Controlling Gun Violence: An Introduction to Bill C-71 and Gun Control in Canada

Gun control is a hot button issue right now thanks to thousands of kids in the US. On March 24th, 2018, high schoolers, parents, and teachers across America took the trauma of surviving or hearing about school shootings and turned it into righteous anger at the people who govern them. They marched on Washington in numbers that made the Orange Egotist’s inauguration look like a One Direction concert on a school night.

The demands of the marchers were simple ones: stop taking money from people who value guns over lives. Make assault weapons less accessible to those who want to turn their anger on the world around them. Stop ranting about the importance of child safety while doing nothing to ensure it.

They recognize that their government is too well compensated by the gun-obsessed losers in the US and that dramatic action is needed. They want background checks, and licensing, and all sorts of other measures to ensure that dangerous people do not get access to guns.

What they are asking for is what we Canadians consider to be the bare minimum. On March 21, 2018, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale introduced Bill C 71 which would beef up Canada’s existing gun control legislation.

This article is going to give you a crash course on gun control in Canada, specifically with regards to individual rights to gun possession.

Gun control is governed primarily by two laws: The Canadian Firearms Act and the Canadian Criminal Code. They define different kinds of weapons under Canadian law and set out rules regarding which weapons are legal in Canada and under what circumstances.

The Canadian Criminal Code defines a weapon as anything used, designed to be used, or intended for use in causing the death or injury to any person, or for the purpose of intimidating them. This includes firearms and anything used, designed to be used, or intended to be used to bind or tie someone up against their will.

That said, not all weapons in Canada require a license.

Only firearms, prohibited firearms, restricted firearms and weapons, and prohibited devices require a license under Canadian law.

A prohibited firearm is any handgun with a barrel equal to or less than 105mm in length and is designed to discharge a 25 or 32 caliber bullet. Prohibited firearms also include sawed off shotguns and automatic weapons.

Prohibited weapons include switchblades or any other knife with a blade that can open via hand pressure to a button or other mechanism, as well as any other weapon considered prohibited but which is not a firearm.

A prohibited device includes any part of or accessory to a weapon that is considered prohibited. It also includes handgun barrels equal to or less 105mm in length, with an exception allowed for competitive sport shooting weapons required by the rules of the International Shooting Union. Anything used to silence, muffle, or stop the report of a firearm is also considered a prohibited device.

A restricted firearm includes any handgun not considered a prohibited firearm and has a barrel less than 470 mm in length. It also has to be capable of discharging ammunition in a semi automatic way.

Restricted weapons are any weapon considered as such that is not a firearm. Crossbows generally fall into this category (apologies to any medieval weapon enthusiasts).

In order to have access to any such weapons, you have to apply for a licence as per the Federal Firearms Act. You are considered ineligible for a licence if in the interests of the safety it is best you not possess a weapon or ammunition.

It is generally up the chief firearms officer named by the Federal Public Safety Minister or a provincial court judge to decide eligibility. In determining applications for licenses, they generally look at the following criteria and whether or not these apply over the last five years prior to the application:

  • Have you ever been convicted of or received a discharge for offenses in which violence against a person was attempted, used, or threatened?
  • Have you ever been convicted of or received a discharge for firearms or other weapons offenses?
  • Have you ever been convicted of criminal harassment?
  • Have you ever been convicted of certain drug related offenses?
  • Have you ever been treated at a hospital, mental health institute, or psychiatric clinic for a mental illness that was associated with threatened or attempted violence (this fact is looked at regardless of whether or not an applicant was confined at the aforementioned treatment facilities)?
  • Is there is a court mandated prohibition order barring you from possession a weapon?

Once these criteria are assessed, a person must successfully undergo the “Canadian Firearms Safety Course” for the class of weapon for they want a license for and pass the corresponding exam. They also must fill out forms and provide character references.

The more dangerous the weapon for which a license is being requested, the more likely the references will be checked. Firearms themselves have to be registered with the Firearms Registrar.

It must be noted that the Firearms Act does have exceptions including those rights guaranteed as per existing aboriginal or treaty rights.

Bill C 71 proposes a few changes to the Canadian Firearms Act and the Criminal Code.

The new law proposes to do away with the five-year limit on criteria for licenses set out in the Firearms Act. It also requires that any firearms seized by or surrendered to peace officers due to a prohibition order be automatically forfeited to the Crown unless the order specifies otherwise. The remaining rules pertain primarily to grandfather clauses written into the Firearms Act in order to protect those legally possessing firearms at the time the law was put into force.

If the law is passed, C 71 will come into force in the summer of 2018. The law is likely to pass because unlike the leaders to the south, Canadians care about protecting each other from gun violence.

* Featured image by Steve Rainwater via Wikimedia Commons

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