Justin Bourque is suspected of killing three RCMP officers and wounding two others in Moncton, N.B., on June 4. Viktor Pivovarov/Moncton Times & Transcript/Telegraphjournal.com
The killing of three RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B., and the capture of the rifle-toting suspect has stirred emotions across the country and led, perhaps inevitably, to a renewed discussion about firearms regulation in Canada.
But anti-gun supporters, as well as a gun advocacy group, are taking issue with the timing and message of a statement by the National Firearms Association saying the shootings proved the futility of gun control.
"I thought it was pretty premature," said Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Sport Shooting Association, adding that discussions about the causes of theMoncton shootings should "not [be] about gun control."
He said the focus has to be "on identifying people who have mental health issues."
On Thursday afternoon, while the manhunt for suspect Justin Bourque was still in progress, the NFA released a statement saying that while it "deplores the terrible actions by a clearly deranged individual," the killings demonstrated that "Canada's excessive firearms control system has failed again."
A number of people on social media reacted negatively. One Twitter user wrote, "NFA decide to make political statement on gun laws in Canada before the blood on the streets of Moncton has even dried, stay classy!"
Canadian crime novelist Michael McCann tweeted, "Once the Moncton situation is resolved, the spotlight must go on the NFA & their ill-timed, insensitive statement."
Sheldon Clare, president of the NFA, anticipated that the group might be "pilloried" for the statement. But he said that as soon as the shooting happened on Wednesday night, his organization started to see comments on social media about the need for greater gun control — what he called "a lot of grave-dancing happening from the typical gun-grabbing groups."
Clare also said that a number of politicians mused aloud about the need to revisit the issue of gun control.
On Thursday afternoon, for example, NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice told the CBC, "I think that the gun registry was a good idea and maybe we have to go back to the table and think what kind of rules we should have to protect people."
Clare called the comments "opportunistic and offensive."
When asked whether the NFA's statement could be construed as equally opportunistic, Clare said, "I don't see this as taking an opportunistic stand."
He said the NFA did not take the decision to make a statement lightly.
"We thought, well, we can be criticized for being quiet about this, or we can be criticized for speaking out and taking a leadership role and being proactive – and we decided to be proactive and speak up," he said.
"There are millions of Canadian gun owners who didn't do anything bad yesterday, and they shouldn't have to pay the price for one madman."
'It's too early to have this discussion'
While the NFA felt the need to speak out, some gun control advocates felt that the timing was indeed premature. When CBC contacted the Coalition for Gun Control, the organization responded with an email saying, "The Coalition feels it's too early to have this discussion. We will not participate at this point."
Blake Brown, author of the book Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada, said he was "surprised" by the quickness of the NFA's reaction.
"It did strike me as different from the recent approach taken by the NRA in the United States, which after Sandy Hook went quiet for a while until it could figure out what's going on, what its stance should be," Brown says.
"But here, the NFA very quickly got out of the gate with a very radical message."
Brown believes the NFA has been amplifying its language in recent years to stay relevant since the gutting of the federal long gun registry, which was implemented by the Liberal government in 1995 and effectively dismantled by the current government in 2012.
Since the abolishing of the long gun registry, Brown said "the NFA needs a reason to exist, and the reason now is to push for more rollbacks in federal gun regulations."
The NFA's Clare said his group feels rollbacks are indeed needed, because the existing regulations punish law-abiding gun owners by imposing a large number of restrictions on the purchase and use of firearms.
Bernardo cited the numerous penalties "for seemingly innocuous things." For example, stopping "for a donut and a coffee on the way to the [shooting] range" could be a violation of the authorization to transport a firearm, and carries a mandatory minimum jail term of three years, he said.
Talk of regulation inevitable
Despite his misgivings about the timing of the NFA statement, Bernardo said that shooting rampages, which happen more frequently in the U.S., always result in finger-pointing at the gun lobby.
"When this kind of thing happens and the immediate talk is, 'Let's put more regulations on the law-abiding,' you can understand why the NFA might be feeling a little twitchy here," said Bernardo.
Jennifer Carlson, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto with an expertise in gun culture, said that given the high emotion surrounding events like these, it's inevitable that talk will quickly turn to regulation.
"Part of the reason for why this debate is reproduced ad infinitum in the U.S. is because shootings have no intrinsic pro-gun or anti-gun meaning: both sides see them as vindication of their own perspectives," said Carlson.
"Unfortunately, it seems like this same deadlock is also at work in Canada."