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The much anticipated gun reform Bill C-71 has arrived. Its aims, directly lifted from the Ministry of Public Safety’s press release:

  • Enhance background checks on those seeking to acquire firearms – by eliminating the existing provision that focuses those checks primarily on just the five years immediately preceding a licence application.
  • Enhance the utility of those background checks and the effectiveness of the existing licensing system – by requiring that whenever a non-restricted firearm is transferred, the buyer must  produce his/her firearms licence, and the vendor must verify that it is valid.
  • Standardize existing best practices among commercial retailers to maintain adequate records of their inventories and sales. These records would be accessible to police officers on reasonable grounds and with judicial authorization, as appropriate.
  • Ensure the impartial, professional, accurate and consistent classification of firearms as either “non-restricted” “restricted” or “prohibited” – by restoring a system in which Parliament defines the classes but entrusts experts in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to classify firearms, without political influence.
  • Bolster community safety in relation to restricted and prohibited firearms (mostly handguns and assault weapons) – by requiring specific transportation authorizations to be obtained whenever restricted or prohibited guns are moved through the community, except between a residence and an approved shooting range. The rules for transporting unrestricted weapons (such as legally owned rifles and shotguns) will not change.

So in plain language, those with PALs and RPALs can look forward to complying with application-level background checks throughout our license period, in order to maintain the validity of our licenses. Likewise new license holders will have a larger length of time preceding their application scrutinized.

We will also be expected to affirm the state of a buyer’s license, not only by physically seeing it, but by calling the Firearms Office to confirm the license. It’s unclear what other details will be required during this license check procedure, such as if the gun make, model, or serial number will be required as some rumours have indicated.

Retailers will be required to maintain the infamous “book;” essentially tracking purchases and inventory.

The RCMP will be tasked with classifying firearms, wholly, completely, and without the oversight of the Ministry.

Long-term Authorizations to Transport will be limited in scope to cover residence-to-gun range transport only. All other purposes previously covered, such as border crossings, gunsmiths, and gun shops will no longer be allowed.

“Bill C-71 not so bad.”

If you were expecting the bill to read “empty the contents of your gun safe immediately into the back of this dump truck,” no. It’s not bad. Which is precisely what makes this bill bad.

Firstly it contains, within it’s proposed background check component, the expansion of the government’s ability to take a PAL away from a gun owner or potential gun owner. By making the required background check basically limitless, a new applicant with a 10-year old prescription to antidepressants may be put under additional scrutiny, or simply turned away. Depending on the severity of these background checks and the resources available to the CFO in chasing them down, as well as the invasiveness of their application, these new checks may significantly reduce the number of PAL and RPAL holders in Canada.

Likewise, the decision to reduce the scope of the LTATT again seems to be little more than a measure aimed at adding additional layers of bureaucracy to the process of owning guns. No criminal has ever obtained an ATT to use a gun for a criminal act. Shootings are not carried out in the locations existing LTATT verbiage allows guns to be transported to (when was the last time you heard about a shooting in a gun shop, gun smith’s, or border crossing?). This is pure and unadulterated lip service for those voters that do no know what the existing laws are, with a side of making gun ownership more onerous, and less appealing to would-be sport shooters.

Reclassifications Incoming

But while the above issues are certainly going to have an effect, the big thing gun owners will be talking about is the decision to move all classification powers over to the RCMP.

To be clear: This is not a component aimed at allowing the RCMP to re-reclassify the Swiss Arms and CZ858 rifles. That ability was granted to the RCMP when the government rescinded Minister Blaney’s directive protecting said rifles in 2016. As a result, we can infer that this component is more sweeping, and looks to fully remove all government oversight over firearms classification. This move represents a gross abdication of the government’s responsibility to the electorate.

Moving forward we can expect the RCMP to classify firearms based on the legislation dictating their classification. Unfortunately, the legislation dictating prohibited and restricted classes both conclude with the unfortunate catch-all lines “a firearm of any other kind that is prescribed to be a [restricted or prohibited] firearm.” In other words, the legislation the RCMP will be forced to adhere to does not force them to adhere to any actual limitations when making their determinations. The RCMP can (and will) simply prescribe a currently non-restricted firearm to be prohibited, and so it shall be, with no oversight on these decisions coming from the Ministry of Public Safety.

The CBC is reporting that CZ858 and Swiss Arms rifles will be reclassified as prohibited.

The Wording is Released

The wording of the bill has been released, and includes immediate action to remove the Swiss Arms and CZ858 rifles previously reclassified from the non-restricted classification. This movement includes, sadly, the replacement of the existing non-restricted firearm definition to read simply “non-restricted firearm means a firearm that is neither a prohibited firearm nor a restricted firearm; (arme à feu sans restriction). It previously included an additional line allowing non-restricted firearms to be prescribed. The removal of this line means classification is a one-way trip, again. A firearm can only be classified in a more restrictive manner.

Furthermore, the prohibition of the Swiss Arms and CZ rifles includes provisions wherein owners of Swiss Arms and CZ rifles will be able to continue to possess them. Said grandfathering laws also appear to at least allow owners to transport them to and from “specified places.” According to the new law, “the specified places must — except in the case of an authorization that is issued for a prohibited firearm referred to in subsection 12(9) — include all shooting clubs and shooting ranges that are approved under section 29 and that are located in that province.” Subsection 12(9) in this case refers, effectively, to the Swiss Arms and CZ858 rifles. It remains unclear, as a result, if owners will be able to obtain some sort of specialized ATT granting permission to transport their newly prohibited rifles to crown land, or not.

Other news in the wording further expounds on the transfer of non-restricted firearms. Sales of all non-restricted firearms will be called into the Firearms Centre, where the seller will be issued a reference number, not unlike the process for restricted firearms. The buyer will call in, confirm their identity, and provide the reference number. There are no stipulations on the Firearms Centre’s handling of any data procured through this new transfer system.

Also within the wording lay one clause that will require “The Commissioner of Firearms shall — for the purpose of the administration and enforcement of the Firearms Registration Act, chapter 15 of the Statutes of Quebec, 2016 — provide the Quebec Minister with a copy of all records that were in the Canadian Firearms Registry on April 3,2015 and that relate to firearms registered, as at that day, as non-restricted firearms

Non-application — subsections 6(1) and (3) of the Privacy Act (3) For greater certainty, by reason of subsection 29(3) of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, subsections 6(1) and (3) of the Privacy Act do not apply as of April 5,2012 with respect to personal information.”

In other words, all personal data contained within the supposedly destroyed former Long Gun Registry will be provided to Quebec’s government, including all data for those residing outside Quebec.