Feds tout gun legislation as workable middle ground

Both proponents and opponents of gun control don’t like the new bill

There’s an old political adage that if critics on both sides of an issue don’t like a government policy then it may have struck the right balance.

The government’s tightening of weapon registration and background checks included in a bill tabled in Parliament has miffed both stricter gun control supporters as well as gun-owner groups.

Vowing it will not bring back the federal long-gun registry, the government said its proposals will tackle rising rates of crimes involving guns while respecting the rights of lawful gun owners.

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The bill requires retailers to keep records of firearms inventory and sales for at least 20 years to assist police in investigating gun trafficking and other criminal offences. A purchaser of a hunting rifle or shotgun will have to present a firearms licence while the vendor will be required to ensure it’s valid.

Background checks of people seeking a firearms licence will have to undergo backgrounds covering their entire lifetime. They are to specifically look for offences related to the use of firearms, treatment for mental illnesses or incidents of violent behaviour.

The RCMP would be responsible for classifying guns as non-restricted, restricted or prohibited without any cabinet overrule.

There are also rules requiring authorizations whenever restricted or prohibited guns are moved through the community, except between a residence and an approved shooting range, the government said. The rules for transporting unrestricted weapons remain the same as now.

However, there was nothing in the announcement about stemming the flow of illegal weapons into the country, which is often cited as the source of guns used by criminal gangs.

That’s what the government says it’s concerned about. Drawing on StatsCan data, it said, “There were 2,465 criminal violations involving firearms in 2016, an increase of 30 per cent since 2013. Gun homicides were up by two-thirds — from 134 in 2013 to 223 in 2016. Cases of intimate partner violence involving a firearm as reported to the police in 2016 numbered nearly 700 — up by a third since 2013.

There are more than 500 gun-related suicides each year, often among young people. Incidents of breaking and entering for the purpose of stealing firearms rose from 516 in 2013 to 804 in 2016. The majority of firearms owned by Canadians are non-restricted, typically long guns such as hunting rifles and shotguns. In 2016, it is noteworthy that 31 per cent of all firearms-related homicides — where the firearm was recovered — involved a firearm that did not require registration.

These numbers come as overall crime rates have fallen.

Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen and the party’s public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus said the legislation “contains no new measures to combat gang violence in Surrey, gun violence in the GTA and escalating crime rates in our rural communities.”

“Liberals cannot be trusted when it comes to firearms legislation because they fail to tackle criminals who use guns to commit violent crime, meanwhile they treat law-abiding firearms owners as criminals,” they said. The government needs to focus “on the criminal element behind firearms violence.”

Wendy Cukier, a longtime advocate of tougher gun laws, called the bill “an important first step with this new gun legislation, including reintroducing stronger licensing provisions and controls on sales of firearms.”

However, she said, “Stronger measures are desperately needed. While much of the focus has been on handguns, a rifle or a shotgun in the hands of angry or disturbed individuals can also have tragic consequences.”

Her Coalition for Gun Control criticized the former Harper government for ending the registration of unrestricted firearms and destroyed the background data on six million firearms.

On the other side, the National Firearms Association accused the government of trying to revive the registry through the proposed record-keeping provisions. “This is a return to universal registration,” Blair Hagen, the organization’s vice-president, told reporters.

Last year, the government announced an investment of $327.6 million over five years beginning in 2018-19, rising to $100 million per year thereafter, to support provincial and community-based initiatives to deal more effectively with guns and gangs.

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