[The following editorial appeared in yesterday’s edition of The National Post. It was written by Lorne Gunter. I’ve republished here with the author’s written permission.]
Those of us who have called for an end to the long-gun registry have often focussed on its cost — at least $2-billion — and its uselessness in stopping crime. But the greatest damage done by Bill C-68 has been the wedge it has driven between police and law-abiding Canadians who own guns for hunting, sport shooting or vermin control on farms. Consider the case of Henry Barnes . . .
To say the least, Mr. Barnes is a colourful character. The 76-year-old also goes by the name of Johnny Sombrero. He is a former motorcycle-gang member. Indeed, he is a founder and former leader of Toronto’s Black Diamond Riders. The North York resident also owns more than 100 guns, or at least he did until January of 2010, when Toronto police burst into his apartment and seized them all, despite the fact all of them were properly registered and locked in gun safes.
What makes Mr. Barnes’ case indicative of the damage done by C-68 is the reaction of other gun owners. They are mostly on his side and against police — vehemently. Before C-68 came into effect in 1998, they likely would have instinctively sided with police.
Although he has not been an angel for much of his life, Mr. Barnes has no criminal record, either. Nevertheless, he claims police never approached him peacefully before the day they forced their way into his home to examine his gun lockers. They never phoned him or came to his door asking to take a look around. Their default was to treat him as a danger to the community from minute one.
When they did phone, it was to tell him — erroneously — that his car was being broken into. When he opened his apartment door to go check, he claims a big police officer lunged towards him, grabbed him by the neck and pushed him to the floor where a civilian member of the force fell on him, breaking some of his ribs. He then lay on the floor at gunpoint for five hours while officers “tore apart” his apartment looking for guns.
Mr. Barnes is currently on trial for unsafe storage. Despite all of his guns being locked away, police and Crown prosecutors claim some of the safes in which his guns were stored, as well as some of the locks used to secure them, were inadequate. That has now become a crime in Canada for which guilty-until-proven-innocent police tactics are the norm.
But why treat Mr. Barnes like a deranged maniac from the get-go? Why send dozens of officers to his home as a first response? Was he making threats, standing psychotic and half-naked in the street waving his weapons around?
Had police made one or more polite attempts to gain access to Mr. Barnes’ home and been rejected, I could understand their ton-of-bricks tactics. Had they served him with a valid warrant, only to have him refuse entry, perhaps their methods would be appropriate.
But increasingly, police are going to full-force tactics whenever firearms are in a home, whether or not the guns are involved in a crime. For this change in attitude and approach, I blame C-68.
Our current gun control legislation has made gun ownership an anti-social behaviour, in and of itself. And it has created gun crimes that never existed before.
Far too often now, police and prosecutors are dubious of the mental stability of anyone who owns a gun, just because they own one. This is because C-68 has created a stigma regarding gun ownership. It has put the obligation on the gun owner to prove his interest in firearms is legitimate and not a sign of some sociopathic disorder.
The law has also made a “gun” crime out of failure to fill out registration paperwork properly or to store one’s guns so securely that criminals cannot steal them and use them in real crimes.
Pitting police against law-abiding gun owners has strained the relationship between the two and put at risk the idea that policing derives its legitimacy from the consent of the policed. For this reason more than any other, the Tories should repeal Bill C-68 — not just the gun registry — now that they have their majority.