Canada News

Federal gun legislation gets mixed reviews in Atlantic Canada

Ron Davis, of Lower Coverdale, holds a photo of his daughter Laura Ann Davis who he lost over 30 years ago to gun violence when she was killed while working at the family’s convenience store. Ron Davis passed away this month in the days following this story’s interview. (Craig Babstock/Times & Transcript)

By Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In February, the federal government introduced gun control legislation that included a voluntary ‘buy-back’ program for prohibited weapons, but public opinion polling indicates Atlantic Canadians aren’t all convinced it’s the right way to tackle the issue.

In a poll conducted by Leger last month, 49 per cent of Atlantic Canadians indicated they wanted stronger gun control legislation with a mandatory buy-back program – which pays gun owners for turning in prohibited weapons – and fines for gun owners who don’t participate.

Thirty-eight per cent of respondents were in favour of a voluntary buy-back program, while 13 per cent either don’t know what should be done or preferred not to answer. 

Respondents were not asked if any sort of buy-back program was the wrong option.

Ron Davis of Lower Coverdale lost his teenage daughter Laura Ann Davis over 30 years ago when she was shot to death while working at the family’s Moncton convenience store. Davis said while the legislation wouldn’t have helped in his daughter’s case, if it means one less family does not go through what they did, it’s worth it. He said he supports any measures that prevent the wrong use of guns.

“We face it every six months, every time he [convicted killer Patrice Mailloux] asks for parole,” said Davis.

“People say you should get over it, but you don’t,” he said, noting birthdays, holidays and parole hearings all re-open the pain. 

Whether it is 10 guns off the street or a thousand as the result of a voluntary buy-back program, the legislation won’t mean gun crime ends, Davis said,  “but it does change the odds,” and the guns are less likely to fall into the wrong hands.

Davis, who said he’s from an extended family of hunters, said he understands that regulating guns is a tough decision for politicians to make. He knows that some hunters are unhappy, but said automatic weapons should not be needed for hunting. 

Barry Russell, a farmer in Weldon, Albert County, disagrees.

Russell said some people may have trouble understanding why anyone would want semi-automatic weapons, but as a farmer he says they’re helpful in addressing ongoing issues with wildlife.

“A semi-automatic small bore rifle is very useful in dispatching groundhogs, raccoons and skunks,” he said, while a semiautomatic shotgun can help convince birds who can damage crops when the seedlings are germinating to go elsewhere. 

Livestock farmers also have concerns about predators, coyotes being a particular nuisance in his area, Russell said. “Many times you want more than one shot from a bolt action as varmints often come in groups.”

The Liberal government announced plans for increased gun control weeks after the Nova Scotia mass shooting last spring. 

Bill C-21 introduced in February would also allow municipalities to ban handguns and increase criminal penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking. 

While many who oppose tighter regulation have stated that urban residents with little understanding of rural life are driving the gun-regulation agenda, in Atlantic Canada, 62 per cent of respondents to the March poll wanted stricter gun law regulation. Another 20 per cent thought it should stay the same while seven per cent wanted less regulation, one of the lowest rates for less regulation in the country. Twelve per cent aren’t sure what should be done or chose not to answer, by far the highest rate in the country on this polarizing topic.

“If you look at the regulations that are currently in place, I think they are very adequate,” said Russell, noting gun owners already have to take and pass a course and safely store firearms. 

Collin Allaby of Riverview said he is in favour of a ban on fully automatic weapons, but to ban more types of guns than that is an overstretch and impacts lives of law-abiding gun owners who just want to go to the range once every few weeks, he said. 

Other groups and individuals, including 62 per cent of Atlantic Canadians respondents, want more regulation than currently exists. 

Davis said he respected that people have different views on the topic and his hope was that as debate continued people could have an open mind, recognizing that there may be no one answer. Davis passed away this month, a few days after this interview.

The Leger web survey of 1,523 Canadians took place from March 26 to March 28, through computer-assisted web interviewing technology. A margin of error cannot be associated with a non-probability sample in a panel survey. For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size would have a margin of error ±2.51%, 19 times out of 20.
By Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Telegraph-Journal