OTTAWA - The Conservative government has quietly shelved rules on serial numbers for guns that would have helped keep Canada in compliance with its international conventions on arms smuggling.

The decision came through an order-in-council — a cabinet decree — that was not formally announced by the Harper government but has been posted among dozens of other orders on the Privy Council Office website.

A single paragraph on the website states the long-delayed regulations, which were scheduled to come into force on Dec. 1, "are being deferred."

A spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews confirmed, following an inquiry by The Canadian Press, that the regulations have been pushed off to December 2013.

However Toews' spokeswoman, Julie Carmichael, would not comment on why the gun lobby was apparently told of the move more than a month ago — even though the order-in-council decision was approved only last week — and why no news release accompanied the policy change.

Earlier this fall the government posted the rule changes in the Canada Gazette, signalling it was finally going to make good on gun-marking regulations that were first announced in 2004.

Some gun enthusiasts objected to the regulations because they said they would increase costs for manufacturers, who would pass the increase on to gun buyers.

The government noted in October that the repeal of the long-gun registry has created a gap in Canada's international obligations with regard to two protocols on arms smuggling.

The Gazette notice said ensuring most firearms in Canada had unique serial numbers would "meet some of the specifications" of those international protocols.

Regulating unique serial numbers on weapons — which most reputable gun makers already do routinely — helps national governments track the smuggling of black market arms.

But the Canadian government's stated reasons for marking weapons went further.

A backgrounder in the Canada Gazette said the "rationale" for the new rules was to aid police investigations.

"The proposal would establish basic marking requirements to facilitate the identification of firearms and to contribute to public safety, by facilitating law enforcement investigations when the markings can be linked to information on the last legal owner of the firearm,'' said the Public Safety document.

The same document said the new marking rules would "ensure that all firearms continue to be marked to facilitate firearms identification, including crime gun tracing by law enforcement."

The Public Safety backgrounder also noted, however, that last June's repeal of the long-gun registry decreases the utility of such gun markings, making them "only of limited use in the tracing of non-restricted firearms used in crimes."

The Conservatives have also introduced legislation to make sure gun dealers are not required to keep records identifying buyers of non-restricted weapons.

Toews' spokeswoman said in an email Wednesday that the Conservative government "is focused on effective solutions to tackle crime, not billion dollar boondoggles."

"Our government intends to defer the UN marking regulations for one year to consult on the best solution for law-abiding Canadian gun owners," Carmichael wrote.

A posting on the web site of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, dated Nov. 2, says that Toews "in a statement" informed the lobby group of the same ruling. Canada's National Firearms Association, another pro-gun group, posted a similar message on its site the next day.

Gun lobbyists were also privately informed last month that all the gun registry data, apart from court-protected data in Quebec, had been fully destroyed.

It was a landmark moment in the almost two-decade debate over the long gun registry but it was not accompanied by a public news release from the Conservative government.

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  • Australia

    Gun ownership is strictly prohibited unless there are "genuine reasons" such as licensed sport, animal control or employment requirements.

  • Brazil

    Brazilians over the age of 25 are allowed to own guns as long as they are registered and kept indoors. The country has the second-highest gun-related death rate after the U.S.

  • Canada

    Canada's gun laws are significantly stricter than the neighboring U.S. To acquire a license, applicants must take a safety course, pass a criminal records check and be certified by a firearms officer.

  • China

    Chinese civilians are not allowed to own guns, except for hunting and protection from wildlife. Citizens can face the death penalty if caught illegally selling arms.

  • Czech Republic

    Czech guns laws are considerably more liberal than the rest of Europe. Applicants must pass a questionnaire on firearms, have no criminal record and show ID proving they are over 21 years old.

  • Germany

    Germany's Federal Weapons Act, enacted in 1972, restricts everything apart from replica guns to adults at least 18 years old, who must pass checks for "trustworthiness, knowledge and adequacy." A firearms ownership license, or <em>Waffenbesitzkarte</em>, must be obtained before a weapon can be purchased.

  • Italy

    Italians can have up to three "common" handguns in their home, but if they want to hunt or carry a concealed weapon they must apply for a license.

  • Japan

    Japanese licensing requirements are considered a formality -- there is little enforcement of the strict laws. Despite this, gun deaths are among the lowest in the world.

  • Mexico

    Strict laws, including criminal record checks, apply for Mexican ownership. However, there are growing concerns that smuggling from the US is undermining these regulations.

  • Russia

    Self defense is not a viable excuse for carrying firearms outside the home in Russia. Hand guns and fully automatics are prohibited, but adults with no criminal record can apply for a license for shotguns and air rifles.

  • United Kingdom

    Brits convicted of a criminal offense cannot handle, possess or shoot a gun. A license is needed for any firearm except low-powered air rifles/pistols. Self-defense is not a valid reason for ownership.