Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney wants to change the rules around gun control, potentially taking decision-making power away from the RCMP in the wake of gun-owners’ wrath over a new rifle ban.
“The Minister has ordered an urgent review of this unfortunate decision,” spokesperson Jean-Christophe de le Rue said in an e-mail. “The Minister has announced that he will bring forward measures in the coming weeks to protect all law-abiding firearms owners from these types of retroactive and unpredictable decisions.”
On February 28, the RCMP changed the Firearms Reference Table gun database to prohibit all semi-automatic rifles made by Swiss Arms and all semi-automatic CZ858 rifles made since 2007.
According to notes in the database, the Swiss Arms rifles were banned for being a variant of the already-banned SG550 rifle and the CZ858s were banned because they “can be converted into a full automatic firearm in a relatively short period of time with relative ease.”
An amnesty allows the owners of the semi-automatic rifles to own them for another two years, during which period they can only be transported to be sold to a museum or someone with a rare prohibited-firearm licence, or to be turned in to police for destruction.
(The public announcement of the amnesty has few details. The Privy Council Office has not responded to Global’s request for the actual text of the order, which was given to us by a source.)
Blaney plans a “permanent solution in the near future,” de le Rue said in his email.
What could that look like?
Parliament could also create the authority to unban a gun, something the Minister can’t yet do.The most radical solution, often raised in the past on the gun-rights side of the debate, would involve taking the power to ban firearms away from the RCMP.
Or regulatory changes could simply change definitions enough to give RCMP less leeway in deciding to ban a gun.
Blaney appeared to have been caught off-guard by the most recent controversy.
“Vigilant individuals with access to the FRT database have been continuously checking those guns, knowing that they were in the RCMP’s crosshairs,” says Ottawa firearms lawyer Solomon Friedman. “Maybe they thought that they’d update the FRT and issue a press release some time later, but gun owners were watching for this.”
This wouldn’t be the first time the RCMP has differed with the Public Safety Minister over gun regulation, with police advocating stricter rules the minister appears unwilling to put in place.
Last September, senior RCMP officials invited Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney to a briefing on gun control at a police range in Ottawa, at which they seemed to be nudging him toward stricter rules in some cases.
Meanwhile, the National Firearms Association is prospering.
“We’ve gained thousands of members and we’ve gained thousands of dollars in donations because we’ve been seen to be leading the fight against this reclassification,” says communications director Blair Hagen*.
The NFA claims 70,000 members, of which Hagen says 10,000 have joined in recent weeks because of the controversy.
“Whenever there’s a perceived threat against firearms owners in Canada, we see our fundraising and membership grow.”
According to a redacted copy of the national firearms database made before long-gun data was deleted, obtained by Global News under access-to-information laws, this ban appears to affect about 8,000 rifles – just over 60 per cent of them in B.C. and Alberta.
Compensating all affected owners would cost about $8.8 million.
But that data reflects the long-gun registry data as it was in mid-2012.
* An earlier version of this story attributed the quote to Sheldon Clare, the NFA’s president.
READ: Text of the amnesty
Firearms Reference Table entries
The legal explanation of the ban is under “Canadian Law Comments”: