Here’s a story that pushes all kinds of buttons, concerning a hapless couple from the U.S. who mistakenly approached the Canadian border last September and got into big trouble for forgetting there was a handgun in their car.
As reported this week in Canada by Postmedia News, many gun owners are displeased with the handling of what sounds like a simple misunderstanding:
Retired U.S. Army sergeant major Louis DiNatale and his wife were on a romantic getaway from Kentucky to Vermont when they say their GPS led them astray to the border.
When DiNatale failed to declare a loaded handgun in the centre console — he says he simply forgot it was there — he was detained for four days and now faces gun-smuggling charges that could land him in prison for three years.
“It was an honest mistake,” DiNatale, 46, told Postmedia News Wednesday from Louisville, where he works as a paralegal for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“There’s not even a traffic ticket in my background. Why would I come to Canada to bring a small weapon to smuggle in?”
DiNatale’s Ottawa lawyer, Bruce Engel, said border officers could have shown more discretion, but he also understands that they have to make quick decisions.
Engel said his bigger beef is with Crown attorneys and how they have been unwilling to cut his client any slack.
Of course, everyone caught with contraband tends to claim some veil of innocence. But coverage by the Los Angeles Times lends credence to the DiNatale’s account. Yes, they accidentally stumbled into a legal nightmare but the real issue seems to be Canada’s desire to signal a firm position on guns at the border. (A key point: the couple did not plan – or even want – to enter Canada and asked permission to turn around, which was denied.) The tone of initial questioning recounted in the Time’s article shows how owning guns just doesn’t read the same way in each nation.
There certainly is something sometimes called “American gun culture” which seems incomprehensible to, say, average Canadians. A couple we met after moving to Canada once regaled us with a “get this – can you imagine?!?” story. They were scouting houses in the U.S. accompanied by a female Realtor. (It might have been New Orleans before Katrina, if memory serves?) The Canadian couple were thinking of taking a job and moving there. The Realtor mentioned having a handgun, that was right there in the car with them – a normal precaution that (she said) they should consider too.
The whole thing blew their minds, as the old saying goes. The Canadians were shocked by the casualness of it all. When did keeping handgun within easy reach become as sensible as making sure there was a good spare tire in the trunk? What kind of society is comfortable with the blasé assumption “Well, the way things are around here, I NEED my own handgun”? (They did not take the job or make the move.)
Anyway, going by media accounts, it does sound as if Louis and Cathy DiNatale should have been allowed to turn around, or given some leeway for the predicament they found themselves in.
One reason I can relate is I’ve done something similar myself, only with knives at U.S. airports. I’ve always kept a small penknife on my key chain. It’s great to cut up apples or saw off a hunk of bread when I’m out and about, and it also has tiny scissors that come in handy too. More times than I like to recall I’ve forgotten to leave that at home when I travel. Since 9/11 of course, the TSA has had to confiscate such items. In the early days I was able to step out of line and put the knife in an envelope and mail it home to myself. (Being the type of person who often traveled with stationary and stamps.) Then mailboxes were ripped out of airports and that safety net vanished.
I also used to have a favorite camping knife, until I forgot it was deep in my backpack the next time I flew. On the black day in question, knowing I had nothing forbidden I was utterly unconcerned while security searched each compartment intently. (I assumed the attention was because of the mess of electronics revealed by the x-ray machine.) When they TSA searcher pulled out my beloved knife and held it up with an accusing flourish, my first thought was “Uh-oh. This could be trouble.” Just as quickly – and even more forcefully – a wail went off in my heart: “Noooooo! They are going to keep my precious and throw it away!!!”
And they did too. (What a total waste. I miss it still.) But at least no one argued with my statement that while it was my knife, I had no idea it was still in that backpack. (It was a really nice pocket knife, a Buck, with perhaps a 2.5″ locking blade. I’d found it in the middle of a road back in the early 80s and it had become a treasured possession for over 20 years.) Since then I make a habit of searching my own carry ons ahead of time, to avoid a repeat incident.
So sometimes mistakes happen, or memory is imperfect. How about it Canada? Would it be so hard to show a little sensible mercy? Or do the nice guys have to finish last when it comes to making some larger point?
Meanwhile, for best results, travelers everywhere should be sure they know what they’re transporting and reply very carefully when questioned.