A loophole doubling the number of rounds allowed in semi-automatic rifles was deliberately included in gun laws, a senior firearms expert at the RCMP argues in an email obtained by Global News.
The man behind those regulations disagrees.
And gun-control advocates are accusing the RCMP of revisionism by reinterpreting 20-year-old rules.
Semi-automatic rifles were limited to five-round magazines under a package of gun control laws written in the aftermath of the 1989 Montreal Massacre. But a 2011 RCMP bulletin interpreted existing law as allowing 10-round pistol magazines to be used in rifles.
“The bulletin … addresses a controversial subject and is likely to attract complaints or criticism,” wrote Murray Smith, a manager at the RCMP’s Canadian Firearms Program.
“The … crossover provision for the use of 10-shot pistol magazines in rifles was intentionally incorporated into the magazine regulations. The rules have been that way since the introduction of the magazine regulations in 1993.”
That’s news to John Dixon, senior policy adviser on gun control in then-Justice Minister Kim Campbell’s office when the laws were being designed.
“None of us dreamt of such a loophole. Period,” he says. “Nobody was thinking about anything like this.”
Murray’s e-mail was in response to one sent by an official at the firearm program’s call centre in Miramachi, N.B., which answers questions about firearms law from the public. The bulletin, then a draft circulated internally, was “causing some confusion,” the email reads, “as it goes against everything they have been communicating for some time.”
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The confusion shouldn’t have been surprising: The RCMP safety manual given to people studying for a gun license clearly says it’s against the law to fire more than five rounds from a semi-automatic rifle.
“It certainly seems to me that it’s very, very foolish,” Dixon says.
Gun control advocate and Montreal Massacre survivor Heidi Rathjen calls this interpreted loophole “absolutely unacceptable.”
“When we had these discussions, there was never any intention to go beyond that in any way,” she said. “I believe this is a new interpretation to reflect the ideological bent of the current government, which is to allow the easiest access to guns and their accessories as much as possible.”
The RCMP e-mails were released as part of an access-to-information request.
Murray did not respond to requests for comment. He “does not do interviews,” explained RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Julie Gagnon.
At issue is how to interpret the original regulations in the Criminal Code. According to the RCMP, they govern the kind of firearm the magazine’s designed for, not the firearm it’s actually used in.
“A magazine is classified according to the kind of firearm it was designed or manufactured for. A magazine designed and manufactured for a semiautomatic pistol is limited to ten shots,” Gagnon said in an e-mail.
“The wording of the magazine regulations grant the ten-shot handgun limit to semiautomatic centrefire calibre rifles in certain circumstances. These regulations have not changed since they were introduced in 1993.”