is passing the Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC). The course is offered in locations across the province and the country, and is available in both French and English. Anyone aged 12 and older is eligible to take the course, although, like a teen’s driver’s licence, a minor’s hunting licence carries some additional restrictions.

The CFSC is a day-long course that covers basic firearms safety practices, firing techniques and procedures, and the responsibilities of being a firearms user. Attendees have the opportunity to learn about and handle different types of non-restricted firearms in the classroom, and are tested on the coursework at the end of the day.

Armed with a course safety certificate, the next step for a prospective gun owner is to fire off a PAL application to the RCMP and wait.

Quebecers wishing to own a handgun or other restricted firearm must be at least 18, complete additional training including the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course (CRFSC), and belong to a shooting club.

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About Author

Brett Taylor

Brett’s career in comms began while an undergraduate in the journalism program at Concordia University, Montreal. He has worked as a stringer for a local newspaper and freelanced for a number of weeklies. His byline has appeared in magazines, he has collaborated on a feature film script, and he was a radio and tv spokesman for a retail chain. He has written or edited corporate advertorials, press releases, email blasts and catalog blurbs.

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