A Time For Change

In 1851, according to Statistics Canada, there were 2,436,297 people in Canada. Of those, only 318,079 lived in an urban environment. 2,118,218 people lived in rural areas. That’s 13% of Canadians lived in cities and 87% lived in the country.

When I was 12 in 1951 and was given my Cooey .22 so that I could hunt rabbits and prairie chickens, there were 14,009,429 people living in Canada. Of those, 8,628,253 lived in urban centres and 5,254,239 lived in rural areas. The population shift had been huge. Sixty-two percent of the population lived in cities and only thirty eight percent lived in the country.

In 2006, the last year I have figures for, our population was 31,612,807. Of these, 25,350,743 lived in cities. Only 6,262,154 lived in the country. The percentage of people living in rural areas had dropped from 87% to 20%. That’s a drop of 57%.

In 1951, it was still possible to run a snare line for rabbits on the edge of Gimli, Manitoba, where I was brought up. It was still possible to trap muskrats in the local ditches. Employment was, in large part, farming and fishing. We, that is kids like myself, could sell animal skins by mail to city dealers.

The local area was mostly covered in bush. If two of us went out hunting rabbits, one of us would kick a brush pile on land that was being cleared and the other would shoot the rabbits that came running out. We weren’t hunting for fun. We were hunting to feed ourselves and our families.

When I turned sixteen, I was given a 12 gauge shotgun. That was for hunting ducks and geese.

I grew up in a house where hunting was taken for granted. No one was a trophy hunter. Rifles and shotguns were stacked in a closet. Shells were kept in a kitchen drawer.

It was a way of life that has disappeared because the area, even with the migration to the cities, has been cleared for farming, along the lake front there are cottages that are used year round, in many places there are winter homes. There are still areas where hunting can be done safely but in a lot of places, no one wants to be firing a bullet that might travel far out of sight and strike a person or a domestic animal.

The days are gone when I could strap on a pair of snowshoes, tuck my .22 under my arm and go off to hunt among the bush and closed cottages north of town.

When I moved to Winnipeg in 1957, I left my .22 and my shotgun behind. They had no use in an urban environment. There’s nothing to shoot in the city and even if there were, it would be much too dangerous. Discharging a firearm in close proximity to people is nuts unless it is being done on a firing range.

We never owned a pistol. There never was any use for a pistol. Most people, including me, even with some lessons, have a difficult time hitting anything with a pistol. It’s only in the movies that someone whips out a sidearm and hits a moving target some distance away. There is no legitimate reason for anyone outside of the police or the armed forces to own a pistol. Their only reason for existing is to shoot people.

As for my beloved .22 and my shotgun, they sat for years in my parent’s basement, unused. I was too busy and too short of money to go home in the fall to hunt. Eventually, my father gave them away to someone local who had a use for them.

Going to university, graduating, then teaching public school, then college, then university, I never had any use for my rifle or shotgun. The first couple of times I went up to the Fish and Game range outside of Victoria to watch skeet shooting, I had a vague sense of loss but it was very vague. I borrowed a shotgun from a friend who was there, bought some shells, embarrassed myself by only hitting two out of ten clay pigeons. If those had been mallards, they would have been an expensive meal.

It was fun trying to hit those clay pigeons. It brought back my teenage years, the challenge of hunting, the feeling of accomplishment when I brought home rabbit or prairie chicken for the pot. However, I wasn’t tempted to buy another shotgun and turn up for practice sessions. That time had passed.

It’s one thing to hunt or to shoot skeet. None of these require the weapons of war. None require automatic weapons. None require Glock pistols whose only purpose is to kill people. Or any other kind of pistol.

Today, America suffered a terrible tragedy. Twenty children dead. Killed with weapons that no one needs outside of the field of battle.

America and Canada are no longer frontier societies. We live in urban environments. We can, for those people who legitimately need a rifle or a shotgun in their work, and those are very few, legislate for them to have them. But, even they don’t need AK47s or rapid fire rifles or high powered pistols shooting hollow nose bullets.

We like to believe in both Canada and the United States that we have rights. Often those rights clash. Today, those rights clashed in a terrible way. It turned out that the right to have the weapons of war was a greater right than the right of twenty small children to live.