The Canadian government unveiled new legislation on Tuesday that will tighten controls over the sale and licensing of firearms, including provisions that would reclassify two controversial families of rifles as prohibited weapons.
The new bill will also boost background checks, require owners to apply for authorizations to transport weapons and require gun vendors to keep a record of sales for at least 20 years.
Given the federal Liberals campaigned on a pledge to tighten up gun laws, it came as no surprise to see the government table Bill C-71, officially known as An Act to Amend Certain Acts and Regulations in Relation to Firearms, but the changes may leave many lawful gun owners scratching their heads
The bill is broken up into two parts: the first deals with changes to the requirements around the licensing, sale and classification of firearms, while the brief second part allows the province of Quebec to request and receive the data held by the federal government from when the long run registry was dismantled.
Given the first part carries the most direct implications for gun owners, let’s break that down.
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How will licensing requirements change?
When a person in Canada currently applies for a gun permit, authorities do a background check that goes five years into the individual’s past to look for criminal convictions, mental illness associated with violence or a history of behaviour that includes violence or threats to commit such acts.
Under the new legislation, authorities assessing applications for a gun permit will now consider all of those factors going back for the applicant’s entire life.
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In a background briefing held Tuesday in Ottawa, officials from several government departments spoke with media about the technical details of the legislation. They stressed that while background checks will now go back longer into an applicant’s past, there is no specific red flag in the factors authorities must consider that would automatically lead to an application being rejected.
For example, officials said an individual who legally owns a firearm currently would not automatically have their gun seized if they have a criminal conviction from 15 years ago but a clean record of behaviour and gun use since.
One of the other changes will be with regards to transport authorizations for firearms.
Currently, an authorization to purchase either a restricted or prohibited firearm automatically results in an authorization to transport that weapon for specific purposes, and there is no discretion for the chief firearms officer on whether to approve that authorization.
Under the new legislation, those authorizations would be at the discretion of the chief firearms officer.
The only authorizations that would be automatic with the purchase of the firearm now are the authorizations to transport that weapon to the owner’s home following the purchase and to approved shooting clubs or ranges in the owner’s province of residence.
Taking the firearms for servicing by a gunsmith or to a gun show would require separate authorizations to transport.
However, authorizations to transport are not required for non-restricted firearms and will remain so under the new legislation.
How will responsibilities for gun vendors change?
The new legislation will make two key changes to the responsibilities placed upon gun vendors in Canada.
First, businesses will now be required to keep records of the sale of all firearms and the firearms license of the individual who purchased the gun from them for at least 20 years. That requirement does not apply to private sellers.
Those records, which will not need to be in ledger form, will be the legal property of the business, officials said on Tuesday.
The chief firearms officer will not be allowed to request the records.
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Second, anyone — business or private seller — who is selling or giving a non-restricted firearm will now be required to verify that the person they are providing the gun to holds a valid firearms license through the Canadian Firearms Program.
As it stands now, license checks are voluntary.
To do that, the vendor will have to either use the registration portal being set up online by the government or call the director of the registrar in Ottawa.
When they do so, the vendor will need to provide both their own firearm license number as well as the license number of the person they are giving or selling the gun to, before being issued a reference number acknowledging the permits are valid.
Vendors will not be required to provide either their name or the name of the person they are providing the weapon to when validating the license.
That information is already held as part of the Canadian Firearms Program.
If police investigating a firearms crime wanted to trace the owner of a gun, they could discover that by tracking the license numbers of the legal owners of the gun used in the crime but would need to get authorization from a judge to access the records held by the business that sold it.
What’s going to happen to the Swiss Arms or CZ-858 rifles?
Shortly before the last federal election, the former Conservative government used new powers it had granted to the federal cabinet to reclassify two types of firearms the RCMP had previously listed as prohibited weapons.
Under the new powers, the cabinet deemed the Swiss Arms and CZ-858 families of rifles as restricted rather than prohibited in what was billed at the time as a move to shore up support among the party’s voter base.
In the new legislation, the Liberals are repealing that decision and stripping cabinet of its power to make partisan downgrades of gun classifications and handing the power to classify firearms back to the RCMP.
Both of those firearms will now be reclassified as prohibited weapons.
According to officials, those who already own a firearm in the Swiss Arms or CZ-858 families can keep it and will be “grandfathered” as long as they comply with the licensing and registration requirements to own a prohibited firearm.
Owners will get an amnesty period and will not be subject to criminal prosecution during that time.
However, the legislation would crack down on the legal transfers of such weapons.
The only time such firearms could be legally transferred under the new legislation will be when they are either given or sold to another grandfathered legal owner or in a sale that exports the gun out of the country.
Officials said they expect that measure will see the number of such firearms owned in Canada decrease over time.