THE BLOG
09/10/2018 12:23 EDT | Updated 09/10/2018 12:25 EDT

There's A Way Trudeau Can Curb Gun Violence, And It's Not A Ban

Bringing back registries of who buys and sells firearms would create meaningful results without punishing law-abiding gun owners.

As someone familiar with Canada's gun laws and firearms licensing framework, I find it incredibly disappointing that the Liberal Party and the mayors of Toronto and Montreal would consider a ban on handguns.

That the government would go after legal gun owners (instead of criminals) is disingenuous. There are better ways to strengthen our nation's gun laws that don't require millions of licensed, law-abiding Canadians to forfeit their guns or be treated like would-be criminals.

To understand what is currently wrong with the Canada's gun laws, and how we can fix them, you first need to consider a very brief history of how we got to where we are now.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Starting in 1934, all handguns (restricted guns) in Canada had to be registered with the government/RCMP.

After 1977, when firearm acquisition certificates were introduced, Canadian gun retailers had to document who they were selling "long guns" (non-restricted rifles and shotguns) to, including the names of the purchasers and the serial numbers of the firearms. This data was recorded in the "green books" kept by the gun retailers, and could be requested by the police.

Following the mass shooting at Ecole Polytechnique, the Liberals under Prime Minister Chretien introduced the Canadian Firearms Registry in 1995 for long guns. The long-gun registry spelled the end of the old "green books" for non-restricted gun sales.

From 2012 until October 2015, when the Harper Conservatives were voted out, there was no recordkeeping.

The Reform Party (later the Conservative Party) was vehemently opposed to the Canadian Firearms Registry for long guns. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper had an opportunity to dismantle the long-gun registry and destroy its records in 2012, he did so (in all provinces except Quebec).

After the long-gun registry was dissolved, Harper's government made no effort to legislate back the "green books" used for tracking non-restricted firearms.

So from 2012 until October 2015, when the Harper Conservatives were voted out, there was no recordkeeping. Any Canadian with a possession and acquisition license (PAL) had been able to go to a gun retailer and purchase a non-restricted rifle or shotgun, with no record being made of:

  1. Who they were
  2. How many non-restricted rifle(s) or shotgun(s) they were purchasing
  3. What the serial number(s) were

This situation allowed "straw buyers" to purchase non-restricted (unregistered) guns for others who were not permitted to own a gun. No registration meant no tracing a firearm back to anyone who was reselling it illegally, and therefore, no accountability.

Justin Trudeau's Liberals were elected back in 2015. Since then, the government has not made any moves to close this registration loophole and bring back the green books. From 2015 up until now, retailers have not been required to document non-restricted firearm sales.

Today, a person with a PAL can buy a tactical shotgun or non-restricted assault rifle (or 25 of them) and no one is keeping track of serial numbers, models or the names of the buyers.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto Mayor John Tory asked Ottawa to consider a nationwide ban on handguns.

In addition, neither the Conservatives nor Liberals have attempted to replace the dissolved long-gun registry with anything. Trudeau in fact has made it clear that his government won't be bringing back the long-gun registry.

The question then is, why not at least bring back the green books? Without this, what prevents non-restricted firearms from being resold/diverted? Where is the accountability? Where are the safety measures?

Our politicians refuse to bring back the registry because they are opposed to it, or they feel that they will lose votes as the old registry was perceived as a billion-dollar boondoggle.

Instead, they want to ban all handguns and semi-automatics. Why? The answer is because it makes it look like they are finally doing something, where for the last six or seven years, they have done nothing except allow hundreds of thousands of non-restricted guns to be sold without records.

It's much easier to go after the duck hunter or target shooter than to concede that government has had a huge role in creating this problem.

Talk about an off-target, knee jerk reaction. It isn't as if the Trudeau government has exhausted all of the other possibilities and has come to this conclusion: that only a handgun ban will work. They simply haven't done anything. That Liberals are calling this a wedge issue is laughable.

It's much easier to go after the duck hunter or target shooter (the licensed, legal shooters) than to concede that government has had a huge role in creating this problem.

In his recent HuffPost Canada blog, Vahan Kololian of the Mosaic Institute states that: "In 2016, [Canadian] police forces and other authorities seized 25,123 firearms, out of which nearly 20,000 were non-restricted."

What Kololian's research implies to me is that if nearly 80 per cent of the guns being seized in Canada are non-restricted, then going after the other 20 per cent (handgun owners who have had to register their restricted weapons all along) is not going to fix the problem.

Michele Sandberg via Getty Images
The Bushmaster XM-15 is a restricted firearm available in Canada.

Even if the government were to ban all of the restricted (registered) handguns it knows about, there are hundreds of thousands of unregistered (non-restricted) guns it has no records of (that it has allowed to slip into criminals' hands over the past four years).

If the Trudeau government wants to get tough on gangs and gun crimes, as well as gun-related suicides, there are concrete ways to do that.

  1. Close the registration loopholes around non-restricted rifles and shotguns. Bring back the green books that Canada had since 1977, and make the records available to police.
  2. Impose tougher sentences for Canadians who sell guns to people that do not have a PAL (to people who are criminals, or have a history of violence and are prohibited from owning a gun).
  3. Provide Canada Border Security Agents with the technology and resources needed to detect and intercept guns being smuggled into Canada from the United States, and impose tougher sentences on gun smugglers.
  4. Require all would-be gun owners to have a letter from their family physician (who knows them, and can attest to their mental state and overall health) as part of the process for obtaining and/or renewing a PAL. This will cut down on the suicides and the incidents related to mental illness.
  5. Require the RCMP to call at least one reference out of the three listed references on each PAL application. Many would-be PAL applicants never have their references contacted.
  6. Require that our politicians have at least a basic understanding of Canada's gun laws.

Legal gun owners have that understanding. Straw buyers and criminals are very familiar with Canadian gun laws, and with all the loopholes. So why shouldn't we demand that our politicians to be equally knowledgeable, in order to be able to protect Canadians, including law-abiding gun owners?

In conclusion, if the primary source of gun violence is the availability of guns, our elected officials have done a terrible job of enforcing controls around non-restricted firearms. The straw buyers and criminals have been stampeding out of the gun stores for the better part of the last 10 years with their non-restricted guns.

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Banning handguns and semi-automatics in Canada at this point will do nothing, except punish law-abiding gun owners. It won't take thousands of unregistered/untraceable guns already "out there" away from criminals. That bullet is already out of the barrel. There's no putting it back.

A handgun ban also doesn't address mental illness, gangs or the underlying causes of gun crimes. It just makes the government look like they are finally part of the solution, instead of what they really have been over the past six to seven years: at the heart of the problem and a big reason for why we are where we are today.

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