Arming and Disarming: A Book Review

progressive fairy taleBrown tells how Canada chose which subjects to arm and who to disarm

R. B. Brown is to be commended for writing the first comprehensive history of gun control in Canada. He shows how governmental attempts to manage access to firearms predate Confederation. Many will be surprised to learn that, for most of its history, Canadian authorities actively encouraged men to arm themselves.

Brown deserves praise for pointing out the racist roots of Canadian gun laws. Despite vigorously promoting the use of firearms by men they considered loyal, in times of crisis colonial governments passed laws specifically designed to disarm groups seen as suspicious or threatening.

Brown unequivocally aligns himself as a “progressive” in the introduction by citing approvingly such controversial icons as Michael Bellesiles and even Michael Moore. The claims of both have now been thoroughly discredited. Brown seems not to realize that staking out such a posture undermines his criticism of scholars who allow their personal biases to shape their research. Unfortunately Brown’s ideological biases lead him to ignore or misrepresent important historical events and positions, such as the American Second Amendment. Too often he seems satisfied with stereotypes.

Brown’s pose of evenhandedness by and large works well, but it subtly minimizes or devalues support for positions he does not endorse. Delegitimizing the opponents of gun control does a disservice to Canadian history. Scholars agree that the founders of both Canada and the United States believed they inherited the rights of Englishmen, including the right to bear arms.

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