Gun Control: An Analysis of Bill C -17
by Heidi Rathjen
There's no denying it: recent measures by the Minister of Justice to improve gun control in Canada through Bill C- 17 are a step in the right direction, and will help save many lives in the upcoming years.
But as tempting as it may be for supporters of gun control to sit down and savor their victory, it would be foolish to consider the battle over and done with. Not only could the recently released regulations be markedly improved, but the legislation itself is still silent on many critical issues.
The most glaring omission is the Minister's failure to ban military assault weapons, even though over half a million people called for such a move in one of the largest petitions in Canadian history. While a few of these firearms are now prohibited, the vast majority are merely restricted which means they will still be available to the public but have to be registered and cannot be used for hunting. This includes the deadly AK-47 which has been featured prominently in "Rambo" movies and by the military in the 1990 Oka crisis; as for the Ruger Mini-14 made infamous by the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, it is not even on the list, and remains treated as a regular hunting rifle.
In fact, the 200 weapons that Minister Campbell announced would now be restricted is not much of a change from the status quo, as all weapons with barrel lengths under 460 mm were already in the category. The majority of Canadians, including a great number of gun owners, would agree that these weapons are not appropriate for "civilian" uses such as target practice, as most of them are designed to spray bullets rather than hit precise objects. Since this kind of firepower cannot be justified in the hands of civilians, these guns should be banned altogether, even if this only applied to future sales and importation. That they aren't is particularly ironic, given how swiftly the Minister moved to ban comparatively innocuous stun guns.
The other weaknesses of the legislation are, to say the least, disquieting. The law now requires two references on applications for Firearm Acquisition Certificates, and adds optional community checks for rifle and shotgun owners. However, aside from spouses and co-workers, the list of allowed references includes professionals such as dentists and bank officers and there is no guarantee that the selected people will have personal knowledge of the applicant's character. Physicians and specialists in family violence have maintained that at least one reference ought to be a family member, but this recommendation was ignored. It is true that, in theory, community checks could supplement the references and help the police root out people with violent or irresponsible history from the crowd of would-be gun owners. But since these investigations are optional, they will likely be curtailed by budgetary constraints. They should have been mandatory, with cost recovery built into the fee structure.