Gun politics in Canada
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Gun politics in Canada is controversial, though some would say less contentious than it is in the United States. The history of gun control in Canada dates from the early days of Confederation, when Justices of the Peace could impose penalties for carrying a handgun without reasonable cause. Criminal Code of Canada amendments between the 1890s and the 1970s gradually increased the controls on firearms, while in the late 1970s and 1990s significant increases in controls occurred. A 1996 study showed that Canada was in the mid-range of firearm ownership when compared with eight other western nations. Nearly 22% of Canadian households had at least one firearm, including 2.3% of households possessing a handgun.
The politics of firearms in Canada is largely polarized between two groups with diametrically opposed views. On one hand, there are those who advocate for a more "American-style" right-to-ownership, and object to the registration of their personal firearms and those of others. On the other hand, there are those who believe in "European-styled" rights, in which virtually all firearms are banned from personal ownership. Within the former group, there are many who believe that personal ownership of firearms is one of the best deterrents to robbery, assault, vandalism and crime in general; many see this debate as a "rural vs. urban" issue.
Regardless of individual opinions, Canadian law mandates firearm ownership as being primarily for sporting or recreational purposes (target shooting). In addition to specific business uses, the Firearms Act of 1995 provides only limited recognition of self-defence as a reason to acquire and/or possess a firearm in Canada. In extremely rare cases, a firearms licence can be issued for protection of life, with specific conditions of carry attached to the licence. Alternatively, a separate authorization to carry for protection of life may be issued to a licence holder; either of these situations would allow a firearm (acceptable to a firearms officer, i.e., forget about a .50 cal Desert Eagle), to be legally carried for protection. The Criminal Code allows reasonable use of force in self-defence; thus, while guns can rarely be aquired for self-defence, they can be used for as such in certain circumstances.
As of September 2010, the Canadian Firearms Program recorded a total of 1,831,327 valid firearm licences, which is roughly 5.4% of the Canadian population. The four most licensed provinces are Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.
 History of gun politics in Canada
- The Criminal Code of Canada enacted in 1892, required individuals to have a permit to carry a pistol unless the owner had cause to fear assault or injury. It was an offence to sell a pistol to anyone under 16. Vendors who sold handguns had to keep records, including purchaser's name, the date of sale and a description of the gun.
- In the 1920s, permits became necessary for all firearms newly acquired by foreigners.
- Legislation in 1934 required the registration of handguns with records identifying the owner, the owner's address and the firearm. Registration certificates were issued and records kept by the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) or by other police forces designated by provincial Attorneys General.
- In 1947, the offence of “constructive murder” was added to the Criminal Code for offences resulting in death, when the offender carried a firearm. This offence was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 1987 case called R. v. Vaillancourt
- Automatic weapons were added to the category of firearms that had to be registered in 1951. The registry system was centralized under the Commissioner of the RCMP.
- In 1969, Bill C-150 created categories of “non-restricted,” “restricted” and “prohibited” weapons. Police were also given preventive powers of search and seizure by judicial warrant if they had grounds to believe that weapons that belonged to an individual endangered the safety of society.
- In 1977, Bill C-51 required Firearms Acquisition Certificates (FACs) for the acquisition (but not possession) of all firearms and introduced controls on the selling of ammunition. FAC applicants were required to pass a basic criminal record check before being issued an FAC. Fully automatic weapons were also prohibited.
- In 1991, Bill C-17 tightened up restrictions and established controls on any firearms that had a military or paramilitary appearance. Legislation also made changes to the FAC system. FAC applicants were now required to pass a firearms safety course, pass a more thorough background check, and wait a minimum of 28 days after applying for an FAC before being issued one. Finally in addition to the above changes, laws were put into place that restricted ownership of high capacity magazines, limiting handguns to 10 rounds and most semi-automatic rifles to 5. The restrictions did not cover rimfire rifles or manual (e.g., bolt action) rifles. Provinces have the choice to opt-out of this regulation.
Finally in addition to the above changes, laws were put into place that restricted ownership of high-capacity magazines, limiting handguns to ten rounds and all semi-automatic centrefire rifles to 5. There were exceptions to the magazine capacity limit of some historically significant firearms such as the Lee-Enfield and M1 Garand. The restrictions did not cover rimfire rifles. The provinces have the choice to opt-out of administering the Firearms Act, but not magazine restrictions.
- In 1995, Bill C-68 introduced new, stricter, gun control legislation. The current legislation provides harsher penalties for crimes involving firearm use, licences to possess and acquire firearms, and registration of all firearms, including shotguns and rifles. This legislation was upheld by the Supreme Court in Reference re Firearms Act (2000). The FAC system was replaced with Possession Only Licences (POLs) and Possession and Acquisition Licences (PALs). Referring to Bill C-68, John Dixon, a former advisor to Deputy Minister of Justice John C. Tait, stated that the Firearms Act was not public safety policy, but rather an election ploy by the Liberal Party of Canada intended to help defeat Prime Minister Kim Campbell.
- In 2001, the registration portion of Bill C-68 was implemented. The government asks for all firearms, including long-guns (rifles and shotguns), to be registered.
- In 2003, the registration of long-guns becomes mandatory. Failure to register a firearm now results in criminal charges.
- As of 2006, while legislation is still in place, the government is no longer asking long gun owners for a registration fee and an amnesty (now extended until May 16, 2011) temporarily protects licensed owners of non-restricted firearms (or those whose licences have expired since January 1, 2004) from prosecution for the possession of unregistered long guns.
- In November 2009, Bill C-391 passed second reading in the House of Commons by a vote of 164 to 137. If passed through the entire parliamentary process by the House and Senate, the bill would abolish the requirement to register non-restricted long guns. While the proposed legislation was a private member's bill, it had the support of the Conservative government. The bill was referred to the House of Commons Committee on Public Safety for further action. However, after several months of stacked hearings, the Opposition majority on the committee recommended that no further action be taken to advance the bill. This negative recommendation did not necessarily stop progress on the bill, and a free vote on whether it should pass the House may still occur in fall 2010.
- As of September 2010 Bill C-391 failed to pass a third reading. (see: Bill C-391)
 Licensing of firearms owners
There are three classes of firearms and firearm licences: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Prohibited firearms are not actually prohibited, they simply require a prohibited licence to obtain. New prohibited licences are available only at the discretion of the Chief Firearms Officer of a province or the Federal Government of Canada.
- Non-restricted licences allow a person to own and use most semi-automatic and manual action rifles and shotguns, but no handguns. Rifles and shotguns that do not meet length requirements are classed as restricted. Some rifles and shotguns are classed as restricted by name.
- Restricted licences allow a person to own most handguns and some restricted semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. Handguns with barrels shorter than 104mm are classed as prohibited. Some handguns are classed as prohibited by name.
- Prohibited licences allow a person to own firearms classified as prohibited, including fully automatic firearms. Generally, these licences are not commonly available and may only be issued by the CFO of a province or the Federal Government. Otherwise, to possess one, the licence must be grandfathered as of December 1, 1998.
The license required to purchase and own a firearm in Canada is the Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL). This is the same license used for both restricted and non-restricted firearms with a small variation in the application. In order to be eligible to obtain a non-restricted PAL, the applicant must have completed and passed the Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC). For the restricted PAL (which includes handguns) the applicant must have passed both the CFSC and the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course (CRFSC). Most courses offer the CFSC or a combined course that includes both the CRFSC and the CFSC.
 Laws and regulation
By law, a potential customer must be 18 years of age or older to purchase a firearm or legally maintain possession of one. Citizens of Canada under the age of 18 but over the age of 12 may procure a Minor’s Licence which does not allow them to purchase a firearm but allows them to borrow a firearm unsupervised and purchase ammunition. Children under the age of 12 that are found to need a firearm to hunt or trap may also be awarded the Minor's Licence. This is generally reserved for children in remote locations, primarily aboriginal communities that engage in sustenance hunting.
Removable bullpup stocks are classified as prohibited devices. This regulation led to the RCMP classifying the stock of the Walther G22 rifle as prohibited while the internal components remained non-restricted. Purpose built bullpup firearms such as the PS-90 and IMI Tavor are not subject to this regulation since the stock is integral to their workings and is thus not removable.
By law, as of January 1, 2001, all firearms in Canada must legally be registered with the Canadian gun registry. In early 2006 the Conservative Party of Canada formed the 39th Canadian government and announced an amnesty period of one year (later extended by a further year) in which licensed or previously licensed long gun owners would not be punished for not registering their long guns. The legal requirement to register as set forth by law has not been revoked. Bill C-21, which would revoke the requirement to register long-guns, was introduced by the Government but was not brought to a vote. It was opposed by the Opposition parties who together had a majority of seats in the House of Commons. However, similar legislation (Bill C-301 and Bill C-391) has been brought forward in the 40th Parliament since the Conservative Government remains committed to the abolition of long-gun registration.
To purchase a handgun or other restricted firearms, a person must have a restricted licence and be a member of a certified range. To use restricted firearms a person must also obtain long term authorization to transport (LTATT) from their provincial Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) to move the firearm to and from the range. Short term authorization to transport (STATT) is required in most cases to move a firearm from a business to the owner's home, or when the owner wishes to change the address where the firearm is stored. Firearms can be shipped without an STATT by a bonded courier directly to an owner's home.
Semi-automatic center-fire rifles and shotguns have a maximum magazine capacity of five rounds. Lee-Enfield rifles and the M1 Garand are exempted from this requirement by name. There is no restriction of magazine capacity for rimfire rifles or manual action rifles and shotguns. All handguns have a maximum capacity of ten rounds.
The legal capacity of a specific magazine is determined by the firearm it was made for, not the firearm it is used in. The Beretta CX-4 uses a five round magazine that is otherwise identical to a ten round Beretta M92 magazine. The ten round M92 magazine can be legally used in the CX-4 since the magazine was manufactured for a pistol, not the rifle.
Canada's federal laws also restrict the ability of security guards to be armed. For example, section 17 of Firearms Act makes it an offence for any person, including a security guard, to possess prohibited or restricted firearms (i.e. handguns) anywhere outside of his or her home. There are two exceptions to this prohibition found in sections 18 and 19 of the Act. Section 18 states that a person may transport the firearm outside his or her home for certain limited reasons, such as going to and from a shooting range, to and from a training course or taking it in for repairs, but only if the person first obtains an authorization to do so; this authorization is referred to as an Authorization to Transport or ATT. However, section 11 of the Storage, Display, Transportation and Handling of Firearms by Individuals Regulations makes it clear that, while in transport, these firearms cannot be loaded and must also be stored in secure, locked containers and equipped with a trigger lock or other device that makes them impossible to fire. Section 19 of the Act then goes on to allow persons to carry such firearms on their persons to protect their lives or the lives of other persons, or if it is necessary for the performance of their occupation, but again an authorization to do so, referred to as an Authorization to Carry or ATC, must first be obtained. The Authorization to Carry Restricted Firearms and Certain Handguns Regulations provides that an Authorization to Carry will only be issued to persons for occupational reasons if they are protecting cash or other items of high value or need the firearm to protect themselves against wildlife because they are working in a remote wilderness area or are a trapper. Consequently, it is rare for Canadian security guards to be equipped with firearms with the exception being those who are employed by armoured car companies.
 Classification of firearms
Like licences, firearms are classified into non-restricted, restricted and prohibited categories. The classification of a firearm is based on its operating characteristics and capabilities, origin and developmental history. Firearms such as the AR-15 and all AK-47-derived sporting rifles are classified as 'restricted' and 'prohibited' respectively, whereas without the 'origin and development' criteria they would both be 'non-restricted'.
 Gun registry
- Main article: Canadian gun registry
It has been estimated that as many as five million gun-owning Canadians have not registered their firearms. As of June 2003, only 6.4 million firearms had been registered, despite a 1974 estimate of 10 million guns in Canada. In February 2003, the government announced plans to strengthen the administration of the gun control program. Two days before the election in May 2004, the government dropped all fees for transferring firearms.
Supporters of the firearms registry argue that it makes no sense to abandon the project midstream, effectively saying that good money should be thrown away after bad. Opponents point out that the massive error rate and the non-compliance by violent criminals with the legislation indicates there is little hope of future success. They further claim that their fears that registration would inevitably be used for confiscation of legally owned firearms have been proven by confiscation of some types of firearms and the promises made by the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois parties during the 2008 election campaign to prohibit certain types of semi-automatic firearms and all handguns.
The policy of the Conservative Government has been to work for the abolition of the long-gun registry within the constraints of a minority Government while introducing certain measures (such as a waiver on license renewal fees and an amnesty for those who may possess unregistered non-restricted firearms with a license or recently expired license) to ease the burdens on law abiding firearms owners. To date, the Conservative Government has not supported a ban on handguns as advocated by the other parties. Instead, the Government has argued that handguns are already tightly regulated and only available to licensed target shooters, collectors and those requiring them for the protection of life.
The gun control program continues to be supported at an estimated cost of $110 million per year. To date, while the Firearms Act and Regulation keeps track of legal firearms owners and provides criminal penalties for those who fail to keep the government advised of their current address, there is no registry of offenders who are prohibited from owning firearms or a requirement that they keep the government advised of their place of residence.
The Auditor General's report also found that there is a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of the gun registry, or to prove that it is meeting its stated goal of improving public safety. The report states:
The performance report focuses on activities such as issuing licences and registering firearms. The Centre does not show how these activities help minimize risks to public safety with evidence-based outcomes such as reduced deaths, injuries and threats from firearms.
Det. Randy Kuntz of the Edmonton Police Service polled police members from across Canada in 2009/2010 as to their stance on the gun registry. As of August 19, 2010, 92% of officers responding to his inquiries (2,410 out of 2,631) said the registry is useless as a crime fighting tool and many believe it poses a danger to police.Many of these police officers believe the money could be better spent on social programs or policing.
Also of note, individual police officers from across Canada were not offered the opportunity to voice their concerns prior to the CACP offering support for the registry, a move some officers have called "unfair" and "dictatorial". Historically, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has supported the registry. The National Firearms Association website and the Canadian Shooting Sports Association websites document the statistics quoted above at considerable length.
- Main article: Civilian Range Project
The storm of outrage and disgust among normally staid Canadian gun owners has, arguably, been a long time in the making but apparently was finally provoked by an April 7, 2009 press release from CACP Deputy Director General Steven Chabot, which began with the statement that "Canada’s police leaders have adopted twenty-five resolutions on firearms control, including support for the Firearms Act and registration of all firearms, in the interests of public and officer safety." If the opening statement were not insulting enough, the remainder of the release, in the word's of the NFA's Christopher di Armani, "reads as if it was written by Wendy Cukier."
The rationale behind the protest is simple and to the point: Every member of every Canadian agency that carries firearms must qualify with those firearms annually, or they are removed from active duty. If you can’t shoot, you can’t carry a gun, and telling the CACP and CPPA that front-line police officers are no longer welcome on private ranges because of their actions might just get their attention.
 Violent crime, suicide and accidents in Canada
Violent crime in Canada increased significantly between 1983 and 1995 due largely to the passage of Bill 127 rather than to an actual increase in violent crime.  The number of assault 1 charges (an assault not involving a weapon or causing serious physical injury) increased 85% and the number of sexual assault 1 (an assault with only minor physical injuries or no injuries to the victim) charges increased by 250%. Other violent crimes either declined or remained stable.  Violent crime has decreased since 1993.
The rate of homicide in Canada peaked in 1975 at 3.03 per 100,000 and has dropped since then, reaching lower peaks in 1985 (2.72 per 100,000) and 1991 (2.69 per 100,000) while declining to 1.73 per 100,000 in 2003. The average murder rate between 1970 and 1976 was 2.52, between 1977 and 1983 it was 2.67, between 1984 and 1990 it was 2.41, between 1991 and 1997 it was 2.23 and between 1998 to 2004 it was 1.82. The number of homicides as a percentage of the number attempted homicides has increased. 
Spousal homicide rates have fallen significantly as well. For females in a relationship the rate of homicide fell from 1.65 per 100,000 in 1974 to 0.71 per 100,000 in 2004 while for males in a relationship the rate dropped from 0.44 per 100,000 in 1974 to 0.14 per 100,000 in 2004. 
While the homicide rate using firearms dropped by over half from 1977, homicide rate using other methods declined less sharply. The firearm homicide rate was 1.15 per 100,000 in 1977 and dropped to 0.50 in 2003 while the non-firearm rate went from 1.85 per 100,000 to 1.23 per 100,000 in the same time period.
Shootings generally account for around 30% of homicides in Canada, with stabbings generally equal or lower except in 1995, 1998, 2002, 2004 in which there were more stabbings than shootings.
The number firearm suicides in Canada dropped from a high of 1287 in 1978 to a low of 568 in 2004 while the number of non-firearm suicides increased from 2,046 in 1977 to 3,116 in 2003.
The total accidental death rate in Canada was 27.9 per 100,000 in 2000. Included in that total is the death rate from transportation - including motor vehicles, water craft and other land transports - which stood at 10.2 per 100,000. Also included are non-transport deaths, with a rate of 17.7 per 100,000. Of non-transport accidents, the 'unspecified accident' category stood at the highest with a rate of 7.7 per 100,000. After that, falls accounted for the next largest group with a rate of 5.1 per 100,000. Accidental poisonings were next with a rate of 3.1 per 100,000. Accidental firearm deaths stood at 0.1 per 100,000 in 2000. 
 Complex political situation
In Canada, gun control is frequently painted by gun control advocates as being "more of a rural versus urban issue." This despite the fact that urban Canadian gun owners are just as disgusted with current firearms regulations as rural residents.
Different police bodies and the role of provincial jurisdictions in gun law application further complicate gun politics in Canada. Ontario and Quebec (accounting for more than half the population) had very strict provincial firearm registration systems long before the latest federal laws. These provinces have a history of gun control while other provinces do not.
Although firearms laws are all officially controlled by the federal government which should create an identical situation across the country, the role of provincial governments in implementing those laws complicates this matter. Provinces are also free to opt-in to adminster the program provincially, currently half is administer federally and half provincially (see CFP for more information).
Bill C-68 makes it a criminal offense to possess an unregistered firearm or possess a firearm without a licence, but prosecution under the bill is the jurisdiction of provincial crown prosecutors. For reasons of cost or public opinion all provinces except Quebec have refused to prosecute people for these charges effectively nullifying the law for simple possession offenses. Also, since provincial CFOs are responsible for issuing Authorization to Transport and Authorization to Carry and can issue firearm licences themselves, access to and the use of firearms can differ between provinces.
Firearms have become an important political issue in Canada since the Liberal Party's proposal and later passage of Bill C-68. The Conservative Party's 2006 election platform included ending the registration of long guns while in the same election the Liberal Party's included a total ban on handguns. David Miller, the mayor of Toronto, also called for a total ban on handguns after several high profile gang-related shootings in the Greater Toronto Area. Supporters of a total ban on handguns say it will reduce the number of formerly-legal stolen handguns available to criminals thereby reducing violence, and question the utility and safety of allowing private ownership of handguns in the first place. Critics say the majority of handguns used in crime are smuggled in from the United States thus banning handguns in Canada will make no difference to the supply, and that legal owners should not be effectively punished because of the acts of criminals.
The national long-gun registry continues to be a source of debate. Critics point to the high cost, numerous holes in and security breaches of the registry files and the limited utility of the registry to police. Supporters contend the registry is useful to police and aids in the tracking and recovery of stolen long-guns.
|Nature of death||2000||2001||2002||2003||2004||2005||2006||2007||2008|
|The average annual portion of gun deaths that are suicides is 75.7% overall; 77.9% for males, 46.8% for females. (Additional analysis can be found here)|
|Method used||Total||Sex of victim|
|Female victims||Male victims|
- "Canadian Firearms Program Implementation Evaluation" Department of Justice Canada. April, 2003.
- In a study of gun ownership in selected western nations, Canada's level of gun ownership (21.8%) was similar to France's (23.8%) and Sweden's (16.6%). Of the eight countries compared, firearm ownership was highest in the United States (48.6%) and lowest in the Netherlands (2%)."Firearms in Canada and Eight Other Western Countries: Selected Findings of the 1996 International Crime (Victim) Survey" Canada Firearms Centre. Accessed: 2007-10-13.
- Gary A. Mauser, Ph D, "Armed self defense: the Canadian case" Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol 24, No 5, pp 393-406, 1996
- Facts and Figures Rcmp-grc.gc.ca 2010-11-01
- "History of Firearms Control in Canada: Up to and Including the Firearms Act" Canadian Firearms Centre. Accessed: June 3, 2006.
- "Statistics Canada - Catalogue no. 85-002-XPE Vol. 21 no. 9 Homicide in Canada - 2000"
- "A Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" The Globe and mail. January 8, 2003.
- "Tories give long guns a break." Globe and Mail, May 17, 2006
- "PAL and Firearms Safety Training" Canadian Firearms Center. June 7, 2007. Accessed January 24, 2008.
- "Regulations for possession of firearms by Users Younger than 18" Canadian Firarms Center.
- While Canadian law does permit for a citizen to obtain a permit to carry for protection of one's own life, a 2009 request by the Canadian Association for Self Defence showed that in Ontario (population 12.9 million), only 13 such permits had been issued. On paper, you're allowed to defend yourself; in practice, it's one in a million. Source: CASD website (registration required)
- canada.com news story
- Randy Kuntz, Why does the CACP support the Firearms Registry? Gun Owners' Resource, 4-28-09
- CSSA, "Officer's survey finds 92% of police want gun registry scrapped." August 19, 2010
- Christopher di Armani, "A Line in the Sand" Canadian Firearms Journal, June/July 2009
- FORUM on Corrections Research: Violent crime trends in Canada since 1983, Correctional Service of Canada 2007-12-28
- CRIME STATISTICS IN CANADA, 1999
- Homicide in Canada, 2005, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics
- Crime Statistics in Canada, 2004, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics
- Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2006, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics
- Suicide in Canada: Update of the Report of the Task Force on Suicide in Canada, Health Canada, 1994
- Statistics Canada: Suicides and suicide rate, by sex and by age group 2009-03-30
- Statistics Canada: Deaths by selected grouped causes, sex and geography — Canada 2007-04-27
- Statistics Canada: Mortality, summary list of causes 2006-03-01
- Statistics Canada. Table 102-0551 - Deaths and mortality rate, by selected grouped causes, age group and sex, Canada, annual, CANSIM (database).
- Actual terms used in the StatsCan report are "Accidental discharge of firearms;" "Assault (homicide) by discharge of firearms;" "Discharge of firearms, undetermined intent;" and "Intentional self-harm (suicide) by discharge of firearms."
- 2008 data is taken from Statistics Canada Table 102-0540 - Deaths, by cause, Chapter XX: External causes of morbidity and mortality (V01 to Y89), age group and sex, Canada, annual (number), CANSIM (database).
- Table 5.4: Known causes of death among spousal relationships by sex, 1998 to 2007. 85-224-XWE, Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile; Statistics Canada website.
- National Firearms Association
- lufa.ca: the Law-abiding Unregistered Firearms Association
- Canadian Shooting Sports Association
- Coalition for Gun Control
- Canada's Gun Laws For Americans
- Canadian Firearm and Gun Information
- Canadian Gun Laws