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The NFA is right about one thing: It's time to talk about guns and mental health

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Enough time has passed since the shocking murders of three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in Moncton, N.B., for Canadians to start to ponder the serious issues raised by this tragedy.

Unsurprisingly, the need for calm reflection didn't hold back the so-called National Firearms Association from immediately publishing a press release that bizarrely argued the shootings proved Canada should have fewer controls on guns than the eroding regulatory structure we have now.

The NFA crassly rushed into print on the day of the apparent assassinations, well before the suspected shooter had been captured, let alone before most of us had any idea what was going on.

But common decency or respect -- for the facts or for the dead -- didn't seem to guide the actions of Canada's wannabe National Rifle Association, as it rarely guides the increasingly militant and hysterical self-described law-abiding gun owners the organization represents.

So last Thursday afternoon, while police were still searching for the suspected killer and large swaths of Moncton remained in a frightening lockdown, NFA President Sheldon Clare, Communications VP Blair Hagen and Executive VP Shawn Bevins put their names to the press release that, as the firearms lobby on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border frequently does when a law-abiding gun owner crosses the line into lawlessness, tried to blame the mentally ill for the slaughter.

Accordingly, the news release stated, "the NFA deplores the terrible actions by a clearly deranged individual that led to these deaths and injuries." (Emphasis added.)

However, it went on, getting to Messrs. Clare's, Hagen's and Bevins's main point, "incidents like these demonstrate the validity of the mounting evidence that none of Canada's firearms control efforts over the past 50 years have had any effect on preventing violence, or otherwise stopping bad people from carrying out their evil deeds."

Canada's "excessive" gun-control efforts, they argued, "do not in any way increase public safety, but merely contribute to an expensive and unnecessary regime which harms only those of lawful intent." Like the presumed Moncton shooter, one could speculate, up until 24 hours or so before June 5.

"Resources wasted on this fundamentally flawed firearms control regime could be better placed to support a health care system which could be better enabled to diagnose and treat conditions that put people's lives at risk," the NFA concluded, with the release's authors no doubt patting themselves on the back for their cleverness.

Now, while it is certainly true that Canada needs a health care system that can do a better job of diagnosing and helping people with mental illness, this call for improved mental health care is highly ironic coming from a group that represents the increasingly paranoid Canadian variants of the Tea Party and that has made common cause with the federal political party dedicated to dismantling Canada's public health care system.

Nevertheless, let's indulge Messrs. Clare, Hagen and Bevins for a moment and discuss the issue of mental health and guns, which they suggest is the real problem requiring action.

Because, to be blunt about it, the NFA in particular and the anti-gun-law lobby in general appear to have a real need to address questions about the mental health of some law-abiding gun owners.

That is to say, just for starters -- judging from the enraged, paranoid and threatening responses from some in the no-controls faction of Canada's gun owning minority (about 30 per cent guns per capita) -- mental illness appears to be a genuine problem among that segment of the population attracted to multiple gun ownership and unrestricted firearms activity.

It is particularly troubling that such a significant percentage of the gun enthusiasts who comment publicly on the issue appear to believe that public support and agitation for registration rules similar to those required of automobile drivers constitute the first step in a massive conspiracy by the state to seize their beloved weapons.

The tone of their commentary inside their private online enthusiasts' chat rooms is more frightening. There, they talk openly of the need to use violence to overthrow governments that dare to regulate their enthusiasm.

At the same time, apparently unaware of the contradiction, they frequently disparage liberal "gun haters" and would-be "gun grabbers" -- the supposed authors of this mass totalitarian conspiracy -- as limp-wristed namby-pambies unable and unwilling to protect the Canadian state from a variety of foreign threats, some real, but mostly imagined.

This paranoia has been effectively used as a wedge issue to generate votes and raise funds, by the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and encouraged by a group of neoliberal "journalists" associated with the Sun News Network in particular -- yet another irony, since it is the secretive and intrusive Conservatives who constitute the biggest threat to freedom in Canada in all areas except perhaps gun ownership and the requirement to provide census data.

Judging from news reports, it was a motivating factor in the Moncton police murders. Because, it is safe to say, these notions didn't just spring fully formed into the shooter's mind. They came from somewhere -- and they sound suspiciously like the very stories told by extremist gun owner groups on both sides of the border through the Internet.

This is not to say that there are not genuinely responsible and sensible gun owners. I hear from some of them too, who respectfully disagree with the positions taken in this blog and sometimes offer persuasive arguments worth considering. I even hear from some gun owners who have no objections to registration of firearms.

Nor is it to say that anyone could provide credible figures that state X or Y per cent of Canadian gun owners or gun enthusiasts are mentally ill.

But I am saying that you only have to read the correspondence received by advocates of mere registration of firearms in Canada to recognize that a significant portion of pro-gun letter writers, if not law-abiding gun owners, have mental health issues.

We all know from a cool-headed reading of history that violence has always attracted some people who are mentally ill, and that weapons of all sorts quite naturally exert a powerful attraction upon people who want to commit violence.

Indeed, I would go farther and suggest because of this natural and understandable draw, there is a connection between violence and the manufacture and sale of low-calibre firearms designed to look like military assault rifles.

The gun-lobby is forever complaining that bleeding heart liberals mistake these weapons, often designed to fire .22-calibre bullets, with military assault weapons that use heavier ammunition and are capable of fully automatic fire, and therefore show themselves to be uninformed.

But surely it is fair to wonder, since these rifles are essentially the same as other small-calibre "varmint rifles" and are supposedly merely purchased for "sport" or rodent control, why a traditional .22 wouldn't satisfy these gun owners. I think we all intuitively understand the real reason.

And none of this addresses the tragic interconnections among guns, mental illness and suicide -- because in reality most people who do harm with guns, do it to themselves. According to the Canadian government's now out-of-date figures and analysis, gun use in suicide is far higher in the United States than in Canada

And in the United States, despite the often successful efforts of the NRA to prevent accurate records from being kept by law enforcement agencies, the Centre for Disease Control has captured death-certificate data from throughout the United States, Forbes Magazine reports. "When so-called 'self-inflicted' death by gunshot is taken into account, the liberal thesis is supported almost perfectly: more guns, more gun deaths; less guns, less gun deaths. It's as simple as that."

The NFA is right about this much: we need to spend more on identifying and treating mental illness in Canada.

A good place to start would be by talking honestly about the nexus between mental illness and firearms.

But don't get your hopes up expecting more help for the mentally ill if the NFA gets its political way. It's said here they don't care a fig about this issue, except as an excuse to divert attention from their main program, which is the imposition of a wide-open and totally unregulated gun ownership regime.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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