Considering Potential Changes to Existing Gun Laws

“Gun owners convicted of domestic assault-related crimes would also be at greater risk of losing their guns, as judges would be given more discretion to remove guns in the case of certain offences.”

  • Gun owners may face less red tape, new responsibilities under proposed law, By Catherine Cullen, CBC News, Last Updated: Jul 23, 2014 4:08 PM ET

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney recently announced that his Government was adding new responsibilities to gun owners. Now, from what has been said and depending on the way the legislation is worded, there are some aspects of a new law that make sense.

For example, the Government is proposing to streamline the process required to transport weapons. Presently, many gun owners find that they run into problems when they take their guns across provincial lines. The reason is simple: a gun owner needs to have taken various courses and inform the provincial Chief Firearms Officers that they will take their guns across provincial lines. If one lives in Ottawa-Gatineau or Lloydminster, the truth is that crossing provincial lines might just be a 30 minute ride and get you to a better hunting ground. Consequently, when some hunters make a fast trip across provincial lines, they get in trouble with the law. Accordingly, merging licenses and requiring every gun owner to take the necessary safety courses just makes sense and the Harper government should be congratulated for proposing those changes.

However, some changes are purely “window-dressing”. Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, for example, has suggested that the government will make it harder for convicted spousal abusers to maintain weapons. While I favour the Spousal Abuse Preventions, without some form of gun registry, those safeguards are almost unenforceable. For without an accurate record of who owns which guns, how can a judge or police officer know if they have seized all of the guns to enforce the law?

Think about it. When a drunk driver losses his right to own a car, a couple of things happen. Firstly, he loses his car and his licence. Given that he no longer has his licence, he will not be able to get property insurance unless or until a court reverses the restrictions. All of these actions themselves have consequences. For if one cannot present a drivers licence or proof of insurance, this mythical driver would not be able to buy a new car or rent a car because dealers and rental agencies verify one’s insurance and current driver’s status. This process is so simple that even a friend can verify your driving status before they lend you their car. This is the value of registration.

Because all cars are registered, it is possible to restrict the use of 99.99+% of the actions of most car drivers. Accordingly, the registration of cars creates a culture of responsibility surrounding the treatment of cars and their use. Or put differently, I don’t want to lose the privilege of using a car, so I will act in a way that ensures that I will not have to pay more for my insurance or pay huge legal costs to retain my privilege of driving a car. I will drive close to the speed limit; and I will not drink and drive; and I will not lend my car to an irresponsible driver. In the same vein, the new restrictions will likely not have the desired effect because the Harper Government has done everything in its power to ensure governments have no evidence or trail of gun ownership in Canada. In 2012, for example, the head of the Mounties warned “chief firearms officers in the provinces and territories not to create their own lists of long-gun owners now that the federal government has scrapped its registry.” (Ontario ignores RCMP order to halt ‘backdoor’ gun-registry efforts, by Karen Howlett and Gloria Galloway, The Globe and Mail, Published Friday, May. 11 2012, 11:48 AM EDT, Last updated Monday, Sep. 10 2012, 2:02 PM EDT) Therefore, unlike the effect of the many existing car registries, by not registering guns the government will ensure that the culture of responsibility will be comparatively weak. Consequently, the changes are window-dressing.

While we can look to the US for examples, I choose to look at our own history. In 2005, in Mayerthorpe, four RCMP officers were killed by James Roszko. Instead of using guns on his property to commit the act, Mr. Roszko obtained guns from Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman. Or put differently, Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman likely felt little compunction to be responsible with guns that they owned because there was little cost for irresponsible gun use. The new laws will not improve that situation.

Ever since its election, the Harper Government has tried to ensure that there would be no such record. Just think about it. In 2012, after the Tories got rid of the Long Gun Registry, the Harper Government tried to move against the provincial Chief Firearms Officers. In fact, Ontario and Quebec took the federal government to task. In fact, Karen Howlett and Gloria Galloway reported the following: “Until the Harper government makes its intentions clear, Mr. McGuinty told reporters in Ottawa, Ontario plans to continue collecting information from firearms dealers through a ledger set up by all the provinces in 1978, a practice that predates the long-gun registry.” (Ontario ignores RCMP order to halt ‘backdoor’ gun-registry efforts, by Karen Howlett and Gloria Galloway, The Globe and Mail, Published Friday, May. 11 2012, 11:48 AM EDT, Last updated Monday, Sep. 10 2012, 2:02 PM EDT). Or put differently, if the imposition of fines and seizure ensures that car owners are responsible, why can’t judges or police officers have the same tools to enforce gun ownership?

Some might argue against judges or police officers having the same tools over guns as they do over cars. For example, some might argue that it would cost too much. However, that is not true and I know this because I have an example. California is the only state in the United States “that identifies people who are prohibited from having a gun and then sends agents out to knock on their door”. Since 2007, California officials have had to collect names “from court records, medical facilities and lists of known or wanted criminals, then cross-referenced them against the federal instant criminal background check system for gun-buyers. The list is updated every day.” Unlike a registry, the system is “tedious, expensive and time-consuming work, requiring hours of background checks and cross-referencing even before the agents hit the streets”. (One By One, California Agents Track Down Illegally Owned Guns, by Richard Gonzales,, August 20, 2013 2:56 AM ET )

The problem, though, is the system is also expensive. “The California state legislature passed a bill Thursday approving $24 million to expedite the confiscation of the estimated 40,000 handguns and assault weapons illegally owned by Californians.” (California Gun Confiscation Bill Passes, Approves $24 Million To Expedite Illegal Gun Seizure, Posted: 04/19/2013 4:38 pm EDT, Updated: 08/20/2013 4:33 pm EDT)

Compare that to the report that the Harper Government commissioned. While the Gun Registry was expensive to create, “the 2009 analysis for the RCMP by Peter Hall of the management consulting firm Pleiad Canada Inc., found that scrapping the long-gun registry would save between $1,570,000 and $4,025,000 a year.” (Cost of long-gun registry a fraction of what Tories claim, report shows by Gloria Galloway, the Globe and Mail, Published Sunday, Nov. 21 2010, 6:44 PM EST). Even taking into account, inflation rates, exchange rates and other economic factors, one can see that a gun registry is at least six times cheaper than the alternative.

Others might argue about the invasion of privacy. However, I would note that the Conservative Government has extended the powers of the RCMP, CSIS, CSEC and the Canada Revenue Agency while they have been in power. Through various Justice Ministers, the Conservatives have intruded in small and large ways alike. From the elimination of spousal immunity to permanent loss of the presumption of silence and/or pre-emptive arrest in some terrorism cases, this Harper Government has done more since at least the FLQ Crisis – if not since Confederation – to diminish individual rights in Canada. Consequently, it is easy to say that an invasion of privacy argument would be rich in this environment.

With that being said, I don’t believe that we should have to ask a simple question: why a suspect who shouldn’t have had guns got guns in the first place. In a piece for Mother Jones Magazine, Hannah Levintova and Dana Liebelson delved into that question. They were looking at an American Domestic Abuser and his ability to hold on to his guns. (Why the Suspected Texas Shooter’s Domestic-Violence History Didn’t Keep Him From Owning Guns, By Hannah Levintova and Dana Liebelson, Mother Jones Magazine, Thu Jul. 10, 2014 8:44 PM EDT) In reading that piece, one thing became clear: treating guns as a special property or asset class is always doomed to failure. This is true for only one reason: sometimes good people do bad things.

That is why we have licenses. Going back to the Doomsday Book, Registration has worked for over 1,000 years to deal with all sorts of issues. They allow police officers to easily identify which government granted privileges we have. Stock brokers, insurance agents, lawyers, doctors and dentists all are granted licences from provinces. For those who don’t know, licences are a form of registration. So all drivers are registered and so are their cars. All hunters are registered. Oh and all houses are registered; because if you didn’t know, a Title Deed to a house is a form of government registration. In putting forward this piece of legislation, the Conservatives will show that a gun registry is required to ensure that a spouse has all of his registered guns removed.

Now, for any critics, it is true that a gun owner could get unregistered guns – either from the street or by not registering guns. As I have shown earlier, Mayerthorpe is an incident where a bad man committed an illegal act with guns that were not his own. While all of that is true, we also know – using car registration as an example – that those incidents would be much reduced with registration. Just as a police officer stands by the side of the road creating speed traps; or just as the Harper Government argues that more information collected about terrorists would reduce our risk of a terrorist attack; I will argue that more information about gun ownership would assist in the reduction of gun related deaths.

Furthermore, through the awarding of Gold Medals in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, for various firearms and target disciplines, to England and Australia, one can see that Gun Culture does not die when heavy gun restrictions are added to it. It adapts. So, while it is true that this is a controversial stance, the facts bare out that some reduction in individual liberty will not only protect more citizens but will also protect society. Such an argument surely bares out the balance of providing the greatest happiness to the greatest number without falling into the trap of delivering a tyranny to the majority. For gun owners would still get the right to own guns, they would just be limited in their use and the Government would be able to enforce restrictions like its Spousal Abuse Prevention scheme properly. We know we have a problem, so I believe we should act. So since Voltaire noted that “All men have equal rights to liberty, to their property, and to the protection of the laws”, we should follow Conservative Edmund Burke words – “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” – and act by creating spousal abuse controls and a registry that can enforce them.

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