Bill C-42, The Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, the bill introduced to Parliament on October 7, 2014 seeks to streamline some of the more useless portions of Canada’s Firearms Act. The question many gun owners are asking is whether or not the government accomplished that goal. This is not a comprehensive look at every line of the proposed legislation; it instead focuses on specific portions affecting licensed gun owners and examines their effects and ramifications, from specifications on Weapons locker locations and requirements to notes about transporting weaponry to and from shooting ranges.
Authorization to Transport (ATT)
Section 61 is amended to include the following provision:
(3.1) An authorization to transport referred to in subsection 19(1.1), (2.1) or (2.2) must take the form of a condition attached to a license.
An Authorization to Transport must now be issued automatically when a person is issued a firearms license, and must contain the following provisions:
(2.1) Subject to subsection (2.3), an individual who holds a licence authorizing the individual to possess prohibited firearms or restricted firearms must, if the licence is renewed, be authorized to transport them within the individual’s province of residence
(a) to and from all shooting clubs and shooting ranges that are approved under section 29;
(b) to and from any place a peace officer, firearms officer or chief firearms officer is located, for verification, registration or disposal in accordance with this Act or Part III of the Criminal Code;
(c) to and from a business that holds a licence authorizing it to repair or appraise prohibited firearms or restricted firearms;
(d) to and from a gun show; and
(e) to a port of exit in order to take them outside Canada, and from a port of entry.
This is the result of a ton of lobbying work done by CSSA after the Ontario CFO decided to start making arbitrary ATT rules that carry a three year jail term for non-compliance. This lobby effort was in conjunction with the legal action initiated by CSSA to remove those arbitrary conditions. Our two prong approach was clearly successful in bringing the necessary attention to this issue.
The government, through the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, ensures the terms of an Authorization to Transport are consistent across all provinces and territories. Prior to this a Chief Firearms Officer could do as he or she pleased; making the terms for law-abiding firearm owners as simple or as complicated as they desired. No longer. Now the “specified places” for all Authorizations to Transport in Canada “must include all shooting clubs and shooting ranges that are approved under section 29 and that are located in that province.” A criticism offered here is restricting Authorizations to Transport to the home province of the licensed firearm owner.
Section 63 of the Firearms Act reads:
(1) Licences, registration certificates, authorizations to transport, authorizations to export and authorizations to import are valid throughout Canada.
The problem is, the Firearms Act still states the technical issuance of an ATT is done by a Chief Firearms Officer; an officer who only has the jurisdiction of his or her province/area. Amalgamating the administrative and duplicitous functions of several CFO’s into a single administrative agency, not the RCMP, seems to make eminent sense. Until that time, we are left with the contradictory and confusing language of the Firearms Act.
Because of the foregoing, a licensed firearms owner’s normal ATT is needlessly restricted to their home province. It is unknown at this time how inter-provincial ATT’s will be handled. The Canadian Shooting Sports Association is urging Minster Blaney to deal with this legalese mess at his earliest opportunity.
Next, when purchasing a restricted firearm there will be no requirement to obtain a separate Authorization to Transport before taking the firearm home. If the province’s Chief Firearm Officer authorizes the transfer of a restricted firearm to an individual then their Authorization to Transport that firearm home is automatic. As soon as the transfer notification is made, the firearm may be transported home.
Next, changes to Section 58 help reign in bureaucratic power by ensuring any condition attached to a license must be found in the regulations. Chief Firearms Officers may no longer fabricate “reasonable” conditions with impunity.
(1.1) However, a chief firearms officer’s power to attach a condition to a licence, an authorization to carry or an authorization to transport is subject to the regulations.
The merging of POLs and PALs:
Bill C-42 will merge the Possession-Only and the Possession and Acquisition Licenses together to create a single license type with acquisition ability. This is of great benefit to firearms owners, the Canadian firearms industry and the taxpayers of Canada. It will bestow acquisition abilities upon approximately 650,000 current POL holders. Aside from the obvious benefit to the individuals, and to industry with a 50% increase in the number of Canadians able to purchase a firearm, there are also huge accessory spin-off sales in scopes, ammunition, cases, etc, attached to the sale of a new firearm.
As well, a little known fact is that government does not consider POL holders to be “real” firearms owners so in terms of government policy, the increase in “real” license numbers is significant. For the taxpayer, the insane policy of having two different licensing system that produce almost the same license, will finally cease in an explosion of common sense.
The Common Sense Firearms Act also tables a grace period to prevent immediate prosecution when a license expires. This will allow firearm license holders to be afforded some protection from harassment and prosecution by overzealous law enforcement should their license lapse unnoticed.
Subsection 64(1.1) now states the following:
(1.1) Despite subsection (1), if a licence for firearms is not renewed before it expires, the licence is extended for a period of six months beginning on the day on which it would have expired under that subsection.
There have been cases in Canada where firearms owners have been subject to search and seizure due to an expired license. More frequently, grandfathered ownership is simply stripped away, while demands are made for surrendering one’s property for destruction without compensation. While a better solution would be to make firearm licenses valid for the lifetime of the firearm owner, this is still a considerable improvement in helping firearms owners avoid prosecution for a lapse in paperwork.
Trimming Government Waste
The current Licensing and Authorization to Transport systems are a waste of taxpayer money and government resources. If a firearm owner is “allowed” to own a firearm they clearly have passed all reasonable public safety criteria. There is no rational reason why an additional layer of bureaucracy must be imposed on them just because they want to go to the shooting range. Making Authorizations to Transport a condition on a firearms license and standardizing them across the country may seem small advances for gun owners, but they are clearly significant in our steady course toward proper firearms laws.
Removing needless and bureaucratic restrictions from Canada’s most vetted and law-abiding citizens has absolutely no effect on criminals whatsoever and anyone who suggests otherwise, is disingenuous at best. Yet these are the very changes some Chief Firearms Officers across Canada have fought tooth and nail against. That some CFOs are upset means the Conservative government is moving Canada’s firearm laws in the correct direction.
The changes introduced in the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act will not go as far as many gun owners want. Despite the gains made with this bill there are people whom unfortunately, are unwilling to give credit where it is due. Some insist these changes amount to “a whole lot of sweet nothing”. They are incorrect and the importance of these changes cannot be overlooked. If these were the only changes contained in the Conservative government’s amendments to the Firearms Act gun owners should still be pleased. While not everything we would like they are an important step forward for Canada’s most law-abiding citizens: licensed firearm owners. Viewing those important changes as “sweet nothings” is both childish and incorrect.
Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney is to be commended for Bill C-42, and for his attitude toward Canadian firearm owners, which is captured in his statement that, “Allan Rock said he came to Ottawa with the belief that only the police and military should have firearms. I believe that firearms ownership is a right, but a right that comes with responsibilities.” Minister Blaney understands why Canada’s most law-abiding citizens feel marginalized and persecuted. He knows full well that bureaucrats in the firearms division are out of control and this is one more step at reigning them in.
Is it his last step? No, it is simply his latest step forward to sensible gun laws every Canadian gun owner can live with. Is Minister Blaney moving as fast as Canada’s gun owners would like? Of course not, but he is moving in the correct direction. Should Justin Trudeau or Thomas Mulcair rest their briefcase in the Prime Minister’s Office, we run a very real risk to firearms ownership in Canada. That we can count on.