Ministers appear unfazed by Senate changes to federal gun bill

OTTAWA — Federal ministers played down notions Tuesday that Senate committee amendments to the Liberals’ gun bill would hobble the legislation.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale suggested the government’s intentions for Bill C-71 will be reflected in the final version of the legislation, despite efforts by Conservative senators to cut provisions they say penalize law-abiding gun owners.

The government bill introduced last year would expand the scope of background checks on those who want to acquire guns.

Instead of just the five years immediately preceding a licence application, personal history questions would cover the applicant’s entire lifetime.

The bill would also force gun retailers to keep records of firearms inventory and sales, and require the purchaser of a hunting rifle or shotgun to present a firearms licence, while the seller would have to ensure its validity.

The legislation has been criticized by gun-control advocates as too weak, while some firearms owners have called the bill an attempt to revive the ill-fated long-gun registry.

A Senate committee adopted changes Monday that would remove the requirement for lifetime background checks, drop proposed restrictions on transporting restricted or prohibited firearms, and retain political oversight of firearm classification decisions.

“While this legislation remains weak and needlessly penalizes some lawful firearms owners, Conservative senators believe that these amendments provide some measure of improvement,” said Tory Sen. Don Plett.

“Conservatives believe in focusing gun-control efforts on combating the criminal use of firearms, targeting cross-border firearms smuggling and on measures that will genuinely enhance public safety without gratuitously targeting lawful firearms owners.”

Independent Sen. Andre Pratte said the committee’s changes considerably weakened the bill. ”I hope that the full Senate will defeat these amendments,” he tweeted. “Public safety depends on it.”

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale echoed the sentiment Tuesday.

“What has just happened is obviously not helpful but the process is not done yet, and I look forward to a more positive outcome at the end.”

If the full Senate adopts changes to the legislation, those amendments would have to be considered in the House of Commons, setting off ”the ping pong back and forth” between the two chambers, Goodale said.

Such exchanges have already taken place on other bills, with the government effectively winning the day, he suggested. “This is kind of like watching sausage being made, and it’s not over till it’s over.”

Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair also seemed unfazed. “We look forward to the Senate completing its work … so that that bill can go forward.”

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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