FIREARMS: Divisiveness will be our demise
Written by Matt DeMille, Registered Lobbyist and OFAH Manager of Fish and Wildlife services
Where does the Federation stand on firearms? It is a common question around here. Firearms are important to many of our members, some of which are hunters, sport shooters and trappers.
Some are all of the above — and they want to know where we are on firearms issues that threaten their ability to enjoy their recreational pursuits.
Asking our stance on firearms is a fair question. We welcome it and when asked, we talk openly about our positions and approach to firearms and firearms advocacy. For inquiring minds who only support traditional hunting firearm use, we impart the value of unity and the slippery slope when it comes to these types of policy discussions. Due to our diverse membership, we play an integral role in bridging the gap between differing perspectives on firearms, arguably more-so than any other organization. This is why our focus is on advocating for sound, evidence-based firearms policy. Period.
Lately, the question of “where does the Federation stand on firearms?” seems loaded with pre-judged and often misdirected animosity, which can almost always be traced back to e-petition 2341 and an opinion that if you aren’t sharing the e-petition at every opportunity, you don’t support the firearms community. That mentality might be our worst enemy.
On the surface, we get the frustration. The future seems bleak and the firearms community feels the desperation that comes with being in the crosshairs of unnecessary gun control measures with a suspicion that there is little we can do about it. Enter the e-petition, which has sparked hope and created an outlet for political expression and optimism as the most signed e-petition in Canadian history. That is impressive and is a testament to the passion and dedication of the firearms community, the significance of the issue, and the concern about the misguided trajectory our government is on.
However, in the pursuit of making the e-petition successful, the collateral damage of it has the potential to have more severe and long-lasting impacts than we are facing from the current government. You’re probably thinking how is that possible?
The ultimate act of solidarity has turned into a sideshow. Instead of building off the tremendous momentum and constructive dialogue created by the e-petition, the firearms community has imploded into a social media blame and shame game. The conversation went from encouraging different groups within the community to support the e-petition, to frenzied witch hunts and unwarranted calls for accountability, again, with the underlying message of: if you aren’t sharing the e-petition at every opportunity, you don’t support the firearms community.
Apparently, the measure of success for firearms advocacy is the number of times you share the link to the petition, or how many likes you get from a converted social media crowd. This is what people see and how advocacy is judged. What they don’t see or know is the behind-the-scenes work that goes into successful advocacy — not just traditional political lobbying on Parliament Hill, but across the country and in the court of public opinion. This is where the battles for our firearms future will be won and lost.
The OFAH doesn’t aim to have the loudest voice, or even the one heard most often. Our advocacy doesn’t focus on preaching to the converted. Instead we spend a lot of our time working towards changing the minds of those who may not immediately align with our perspectives. We are not talking about our most extreme opponents; we are talking about the masses of people who land somewhere in between. We get those calls every day. They are the ones who will control our firearms future, at least in part, and it requires broad-reaching credibility so that they will at least listen, and hopefully respect and understand where we are coming from. The OFAH is an important and very respected voice in firearms advocacy at all levels of government and we’ve earned that much through our decades of advocacy.
In saying that, there isn’t one way to be a firearms advocate. Just like the diversity in firearms owners, each firearm advocacy organization has diverse mandates, membership, and operations. Some have firearms in their name, and some don’t. Some can be partisan, and some can’t. Some will use certain tactics and approaches, and some won’t. Some do it full time, and some don’t. We all have our own role to play, and there is no one right way to do firearms advocacy. That’s probably for the better, as working these different angles is more likely to help us get the job done.
There is always a reason for why we do what we do or don’t do, and there is always more than meets the eye when it comes to strategic and long-game advocacy. We don’t always talk enough about what we are working on, and that is on us. But we also find it hard to take time away from the ‘doing’ part of firearms advocacy, to do the ‘explaining’ part of advocacy. In part, that is why I’ve been writing these notes.
We are not asking you to ‘trust us’ or follow us with blind faith. We are simply asking you to take the time to look at the whole body of work before pre-judging whether we are doing enough for the firearms community. To provide clarity on the e-petition, we urge you to read our previous posts on the topic and the articles published by Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine that have been shared by multiple hunting organizations, at ofah.org/firearms.
You will see that we have been and continue to be a leader in public and political firearms advocacy, both nationally and in communities across Ontario. We are doing it in our own way, and I can assure you that is intended to help achieve the best possible outcomes for firearms policy, and the people that it effects the most in us, the firearms community.
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