Gun criticism off-target

The heated debate on the Conservatives’ plans to scrap the long-barrel gun registry is clouded by misinformation and lack of knowledge. Many Canadians who don’t own firearms don’t know the gun laws. And why should they?

The heated debate on the Conservatives’ plans to scrap the long-barrel gun registry is clouded by misinformation and lack of knowledge.

Many Canadians who don’t own firearms don’t know the gun laws. And why should they?

And some vocal opponents who claim to know the laws at times veer off the road in an attempt to influenced less-informed Canadians.

Last week, it was reported that scrapping the registry could fuel illegal firearms trafficking across the Canadian border. A “declassified” internal memo to the Tory government, obtained under the Access to Information Act, warned the move “would weaken import controls by eliminating a requirement for border officials to verify firearms coming into the country,” reported Canadian Press.

“Such a loophole could facilitate unregistered prohibited and restricted firearm trafficking into and through Canada,” says the memo, apparently market “secret.”

But under current laws, ordinary hunting, sporting rifles and shotguns are classified as “non-restricted firearms.” That was the case under the old laws as well.

The “restricted firearm” laws apply mainly to handguns, which are strictly scrutinized at border crossings. Again, such was the case under the former laws.

“Prohibited firearms,” as referred to in the memo, applies to automatic weapons. Included are various fully automatic killing machines used in war, like M-16 rifles, the weapon of choice introduced in the Vietnam conflict in the 1960s or the Heckler & Koch 91, a modern-day version of the M-16 that James Roszko used to gun down four Mounties on his Mayerthorpe property on March 3, 2005.

Last week’s reports failed to make it clear that the long-barrel registry applied only to non-restricted guns. So it’s baffling how scrapping the registry would contribute to the trafficking in restricted and prohibited firearms.

Those firearms are in a class of their own. They’ve been under the watchful eyes of border authorities backed by strict laws in place long before the Liberals introduced the long-barrel registry.

The business of smuggling firearms will continue with or without the registry.

The Tories took the disclosure in stride. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews dismissed the memo as “factually flawed” and “a bit of a red herring.”

Toews called the registry a “failed boondoggle,” adding: “There is no evidence that it (the new registry) has stopped a single crime or saved a single life.”

In the meantime, the government reassures Canadians that it still supports the licensing of gun owners and the registration of restricted and prohibited weapons. Nothing will change.

The “secret” internal memo claims that those with a valid firearms licence and supporting documents “may import” (it doesn’t say smuggle) non-restricted firearms such as hunting rifles into Canada. True, but the point is . . . ?

Firearms brought into Canada go through a verification process to ensure people have the proper licensing to possess the gun. Those laws will remain in place.

Blair Hagen, a spokesman for the National Firearms Association, said eliminating the registry won’t mean a free-for-all at border crossings.

“Just because there is not an individual registration assigned to that firearm any more does not mean it is not controlled and that there’s not a record of it entering Canada,” said Hagen. “There will still be a record of it entering Canada if it’s done legally.”

Those intent on smuggling guns will do it — laws or no laws. Alarmist, ill-informed reports won’t change that.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.

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