By Carl Hnatyshyn
Etobicoke, ON -(AmmoLand.com)- Lambton Sportsman’s Club’s Caron Ball has always had a fondness for target shooting, ever since she was a young girl growing up in Lambton County.
“Some people golf, I like to shoot” she said with a laugh. “Basically, I grew up target shooting. It was something that we always did on weekends. As I got older, I got more interested in it.”
Learning from the example set by her father Ken, a Corunna-based gunsmith, Ball grew up in an environment where gun ownership and firearm safety were taken very seriously. After being a shooter for “the better part of 40 years,” the 48-year-old is now a certified handling and safety instructor, a range officer, a regional director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association and secretary / treasurer at the Lambton Sportsman’s Club. Throughout her law-abiding life she has been a vocal advocate for both sport shooting as well as firearm safety.
According to Ball, attitudes towards law-abiding Canadian gun owners have changed over the past few decades, generally for the worse, a result of both shortsighted firearm laws introduced by the federal government and Canadians increased exposure to the vastly different American gun culture south of the border.
Ball spoke at the Golden K Kiwanis Club on Feb. 2, discussing the past, present and future of firearms ownership in Canada, explaining different categories of firearms and procedures necessary to obtain a license as well as the state of shooting sports in both Lambton County and across the country.
With a membership of 355 and three to four new members joining every month, the Lambton Sportsman’s Club is a great indicator about the growing popularity of shooting sports in the region, Ball said. Not only do shooters pick up some great mental and physical benefits from their sport – including upper arm strength, mental focus and improved confidence – but done properly, the sport is also one of the safest pastimes around.
“Target shooting is such a safe sport,” Ball told Kiwanis members. “It’s much safer than golfing, curling, skiing, running or boating.”
With the added attraction of archery at the club – made more popular by the blockbuster 2012 movie, the Hunger Games – the club is attracting new types of members as well. Namely, young people and women, Ball said.
“There’s actually quite a bit of interest in the sport,” she said. “There’s always been a lot of interest here in hunting. And since the Hunger Games, archery has taken off among young girls. There are a lot more women and young people picking up the sport.”
Yet in spite of the increasing popularity of shooting sports, in spite of the fact that 22 per cent of homes in Canada possess a firearm and in spite the fact that over 1,830,000 valid licenses have been issued in Canada for firearms, many gun owners are getting a bad rap, Ball said.
For one thing, Ball said, governments are using gun control legislation to score political points with voters in larger urban centres rather than actually looking at whether law-abiding gun owners are contributing to crime.
“We are not the people that they need to worry about,” she said. “Look, I’m a proponent of licensing. I’m not an advocate of just going into a shop and buying a gun once you’re over 16. I think there should be licensing, I think there should be police checks because there are real criminal or mental health issues with some people trying to obtain firearms.”
“And for the most part I think a lot of the legislation is somewhat fair,” Ball continued. “What I don’t think is fair is the things that have been taken away from legal firearms owners over the years in the name of gun control or public safety. Up until 1968 you could have a handgun but now you can’t. Why? (Misquoted: the previous statement was that up until 1968 you could hunt with a handgun, but now you can’t.) There weren’t really any issues with that, it was just that public perception of people running around with handguns that lead to the laws”
Ball mentioned the recent Canadian Firearms Registry as an example of gun laws gone awry. After spending an estimated $2 billion on the registry, which was introduced by the Chretien government back in 1995 and continued on until the Harper Conservatives ended it in 2012, the government really didn’t achieve anything that it set out to do through introducing the legislation.
“It didn’t stop crime,” she said. “It was a waste of money…that judged (legal firearm owners) under the criminal code.”
While Ball said that she is still waiting to see the attitude of the new federal government when it comes to firearm ownership, she said that the tone coming form the Trudeau Liberals was somewhat concerning.
“They’ve said they’re not going to bring back the registry, but they have spoken about record keeping.” She said. “So we kind of look at that as kind of the same thing. If you have records, it’s a registry more or less. I know with the CSSA, they’re working diligently to show the Public Safety Minister that a new registry (is a bad idea).”
And while federal government legislation has been giving perfectly legitimate Canadian gun owners a bad name, so to have the vociferous gun lobby south of the boarder.
Attitudes towards gun ownership in the United States is vastly different from attitudes up here in Canada, she said.
“We’re bombarded with American attitudes here in Canada,” she told the audience. “Canadians as a rule don’t have the same attitude towards firearms as Americans. They seem to think that they need to have firearms for protection, while up here the attitude is about having a gun for hunting, target shooting or sport. It’s simply part of our heritage.”
While sport shooting is as popular in Sarnia as it is in large urban centers like Toronto – where Ball noted that there was a little – known firing range inside Union Station that operated for 150 years – attitudes towards gun owners seem to be different in both places, she noted. (Misquoted, the previous statement was the firing range inside Union Station operated for well over 50 years)
“Personally I don’t find an issue here. Everybody here knows I’m a shooter and I’ve always been very proud of the fact that I’m well-trained and well-educated,” she said. “But if I lived in Toronto I probably wouldn’t have a CSSA bumper sticker on my car. It comes down to big urban centres compared to everywhere else.”
Notwithstanding some of the negative backlash against gun owners, Ball believes that the greater the awareness about the benefits of sport shooting and the incredibly safety-conscience, exhaustive training that gun owners go through to obtain their firearms will dispel many of the myths that currently exist.
“I don’t thing people understand the money, the courses, the time that’s required if you want to do it legally,” she said. “You do the course, you’re looking at $150 to $200 for the course, $15 for the book, $40 to write the test, $60 to $80 for a license, and firearms themselves can be very expensive.”
“It’s an expensive sport, it’s not something that people get into lightly,” Ball continued. “It really is a heritage thing. It’s hunting, it’s sport, it’s competition…and it can be a lot of fun.”
For more information about the Lambton Sportsman’s Club, visit www.lambtonsportsman.com.
The CSSA is the voice of the sport shooter and firearms enthusiast in Canada. Our national membership supports and promotes Canada’s firearms heritage, traditional target shooting competition, modern action shooting sports, hunting, and archery. We support and sponsor competitions and youth programs that promote these Canadian heritage activities.
For more information, visit the website at www.cdnshootingsports.org.