In Canada you could die in a golfing mishap sooner than being shot to death*. This week our federal government tabled new firearms legislation again aimed at licensed gun owners. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale delivered the proposed Bill C-71 in a lively tone, suggesting these changes are new and maybe even groundbreaking. The facts are, however, that these laws have already been in effect for years.
• Since 1977, in Ontario, you had to have safety training in order to obtain a permit to purchase a firearm. This later became the Canada-wide Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL). The new bill suggests venders and independent owners alike expand these already existing records of purchases from five years to 20 years. How are police to access such a scattered and changing collection of data for a weapon used in a crime? This sounds like another stab at the ill-advised, and now defunct, long gun registry.
• Gun owners must already have an Authorization to Transport (ATT) to move a handgun, classified as a restricted weapon, and only to a designated gun range, to which he or she is a club member in good standing, or to a gun store. You cannot legally carry a handgun in Canada unless you are law enforcement, and no person is allowed to possess a handgun without having completed a restricted firearms safety course, having passed the additional testing to receive an RPAL.
• The older Bill C-68 already makes private health information available to RCMP in assessing whether an owner may present a threat to public safety. New legislation is considering expansion of this from the previous five years to one’s whole lifetime.
• It is still not legal to own fully automatic assault rifles, or similar firearms, like the kind popular among gang members. They have been outlawed since 1977. These weapons are being bought and sold on the black market by criminals who were never legal gun owners in the first place.
So what is federal Bill C-71 going to do that Bill C-68 hasn’t already done? Is it going to put more officers in the field to provide a real and tangible effect on public safety? How much will it cost? Maybe throw more at research into the health risks of marijuana before it’s legalized instead.
Legal gun owners are just that—legal. Don’t confuse Canadian laws with the U.S. In Canada, gun ownership is a privilege, not a right. Licensed owners have passed stringent safety training and testing standards, must abide by safe handling and storage practices, obey legal light restrictions, and be qualified to shoot paper targets at approved or private ranges, or to pursue game during limited hunting seasons. No amount of tweaking of current laws is going to keep gang members from shooting up the streets of Toronto. Maybe, however, it might blur the lines between provincial and federal, and have an influence on voters in the upcoming election.
By Deborah Carew