Thursday, June 5, 2014

What to know about gun control in Canada

Published on: June 5, 2014

Patrick Deegan, a senior range officer, displays long guns at a gun store in Calgary, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010.

It took little time for commentators online to raise the issue of gun control in the wake of Wednesday’s fatal shooting of three RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B. Here are answers to a few questions about who is allowed to own a gun, and what guns are legal in Canada.

Q. Is there a right to bear arms in Canada?

A. Unlike the American constitution, neither the Canadian Constitution nor the Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly says Canadians have a right to possess and use firearms. And the Supreme Court of Canada has three times (1993, 2005 and 2010) rejected arguments that the Charter indirectly makes gun ownership a right. In a 2005 ruling, the court said, “possession and use of firearms is not a right or freedom guaranteed under the Charter, but a privilege.”

Q. Can anyone buy a gun?

A. Owning a gun in Canada means applying for a license with the RCMP andundergoing a thorough background check. If you buy certain types of guns, the law requires you to register it. According to the RCMP, there are 1.9 million gun license owners in Canada as of December 2013.

Q. What firearms are legal in Canada?

A. There are three types of guns in Canada: Non-restricted, which are ordinary rifles and shotguns, restricted and prohibited. Most military assault weapons are prohibited in Canada. A grandfather clause allows qualifying owners to keep prohibited firearms registered in their name before Dec. 1, 1998. Also prohibited are crossbows not longer than 50 centimetres. According to the RCMP website, Criminal Code provisions making it an offence to buy a crossbow without a license never came into force.

Q. How could someone buy a restricted firearm?

A. Anyone over 18 who qualifies can own a restricted firearm, such as certain handguns, and usually for only specific reasons. According to the RCMP, Canadians usually own a restricted firearm for target practice or shooting competitions, or as part of a collection. The RCMP website says there are some instances where an owner can have a restricted gun “in connection with one’s lawful profession or occupation, or to protect life.”

Q. What about non-restricted firearms?

A. Those weapons used to be covered under the federal long gun registry. The Conservatives ended the registry in 2012, fulfilling a campaign promise. The Liberal government of Jean Chretien created the registry in 1995, six years after theEcole Polytechnique murders when a lone gunman shot and killed 14 women with a legally obtained rifle.

Q. What happened when the registry was ended?

A. The end of the registry meant lawful gun owners were no longer required to register long guns and the registry’s database would be destroyed. Quebec has taken the government to court to maintain the registry data for that province. Also, the rules on the transfer of guns between two licensed owners have been relaxed.

Q. What was said about the registry?

A. Reaction was split. The Canadian Chiefs of Police Association, for instance, supported the continued existence of the registry. The Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers, for example, argued the money spent on the program didn’t make streets safer: often, officers didn’t have instant access to the registry for emergency calls, using it instead for long-term investigations.

By the Numbers

1,960,380: Gun license owners in Canada, according to the RCMP

22,000: Gun license owner applications the RCMP has rejected

9,444: Licenses per 100,000 people in New Brunswick

658,847: Restricted firearms registered in Canada as of December 2013

188,465: Prohibited firearms registered in Canada as of December 2013

6,978,702: Non-restricted firearms registered in Canada as of March 201