As promised, the federal government has presented a sensible package of measures to upgrade Canada’s gun laws. They emphasize public safety and support effective police work, while being fair and practical toward law-abiding firearms owners and businesses.
The package includes funding that rises to $100 million a year to help provinces/territories and local communities combat gang activities which often involve illegal guns, plus more resources and technology at the border to interdict weapons smuggling.
Through new legislation (Bill C-71), background checks will be strengthened for those seeking to acquire or renew a firearms licence. This proposal has received very broad support publicly and across all political lines.
Bill C-71 will also:
* improve the effectiveness of the existing licensing system;
* standardize existing best business practices among commercial retailers to maintain adequate records of their inventories and sales;
* ensure the impartial, accurate and consistent classification of firearms, free from political influence; and
* require specific transportation authorizations to be obtained whenever a restricted or prohibited weapon is being moved from one location to another (except for regular trips between a residence and an approved shooting range).
Last Wednesday, this legislation was given “Second Reading” (that is, approval in principle) by a wide margin in the House of Commons, and it will soon get detailed examination by the House Standing Committee on Public Safety.
There are three doubts that some critics have raised that need to be promptly put to bed:
First, do the improvements in the existing licensing system open the door to a federal long-gun registry? The answer is an emphatic NO!
To own a non-restricted firearm (like a typical hunting rifle or shotgun), you are required to hold a valid license. To qualify for that license, you need to pass a background check and take a gun safety course. But unbeknownst to many people, the current law doesn’t actually require you to produce your valid license at the time you purchase a firearm. That’s a rather large loophole.
To ensure that such a license exists and remains in effect at the time a non-restricted firearm is being purchased, C-71 will require the buyer to produce his/her license and the seller to verify that it is valid. Validation can be done over the phone or on-line. It should take no more than a few minutes.
And here’s the key point – the validation process relates solely to whether the buyer currently holds a valid license to own a non-restricted firearm. Period. It does NOT relate to any particular gun, and at no time in the validation process would any firearm be identified. So there is no hint of a registry.
Second, are the record-keeping requirements for commercial businesses selling firearms the same thing as a federal long-gun registry? Again, the answer is an emphatic NO.
Most reputable retailers already keep such records. They do so for their own economic, safety and liability reasons. Adequate records might also help with such practical things as insurance rates. Bill C-71 will simply make these common good business practices the industry standard.
Such rules have been in place across the United States since 1968 without issue or complaint.
The records will be the private property of the business, not accessible to governments. Police may be able to gain access as part of a criminal investigation, if they have reasonable grounds and with judicial authorization, as appropriate.
For this reason, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says it “is encouraged by the positive direction taken by (the government) towards sensible firearms legislation, enhancing the tools available to police to ensure public safety.”
Thirdly, some commentators have questioned whether gun violence statistics in Canada are bad enough to justify the changes we are proposing.
Generally speaking, Canada is indeed a safe and secure country in which crime rates overall have been falling for several decades. But about five years ago, offences involving firearms began bucking the trend.
Between 2013 and 2016, total criminal incidents with guns climbed by 30%. Gun homicides went up by two-thirds. Cases of intimate partner and gender-based violence with a firearm present, as reported to police, went up by one-third. Gang-related homicides (a majority involving guns) went up by two-thirds. Break-ins for the purpose of stealing firearms went up by 56%.
The critics don’t challenge the accuracy of these figures – they question whether they’re getting bad enough fast enough, compared to past history.
If these critics don’t consider the latest numbers and the sudden trend reversal since 2013 to be sufficiently compelling, I would ask them what threshold would be adequate to support the reasonable, common-sense measures we have introduced? How much additional violence – accumulating how fast and for how long – would they say is enough?
With any set of proposals dealing with firearms, there will be advocates who believe the package goes too far. There will be others who want it to go further. Most Canadians appear to be in-between. Consistent with their expectations, we have worked very hard to reach a sensible position which advances public safety, helps police investigations and treats everyone fairly.