Volunteer gun safety training “not effective”
“We don’t have enough gun kits to go around. We don’t have enough instructors to go around”
Andrew Keim, a wildlife officer, is a volunteer firearms safety instructor.
Earlier this month, he moved from Pangirtung to Cape Dorset. Just four days into his new job, he already had half a dozen people ask him when he might hold a gun safety training course.
Luckily, he has a kit of decommissioned guns he can use for training, but last week, it was still in Pangnirtung, and shipping it is expensive. That gun kit also belongs to another wildlife officer who will want it back when he returns from education leave.
Keim, 36, has been teaching firearms safety since before division. He guesses he’s taught 200 to 250 people, “maybe more,” but finding the materials is often a struggle.
“We don’t have enough gun kits to go around. We don’t have enough instructors to go around. We don’t have enough student manuals to go around. There are not enough tests.”
To teach a course, Keim will also have to find some free time, as it is not part of his day job.
“We don’t do it in uniform. We don’t do it in working hours. We do it as volunteers.”
Keim is like many wildlife officers in Nunavut. He was already teaching the Government of the Northwest Territories’ safety course when he was offered free training by the Canada Firearms Centre to deliver the Canada Firearms Safety Course.
Teaching the new federal course was not meant to become part of their jobs — at least, there was never any formal agreement made with the Government of Nunavut to that end. Rather, it was hoped that the wildlife officers would teach the class on their own time.
Many wildlife officers do hold courses, charging small fees to cover the costs of materials and shipping, and order books and gun kits from the Canada Firearms Centre, but they get no help from the territorial government.
Nunavut has no territorial gun safety program whatsoever, said Steve Pinksen, director of policy planning and legislation for the Nunavut’s Department of Environment.
That sets it apart from Ontario, the Atlantic Provinces, Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C.
“Most provinces have their own provincial hunter safety program, or support the feds,” Pinksen said. “The GN does not play a role.”
In other parts of Canada, even in provinces which oppose the gun registry, safety programs are run by governments or non-governmental organizations.
Before division, the GNWT had an extensive safety program — for hunters and for kids in school — but when the federal government announced its new Firearms Act, that government also advised that they would not recognize territorial safety courses.
The GN never consciously decided to stay away from safety training, Pinksen said, but when the GN was carved out of the GNWT, there was no gun safety system to inherit, and no incentive to revive a Nunavut-specific program, since it would not be recognized by the federal government when hunters applied for licences.
Now, however, “it does appear the federal program is not being widely delivered,” Pinksen said.
For people like Keim, that’s alarming.
“I would wager that, short of Alberta, of course, there are more guns per capita than anywhere else in the country,” Keim said. “You can’t go into a house where there aren’t four or five firearms.”
Until the gun registry goes away, hunters need licences to buy guns and ammunition. And right now, the only way to get those licences is to take the federal course.
The contents of the federal safety course are another problem, said Keim. He maintains that the old GNWT course was far superior.
The old course contained Nunavut-specific examples and information. It included topics like hypothermia, wildlife ethics, and when to shoot, when not to shoot.
“The only way we can help our harvesters to do their job, which is harvesting, is to teach the federal course,” Keim said.
“The [information] that you learn in the federal course is very good,” Keim said, “but it’s very simplified. We got into things a little more in depth.”
The Canada Firearms Safety Manual and the test have never been translated into Inuktitut.
Until more training is available, firearms accidents will continue to occur.
Hunters aren’t the problem: handing a gun to a lifelong hunter is like “handing a crystal bowl to someone in a china shop,” Keim said.
“It’s not our elders, it’s not our hunters we have to worry about. It’s our kids and that’s where the emphasis has to be.”
Media relations staff at the Canada Firearms Centre did not respond to requests for an interview for this article before press time.