Under Canadian law, prospective firearm owners are required to obtain a Possession and Acquisition License (PAL). Applicants for a PAL are required to complete the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, and undergo a criminal and mental health background check. The intrusive application process also requires applicants to submit character references and information about “current and former conjugal partners.”
Canada classifies firearms in one of three categories, prohibited, restricted, and non-restricted. Prohibited firearms include fully-automatic firearms, .25 and .32-caliber handguns, and handguns with a with a barrel length of less than 105 mm. Restricted firearms include all non-prohibited handguns and certain configurations of semi-automatic firearms. The government also has the authority to place firearms into these categories by regulatory prescription. Firearms that do not fall into the prohibited or restricted categories, such as many manually operated rifles and shotguns, are classified as non-restricted.
In 1995 Canada passed bill C-68, or the Firearms Act, which required all non-restricted firearms to be registered by January 1, 2003. Dubbed the long-gun registry, the program was a mess from the start.
First, cost estimates for the program were inaccurate by an order of magnitude. Initially slated to cost $2 million, by 2004 the boondoggle had cost Canadian taxpayers nearly $2 billion.
Second, the costly program provided no discernible public safety benefit. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence determined that the 1995 act, along with other Canadian gun laws, did not affect the country’s homicide rate. The authors noted, “This study failed to demonstrate a beneficial association between legislation and firearm homicide rates between 1974 and 2008.” A subsequent paper concerning the long-gun registry by Simon Fraser University Professor Gary Mauser explained, “There is not a single refereed academic study by criminologists or economists that has found a significant benefit from the Canadian gun laws.” To illustrate his point, Mauser went on to explain that from 1991 to 2012 the U.S. homicide rate dropped faster than Canada’s.
The long-gun registry was scrapped under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in 2012. Canada’s current Liberal government has made clear that they “will not create a new national long-gun registry to replace the one that has been dismantled.”
Despite this history of failure, Quebec’s provincial government retains an obsession with burdening its gun-owning residents. Following the federal government’s decision to eliminate the wasteful program and purge the long-gun records, Quebec filed suit to enjoin them from destroying the registration records for Quebec gun owners. The legal battle lasted until 2015, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal government could eliminate the remaining records. Following the decision, then-Quebec Public Security Minister Lise Thériault told reporters, “We got beat. We lost… Now we’ll roll up our sleeves and continue.”
On June 9, 2016, the Quebec National Assembly passed the Firearms Registration Act. Canada’s National Firearms Association and local gun rights activists immediately filed suit to prevent the province from establishing the registry, on the grounds that Quebec’s measure was preempted by federal action in the field. However, in October, a Quebec judge ruled against the gun rights advocates. Others have continued to oppose the registry, including members of Quebec’s indigenous Inuit community, who have asked to be exempted from the scheme.
At a press event last Sunday touting the new registry, Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux ignored the national long-gun registry’s woeful track record. Contrary to available evidence, Coiteux called the long-gun registry “an important tool,” which, according to a media account of the event, the minister contended will “both prevent and solve crimes.”
Gun owners outside of Quebec might be tempted to shake their heads at their eastern neighbors, but would be better served by preparing for a gun control push from Ottawa. During the 2015 federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party ran on a gun control platform. The specific policies the party ran on in 2015 include:
- repeal changes made by Bill C-42 that allow restricted and prohibited weapons to be freely transported without a permit, and we will put decision-making about weapons restrictions back in the hands of police, not politicians…
- modify the membership of the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee to include knowledgeable law enforcement officers, public health advocates, representatives from women’s groups, and members of the legal community;
- require enhanced background checks for anyone seeking to purchase a handgun or other restricted firearm;
- require purchasers of firearms to show a license when they buy a gun, and require all sellers of firearms to confirm that the license is valid before completing the sale;
- require firearms vendors to keep records of all firearms inventory and sales to assist police in investigating firearms trafficking and other gun crimes;
- immediately implement the imported gun marking regulations that have been repeatedly delayed by Stephen Harper…
In recent months, anti-gun activists have tried to pressure the Trudeau government to act on their stated gun control agenda. Back in October, the Liberal government claimed that it would introduce gun control legislation before the end of 2017. That deadline passed, but according to a report from the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, the Liberals are planning a spring offensive.
The top priority for gun control advocates appears to be efforts to further restrict access to firearms classified as restricted. As stated earlier, all prospective PAL holders must undergo an intrusive application process that includes criminal and mental health background checks. Those seeking to possess restricted firearms must take an additional Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course. Prospective restricted firearms owners must demonstrate an adequate purpose for owning the firearm, such as participation in a shooting club. Restricted firearms must be securely stored. In order to transport a restricted firearm, a PAL holder must obtain an additional Authorization to Transport from the Chief Firearms Officer of their jurisdiction.
Considering the current PAL background check delves into the particulars of a prospective firearm owner’s “current and former conjugal partners,” the imagination strains to conceive what the Liberals in Ottawa might have in mind by “enhanced background checks.”
2018 could prove a challenging year for Canadian gun owners. However, Canada’s beleaguered pro-gun activists should find faith in their recent success. Canadian gun owners’ hard-fought victory in the battle to eliminate the failed long-gun registry was an inspiration to gun rights supporters around the world. The organization and determination that made that triumph possible will serve our northern neighbors well in the legislative battles to come.