Half a job no job at all for gun owners

by Danielle Smith

PUBLICATION:  Calgary Herald
DATE:  2006.07.04
SECTION:  The Editorial Page
COLUMN:  Danielle Smith
BYLINE:  Danielle Smith
SOURCE:  For The Calgary Herald

Half a job no job at all for gun owners

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day called me last week to say I got it wrong in my last column, which accused his government of breaking its promise to "Scrap Bill C-68."

I wrote the government has betrayed gun owners because Day's initiative will only scrap the gun registry -- which requires gun owners to register every single gun they own. However, it will not scrap the registry of gun owners -- the law requiring every gun owner to have a licence and continue to be registered and tracked in a central database.

Gun owners asked for an end to both. After all, everyone knows criminals aren't going to register their guns. Well, they aren't going to rush out and get licences, either.

But, in his letter to the editor yesterday, the minister confirmed his government would kill the gun registry but keep on registering gun owners. They plan for "a more efficient licensing system without the costly and burdensome five-year renewal requirement."

Why does this matter?

When a firearms licence expires after five years, it renders a gun owner a criminal merely for failing to have a piece of paper. So, the new law will require owners to get a licence just once. Since it will last a lifetime without the need for renewal, the Tories say, it will get rid of one of the problems of the registry.

Unfortunately, since the Tories are not making good on their promise to return the gun laws to the way they were before, many gun owners will continue to face jail time for a paper crime.

Just last week in Barrie, Ont. a gun owner who accidentally let his licence expire in December 2003, was in a courtroom facing 28 criminal charges, mainly for unauthorized possession under section 91 of the Firearms Act.

He is not covered by Day's amnesty.

And what about the estimated one million to three million gun owners who so object to the Liberal gun control scheme, they don't intend to get a licence at all?

These gun owners purchased guns under the old system. Prior to 1995, a person simply needed a Firearms Acquisition Certificate if they wanted to buy a gun. They needed to take a firearms safety course and submit to a criminal background check to make the purchase. Once they owned it, that was it.

But when Bill C-68 passed, it made gun ownership illegal. A gun owner who had acquired his guns legally with an FAC, now has to jump through new hoops to get a licence in order to be permitted to keep them.

This happened to Bruce Montague, a gunsmith in Dryden, Ont., who is a member of the Canadian Unregistered Firearm Owners Association. Montague does not have a licence, and he now faces 53 charges for unauthorized possession after his home was raided in September 2004. He is scheduled to go to trial this year -- again for little more than a paperwork crime.

For a first-time gun owner, it may seem like there is no difference between the old system of getting a certificate and the new system of getting a lifetime licence. But to a person who has owned guns for decades, they feel it is unnecessary red tape -- which the Conservatives promised an end to. These gun owners think we should be tracking the 200,000 criminals who are prohibited from owning firearms, not law-abiding target shooters and duck hunters.

I agree.

If both licensing and registering were completely dismantled, as the Tories promised, no government would dare the wrath of taxpayers by trying to implement the costly scheme again.

However, if the Conservatives don't repeal the licensing laws, when the Liberals get back in power (one day, they will,) they could easily bring the whole system back.

If the government maintains the centralized list of gun owners -- which is responsible for the bulk of the $1 billion gun registry cost so far - -- all the Liberals would have to do is convert Day's lifetime licences to five-year licences and pass a law requiring guns to be registered once again.

The ease with which the laws could be changed back may be the primary selling feature to pass the bill in a minority Parliament, but it is no comfort to gun owners.

Unless the licensing is abolished, too, law-abiding gun owners know they will be back in the sights of lawmakers the next time the government changes hands.


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