My NRA hit list

By Joel Thurtell

I’m on the NRA’s hit list.

They’re hitting me up for money so they can protect patriotic Americans whose “Second Amendment rights,” the NRA claims, are in danger of being “dismantled and destroyed.”


“They” are “liberal lawmakers” poised to steal our right to bear arms, according to the NRA”s fundraising letter.

Since the NRA is hitting on me, guess I’ll hit on the NRA.

I know something about guns.

And I know something about bears.

When I was a kid, I took a marksmanship and gun safety class at a YMCA camp in western Michigan where we were trained to safely handle and fire a .22 rifle. I have hunted with shotguns and rifles, shot at targets with a .22 rifle and fired the legendary 1911A1 Colt Automatic Pistol and German Luger.

I stopped hunting years ago. But meanwhile, for thirty-some years, I’ve been vacationing in a remote area of Ontario where cottagers and black bears have been encountering each more and more frequently. In the past few years, we’ve had something of a bear hysteria in our area of Georgian Bay. Dozens of times each summer, bears have been breaking into cottages and helping themselves to food. Often, they cause extensive damage. Occasionally, the incursions happen when people are present. Since black bears are predators of humans, whom they occasionally eat, this is not a joke. To me, the tales were somehow not real. That is, until I saw my first black bear in 2010. Suddenly, I could imagine the danger: This was no teddy bear, but a big, powerful, wild animal.

I decided it was time for me to think about how I would protect myself, my family, our dog and our cottage from marauding bears.

The solution seemed simple: Get a gun.

But to own a firearm in Canada, I would need something that seems completely foreign in the United States: a license.

In Canada, they’ve done what the NRA is so scared of: They’ve made firearms ownership a privilege, not a right.

If I intended to keep a rifle or shotgun, I would need a PAL.

“PAL” is short for “Possession and Acquisition License.”

In Canada, you can purchase and keep a non-restricted firearm (long guns like rifles and shotguns) if you take a class in firearm safety and pass a written and practical test.

There’s a bit more to it than that. For instance, you can’t have been convicted of a felony. To prove it, you need a certificate of good behavior from your local police department.

You need references from people who will attest that you are a responsible person.

Your spouse, if you have one, must sign that he or she is okay with your possessing firearms.

What’s so bad about that?

The process is run by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and it’s pretty straightforward. You don’t even have to take a class. You can do what’s called “challenging the exam.” That’s what I did. I studied a book called “Canadian Firearms Safety Course,” and when I was sure I’d learned the basics of firearm safety, I found a certified instructor, made an appointment and took and passed the test.

Nobody said I can’t keep a gun. The Canadians simply want to be sure I’m not likely to turn a firearm against someone else.

They’re also concerned about the high incidence of firearms used to commit suicide. So the PAL form has questions about the applicant’s mental health.

The Mounties can’t stop someone with a PAL from shooting up a bar or robbing a bank or committing suicide.

But what’s so bad about insisting that anyone who keeps a firearm know something about firearm safety?

What’s wrong with insisting that gun owners keep their firearms in a locked and secure place so kids can’t play with them and thieves can’t steal them?

What’s wrong with insisting that gun owners show that they’re responsible members of the community?

The NRA can hit on me all they want. They won’t get a penny from me.

Make firearms ownership a privilege?

One word describes that idea: Sane.

Joel Thurtell is a retired Detroit Free Press reporter who runs a blog,, and teaches journalism at Wayne State University.

This piece was submitted January 31, 2013 as an oped to The New York Times.

About Joel

Retired 2007 after 23 years as a Detroit Free Press reporter. Thirty years in the news biz. Trained as a historian, never had a Journalism class. At Free Press, wrote many articles about lakes, streams and boats. Wrote more than 80 major stories about the Rouge River. In June 2005 with Free Press photographer Patricia Beck paddled a canoe 27 miles up the Rouge River through Metro Detroit. May be the farthest anyone has canoed up the Rouge, though pioneers used it as a road. Our book, UP THE ROUGE! about the adventure is to be published by Wayne State University Press next year. I'm writing a second book about the Rouge, trying to find out why with billions spent on cleanup, so many American rivers are not fit for humans to touch. DIRTIEST RIVERS will arrive about the time UP THE ROUGE! comes out. I earned a B.A. in history and German at Kalamazoo, graduating in 1967. In 1968, I earned an M.A. in history at the University of Michigan. In 1970, I passed all exams for the doctorate in Latin American history, but have not quite gotten around to finishing my dissertation. I lived in Mexico for a year doing research on a Ford Foundation fellowship. I was a Peace Corps volunteer supervising school and well construction in Togo, West Africa 1972-74. I was a reporter at the South Bend Tribune and editor of the Berrien Springs Journal Era before joining the Free Press in 1984. I've written four novels, four kids' books and in addition to the two Rouge books am completing a journalism text called SHOESTRING REPORTER: A MANIFESTO FOR SAVING JOURNALISM OR HOW I GOT TO BE A BIG CITY REPORTER WITHOUT GOING TO J SCHOOL AND HOW YOU CAN DO IT TOO!
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