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The sea to sea rally of Canada's Unregistered Firearms Owners Association (CUFOA) has been underway for about a month. It started on June 27 in Saskatoon, and has by now pretty much crossed the country from Victoria to St. John's. On July 29, the rally plans to convene on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, at which time some organizers will present affidavits that may result in their arrest.
In essence, the affidavits (some have been made available on the Internet) will state that the affiants possess unlicensed firearms they have no intention of registering as required by law. "I will not submit to your unjust law which does nothing to improve safety or reduce crime," writes Dr. Joseph Gingrich, a Saskatchewan dentist, in his affidavit addressed to the Prime Minister.
In addition to the potential penalty of 10 years in prison for possessing an unregistered firearm, two of the protesters, rancher Jim Turnbull and veterinarian Dr. Edward Hudson, will be breaching a specific court order "not to participate in any public rally or public gun protest in Canada" imposed on them as a condition of their release after a previous demonstration. While such a condition may perhaps be challenged on constitutional grounds, unless and until it's done so successfully, breaching it may be sufficient reason for revoking someone's bail, according to the criminal lawyer Eddie Greenspan. The activists of CUFOA are clearly taking a chance.
On the merits, I'm with the protesters. Canada's gun control legislation is moronic. For one thing, it's almost comically wasteful in fiscal terms. For another, it's designed to operate on the law-abiding, without touching the outlaw. People who register their firearms rarely use them for crimes, and people who use their firearms for crimes rarely register them.
The law's net effect is to diminish public safety rather than enhance it, first because it consumes financial resources and manpower that could be more usefully employed in other areas of law enforcement, and second because by discouraging gun ownership it reduces people's own ability to fight crime. This doesn't mean store clerks playing sheriff, obviously, but it does mean a reduction in the expectation of criminals of what citizens might do in their own defence. Such laws help create the mood in which planes filled with able-bodied passengers can be hijacked by a few malefactors with box-cutters.
Bad as this is, it's piffle compared to the harm done to a free society by changing the legal environment itself. Legislation of this type cannot be maintained and enforced without injury to all kinds of other rights, from privacy to property. Such laws usher in a police state.
Which, I fear, is the real purpose of the gun law and its supporters (other than those who simply have a phobic fear of firearms.)
The very provisions that outrage critics of the legislation -- such as searches without warrants (called "inspections") on gun owners' homes or requirements to respond to questions about their love lives or marital relations (this is no joke) -- are music to the ears of social engineers who favour the coercive state. Their goal isn't crime control at all. Even making private gun ownership so onerous as to discourage it altogether is only secondary. The social engineers' main goal is to expand and legitimize state intrusion and reduce areas of privacy and personal sovereignty.
Critics of the firearms registry, such as Prof. Pierre Lemieux of the Universit? du Qu?bec, view the protesters as heroes who are taking a chance for a free society. "The resistance against the iniquitous Canadian firearms legislation by a courageous minority is an important landmark in the war against Tocqevillian soft tyranny," he wrote in a recent article.
Usually vocal supporters of civil disobedience are curiously silent in this case. One wonders why. They can't suddenly have had second thoughts about court challenges. In free societies, civil disobedience is a mechanism the law itself provides for its own review. The practice of mounting legal challenges to disputed laws is well established. The abundant literature on the subject includes the American social philosopher Sidney Hook's 1967 book Social Protest and Civil Obedience; the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas's 1968 monograph Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience and Lord Bertrand Russell's 1961 Civil Disobedience and the Threat of Nuclear Warfare.
Challenging laws is one of the methods by which we keep free societies free. It's a never-ending job, somewhat like hanging on to a clearing in the jungle. Those who keep chopping away at the hideous creepers are brave souls, in addition to being tireless. Although people who practise civil disobedience may end up being honoured by civic holidays like Dr. Martin Luther King one day, they first usually spend some years in jail.
Some people would consider any comparison between the civil disobedience of protesters against Canada's gun laws and the civil disobedience of protesters against, say, South Africa's apartheid, ludicrous to the point of absurdity. Some resent drawing any parallels between a cause they endorse or whose importance they recognize -- say, feminism -- and a cause they're indifferent to or whose importance they fail to appreciate -- say, property rights. They see no analogy between the protesters against gun registration laws and the civil disobedience of the suffragettes or the civil rights marchers of Dr. Martin Luther King.
The better view, I think, holds that freedom is indivisible, and its defence isn't predicated on one's empathy with the particular freedom that is being restricted or the particular human right that is being denied by the state. The issue isn't gun control but state control -- obtuse and arbitrary state control, state control run amok. I'm neither a hunter nor a gun collector, but I believe the protesters of CUFOA are demonstrating for me. The suffragettes did likewise when they marched to secure voting rights for women, even though I'm a man. Forget guns. If Dr. Hudson, Mr. Turnbull, Dr. Gingrich and others end up in jail it won't be for their guns but our liberties.
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