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Gun-Shy in Canada

IT ought to give Americans pause to find out that their ways frighten the democracy that lives next door.

That is what is happening up north. Canadians have become so fearful of the gun-toting, gun-loving, and violent United States that they are on their way to passing one of the tightest gun-control laws in the world.

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The perceived menace just across Canada's border played a leading role in the 192 to 63 vote in the House of Commons last week. "There is no other country in the world that shares a 5,000-kilometer border with a culture awash in guns," said Justice Minister Alan Rock, advocating the new law. The 29 million Canadians own about 7 million guns, or about 1 gun for every 4 citizens. The US, it is estimated, has more than 200 million guns in a population of 250 million people, nearly a gun for every man, woman, and child.

The legislation in Canada must still pass its Senate. But many observers expect it to become law as early as this fall. If enacted, it will require all rifles and shotguns to be registered in a national computer data base by the year 2003. It will ban the sale of most semiautomatic weapons. Handguns, which already must be registered, could not even be moved to a new location without obtaining a special carrying permit.

Right now, passage of similar legislation in the US seems far-fetched, of course. Even the most modest and sensible gun-control measures here are under attack. Last week, an effort to update the ban on "cop killer" bullets was removed from antiterrorism legislation being considered in the House Judiciary Committee. The amendment would have added plastic armor-piercing bullets to those already banned under a 1986 law signed by President Reagan. Opponents found a pathetic excuse: The legislation was flawed, they argued. It allowed the US attorney general (of all people!) a voice in determining which bullets qualified for the ban (take that, Janet Reno!).

Gun-freedom absolutists worry that any efforts at gun control start the US tumbling down a slippery slope that ends in the loss of crucial citizen rights. But, the mood of the moment aside, they ought to consider a future "Canadian scenario." That's where pent-up public fear and frustration with gun violence becomes so powerful that it bursts forth in a slew of really restrictive laws.

If that ever happens, gun-freedom advocates may rue the day they opposed the kind of reasonable controls, like bans on armor-piercing bullets, now being sought in the US.

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