Gun law debate is about symbolism

Gun law debate is about symbolism
Posted on May 6, 2020 | Stefan Klietsch | Written on May 6, 2020
Letter type:
Blog Post

The 1990s are back, and not just with the low gas prices.  Once again, a mass-murder in Canada involving guns has tragically occurred, and the Liberal government of the day has responded with new laws tightening restrictions upon legal gun owners.  In response, gun owners and conservatives cue the outrage.

The government announced a ban on the AR-15 semi-automatic weapons, while strangely excluding Indigenous peoples and existing owners from the ban.  However, like many crimes committed with guns the recent mass-murderer in Nova Scotia used illegal weapons on the black market – further restrictions on the legal gun market would not have stopped him. 

Another criticism is that existing laws on guns already prohibited any AR-15s from containing cartridges holding more than 5 bullets.  Hence, AR-15 owners were effectively no more dangerous than other rifle owners.  Legal gun owners commit crimes at a lesser rate than the general population, and evidence is lacking that they are at risk of passing weapons to actual criminals.

Yet, say some supporters of the AR-15 ban, the fundamental issue is that AR-15s are fundamentally “weapons of war”, whose ownership by any private citizens cannot be rationalized.  And here is where the real crux of the division arises: symbolism.

For conservatives, the freedom to own AR-15s within responsible limits is symbolic of the freedom of responsible and upright citizens to reduce almost any objects to benign “tools” or “collectibles”, whatever an item’s obvious original malign purpose.  For liberals, AR-15s are intrinsic weapons of war that fundamentally represent and celebrate the slaughter of humans, no matter how consistently they are owned without harm in specific contexts.

The problem is, symbols mean whatever people, yourself included, want them to mean.  Neither side is definitively right or wrong, they are simply unprovable points of view.

The AR-15 ban in the context of previous Canadian laws is not an evidence-based public safety measure, but instead a values test.  Liberals who boast that it will save lives are overly righteous in their defense, while conservatives who decry an end to liberty are picking a trivial hill to die on.  Both are missing their mark.


Stefan Klietsch


About The Author

Stefan Klietsch's picture

Stefan Klietsch grew up in the Ottawa Valley outside the town of Renfrew.  He later studied Political Science at the University of Ottawa, with a Minor in Religious Studies.  He was the 2015 Green Party of Canada... More