Guns Galore

David Whalen
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Newfoundlanders have highest per-capita firearms ownership in country

If the federal government's numbers are right, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are Canada's most heavily armed citizens, but also its least trigger-happy.

According to the most recent numbers from the Canada Firearms Centre, the province has 70,977 registered firearms. Statistics Canada's latest numbers estimate the province's population at 508,270. That's one gun for every 7.2 people, the highest ratio of guns to people of any province in the country.

Writer and anthropologist Elliott Leyton. - Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

If the federal government's numbers are right, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are Canada's most heavily armed citizens, but also its least trigger-happy.

According to the most recent numbers from the Canada Firearms Centre, the province has 70,977 registered firearms. Statistics Canada's latest numbers estimate the province's population at 508,270. That's one gun for every 7.2 people, the highest ratio of guns to people of any province in the country.

Statistics Canada's most recent numbers on gun crime also reveal the province has the lowest annual rate of victims of firearm-related crime in the country, with just 11.4 victims for every 100,000 people.

Gun owners and hunters in the province believe the numbers reflect the province's close ties to the environment and citizens' respect for the responsibilities of owning a firearm.

"Hunting is very much a part of what we are," said Ward Samson, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation. "Most people are extremely careful with guns. To us, it's something you treat with a tremendous amount of respect."

Boyd Merrill, a firearms inspector with the Canada Firearms Centre and an RCMP officer, said Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are among the most law-abiding citizens in the world.

"If there's a law that says you have to register firearms, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would be the first to abide by the rule," Merrill said.

Elliott Leyton, a well-known anthropologist and a director of the St. John's Rod and Gun Club, has been hunting since his years growing up in rural Saskatchewan.

"In that completely rural milieu, shooting is one of the few and obvious sports. I brought that with me everywhere I lived, whether it was in Europe, Western Canada or here in Newfoundland," Leyton said.

Now a professor emeritus, Leyton, 69, spends much of his free time shooting competitively and hunting.

"To be able to continue what has been all my life the greatest joy of smoking a clay target as it flies through the air is the closest thing I know to delivering perfect serenity," he said.

Leyton said Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are among the most avid outdoorsmen in the world.

"This is a society that's deeply rooted in the exploitation of the environment, whether it's fishing or sealing or moose hunting or rabbitting. It became the primary source of identity for many people," Leyton said. "Just drive up the Trans-Canada on a weekend and see how many cars are parked on the sides of the road."

Despite the province's high registration numbers, the gun registry itself remains contentious.

"Some of us are getting real peeved off with all the rules. Every time you go in the woods, there's a rule for this and a rule for that," Samson said. "You've got provincial jurisdiction, you've got federal jurisdiction, and sometimes they overlap."

Laura Jackson, executive director of the Protected Areas Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, supports the registry.

"It's probably a good idea and in the long-term (the government will) probably be glad they instituted it," she said.

Helps police

Merrill said the registry facilitates police work. For example, he said police responding to a call at a residence can check the registry to see if someone in the house has guns.

"Having firearms registered is good for policing and firearm safety," Merrill said.

Jackson added that hunters and people who use their firearms responsibly shouldn't be punished.

"The people who are just trying to get an animal for their freezer for the winter aren't the people the government should be punishing. It's people who use their firearms in a criminal manner," Jackson said. "The careless use of ATVs has more of an impact on the environment than the number of guns."

Leyton was a vocal critic when the Chretien government initiated the long-gun registry. While he applauds some of the provisions of the registry, such as mandatory firearms training, he's still worried the registry is a mechanism for the government to eventually outlaw certain firearms.

"It's just driven all of us crazy," Leyton said. "I've spent a lifetime assembling my little battery of guns that I use for target shooting and bird-hunting, and I don't really want to be told suddenly that 'you can't use this one, you can't have this one.' It's authoritarian."

david_whalen@hotmail.com

Organizations: Canada Firearms Centre, Statistics Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation RCMP Rod and Gun Club Trans-Canada Protected Areas Association of Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: Western Canada, St. John's, Saskatchewan Europe Newfoundland

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