The screening process for restricted weapons does include some community checks, and has always been more rigorous - and therefore more expensive. But while the fees required for rifle and shotgun certificates have been increased, the restricted weapons permits are still free! Since gun owning is a privilege, not a right, applicants should at the very least pay for the costs of the procedure, instead of leaving it all to the taxpayers.
The new storage requirements will not necessarily keep someone's guns out of the hands of unauthorized parties. Locking either the trigger or the gun case is of little value if the key or combination is accessible. And the alternative of removing the firing mechanism, an option which was added to accommodate gun collectors, will not prevent theft, and gun components are readily available even through mail order.
High-capacity magazines may now be illegal, but exceptions are provided for a number of competitions which have yet to be defined, as well as for specific weapons like the .22 calibre rifle, which just happens to be one of the most common firearms found in Canadian households.
Right now, only restricted firearms like handguns and assault weapons have to be registered. However, most homicides, accidents and suicides involve rifles and shotguns, which are not registered and no one knows who owns them. Given that we register all cars and, in most cities, all dogs, it would hardly be an extraordinary requirement. This procedure would not greatly inconvenience legitimate gun owners, but it would reduce criminal uses: stolen weapons become traceable, and police could more easily enforce prohibition orders if they know how many guns an individual owns. Also, officers on their way to violent family disputes would be better informed of the risks; when one considers that 47% of the women killed by spouses are shot, this type of information is far from trivial.
Permits for restricted weapons are presently valid until the end of time - even if the reason for which they were granted has ceased to exist. For instance, target shooters can let their membership in a gun club lapse and still keep their permit, even though they were supposed to use their firearm only in that specific context; there are no controls on ammunition sales - which is odd, because it would be extremely simple to show one's permit upon each transaction. This little gesture would make it much more difficult to get ammunition for illegal guns.
Finally, while significant resources are being devoted to publicizing the new law to gun-owners, very little public education is being done. Given the aggressive efforts of the gun lobby to promote arming as a measure of self-protection for the public (with a lot of help from popular American culture), this is sorely needed.
All this being said, the changes achieved by Minister Campbell are impressive, especially when one considers the enormous pressure applied on all the MPs by the gun lobby during the last two years. Support from the general public has played a crucial role in getting even minimal modifications adopted. This outcry shouldn't stop now that a few improvements have been thrown our way.
By their own admission, the groups opposed to Bill C-17 have just hired even more lobbyists. They are planning to challenge the law in court, and they have taken over riding associations across the country in an effort to run pro-gun candidates. The victories of the gun control supporters may very well be short-lived. Increasing our vigilance is the price we have to pay to avoid a similar yearly slaughter which the United States government so happily chooses to ignore.
Heidi Rathjen is the executive director of the Coalition for Gun Control. For more information, contact the Coalition at 3175 Cote Ste-Catherine Road, #7707, Montreal (Québec) H3T 1C5, (514)345-4992.