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Did Canada's Looser Gun Laws Contribute to the Parliament Hill Shooting?

10/24/2014 10:58 EDT | Updated 12/24/2014 05:59 EST

This morning, a member of the Huffington Post media team asked me "Do you think Canadians are going to change their gun laws after this terror attack?" It's a fair question, since the terrorist used the type of weapon that Canada recently made easier to own and operate with fewer restrictions.

Evidently, Twitter exploded with comments by people wondering how Michael Zehaf-Bibeau could get a gun in Canada. The myth is that private citizens can't own guns. While the country doesn't have something along the lines of a Second Amendment to the Constitution, citizens can own guns. That's because the Canadian system is more about licensing and registration than restriction. And even that's been watered down in the last few years.

Firearms first became regulated in 1934 in Canada, though there were attempts to limit weapons during Anglo-Franco disputes in the so-called Red River Rebellion in the late 1880s. Initially beginning with handguns, the list expanded to include guns with more firepower (automatic rifles) in the 1950s. Again, such laws involved registration conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

There are different categories of weapons restrictions in Canada. As Arthur Bright with the Christian Science Monitor writes:

Under Canadian law, there are three categories of firearms: prohibited, restricted, and non-restricted. Prohibited firearms include short-barrelled handguns, sawed-off shotguns and rifles, and automatic weapons. Restricted firearms include all handguns that do not fall under the "prohibited" class, as well as semi-automatic weapons with barrels shorter than 47 cm (18.5 inches). In addition, specific guns can be designated by regulation as prohibited or restricted. Large-capacity magazines are generally prohibited, regardless of the class of firearm they are used in.

But even that term is a bit misleading. You can own a restricted weapon, and even a prohibited weapon. It just means you have to jump through a lot of licensing and regulation hoops just to get one. And there are also safety courses involved.

Without such registration, who knows what the FLQ (Quebec Liberation Front) might have done during their wave of terrorism in the 1960s, ending in the Fall of 1970. Yet even that approach may not have been enough.

After a shooting spree at a Montreal school in 1989, where 14 women were killed and an equal number wounded by a rifle-wielding anti-feminist, the Liberal Party under Jean Chretien used this as an election issue against the conservative regime of Kim Campbell. Thus, in 1995, all firearms, including what's known as "long guns" had to be registered.

That "long gun" registration is controversial for two reasons. First, these non-restricted long guns were deregulated by legislation passed by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper in 2012. Second, these types of guns were likely used not only in the October 22 War Memorial and Parliament shooting, but also by a cop killer in Moncton, who assassinated three officers and wounded three others.

Interestingly enough, the Harper government and conservative allies were planning even looser restrictions on guns during the upcoming parliamentary session. But as bullets were whizzing outside their doors, it remains to be seen whether they, and the Canadian public, will have a similar appetite for looser gun laws.

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