Applications to carry handguns skyrocket in B.C., Alberta

Applications to carry handguns have skyrocketed in B.C. and Alberta in the past three years – likely driven by demand among people who work in the bush and want portable protection against wildlife.

Rates have held steady in the rest of Canada, according to RCMP figures show released in response to an access-to-information request.

We don’t know how many of these applications were approved because the RCMP won’t tell us.

We also don’t know how many were for concealed-carry permits for people facing “criminal threats” and how many are for openly carrying handguns in wilderness areas to defend against wildlife. RCMP Staff. Sgt. Julie Gagnon refused to break out the two categories.

The RCMP’s access-to-information office also refused to make that distinction, citing a section of the federal Access to Information Act exempting “information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to threaten the safety of individuals.”

Story continues below advertisement

What we do know is that more people are submitting these applications for “authorizations to carry” : The number of applications across the country rose from 386 to 564 between 2011 and 2013.

In that time period, they more than doubled in B.C.; in Alberta, they more than doubled from 2011 to 2012.

People in the territories submit far more application rates than the rest of Canada. The Yukon had 33 applications in 2013 – almost one for every 1,000 residents – while the Northwest Territories had 29. By contrast, Quebec’s 64 applications make for fewer than one for every 100,000 residents.

The number of applications and the authorizations issued are about the same, says Ontario’s chief firearms officer, OPP Supt. Chris Wyatt.

” If somebody applies for an ATC and it’s really deficient – they’re not a prospector, they don’t have a wilderness occupation, they just want it when they go camping –we just say ‘You don’t qualify,’ and they don’t pursue their application.”

The higher number in B.C., Alberta and the Arctic is due to the presence of predator animals, Gagnon said.

“We find that there has been growing concern about the bears, just generally, both among corporations and the general public,” said Eric Beer, a use-of-force instructor at Silvercore, a Delta, B.C. firearms training company. “There has been an increase in interest in bear defence, specifically.”

Story continues below advertisement

Silvercore runs a course for people to qualify to carry a wilderness handgun, and also a bear defence course using shotguns.

People working in the remote bush often choose a handgun as a bear defence weapon because it’s easier to carry than a rifle, Wyatt said.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

“You’ve got to put the rifle down while you’re working, right? That kind of opens you up a little bit to attack.”

“The people who go for ATCs are employed in the bush – geologists or prospectors,” Beer said. “Their equipment is heavy and bulky. You add a shotgun to that, and they tend to get overloaded.”

What’s less clear is whether a small gun will be much good against a big animal – a bear, for example – in a life-or-death situation.

The OPP requires permit holders to choose “a big handgun,” Wyatt said. “It’s got to be a fairly powerful handgun.”

Beer agrees.

“The largest handgun, with the biggest calibre that the student can handle effectively – that’s what I recommend.”

But “with brown bears, carrying a handgun is just absolutely stupid,” argues former OPP staff-sergeant Doug Carlson, who ran the gun control system in northwestern Ontario before his retirement.

Story continues below advertisement

“You’re dealing with such a humongous bear – you’ll have a hard time knocking it down with a handgun. You might get lucky, but more likely it would just bounce off his skull, or aggravate him.

“You really need a high-powered rifle for something like that. Anybody who was truthful would tell you that.”

The issue has come up before: The OPP denied a handgun carry permit to a woman who wanted it to fend off polar bears on an expedition to the North Pole, Wyatt said.

“We said: ‘I don’t think you could defend yourself well with a handgun against a polar bear, because they’re so big.'”

But in general, he added, if people who may face a bear attack want to trust their lives to a handgun, it’s up to them.

“I don’t get to put across, ‘The world according to Chris Wyatt’ about how wise it is to try to take on a bear with a handgun, because the law allows it.”

How does concealed carry work?

Other than armoured car guards, private citizens in Canada can be licenced to carry handguns in one of four situations: if they are trappers, need protection from wild animals in remote areas, or if “the life of that individual … is in imminent danger from one or more other individuals” and police protection is insufficient under the circumstances.

Story continues below advertisement

Police don’t release statistics on permits to carry concealed handguns against human threats “for security reasons and public safety reasons,” Wyatt said.

“If that number was known, people may make a determination that maybe that person doesn’t have a [permit], and could make an attack on their life without fear of being confronted with a firearm.

Ottawa lawyer Solomon Friedman says these permits are “almost impossible to get.”

“The legislation actually contemplates somebody who has been the subject of specific threats of harm or death from a particular person,” he said. “The guy signing your authorization to carry, who is a very high-ranking police officer, has to certify that the police aren’t able to help.

“I have filed several authorization to carry applications on behalf of clients, all unsuccessfully.”

Toronto mayoral candidate and former councillor Norm Gardner, who had a concealed carry permit for several years in the 1990s, said the weapon made him “very, very calm.”

Story continues below advertisement

“I was asked to go in and help some of the residents in the Jane and Finch area against the drug problem that was going on in the area, and I did, and I did have an altercation with somebody … who was really a drug dealer,” he said.

“As a result of that, I applied for a concealed carry permit.”

Gardiner, a Metro councillor at the time who sat on the Police Services Board, was approved after talking to then-Toronto police chief Jack Marks, he said. For several years, Gardner carried a Glock 19, a compact handgun.

“It makes you much calmer than you might ordinarily be, because you don’t want to have to get into a situation where someone could take it from you, or you could expose the firearm, or anything like that.”

In 1992, while he had the permit, Gardner shot and wounded a man breaking into a store he owned. He was never charged.

Story continues below advertisement

Sponsored content