My name is Mark and I'm a gun owner.
That's almost how you have to start any conversation on firearms and Canada’s ludicrous gun laws. There are a lot of Canadians, mostly urban, who assume that the only people who own guns are criminals and rednecks preparing for the apocalypse. Many people start with the assumption that there is no legitimate reason for an ordinary person to own any firearms.
Conversely, people in the firearms community often pretend that everyone is as comfortable with firearms as we are. It's often taken as an article of faith that people understand why we want to get rid of useless rules that don't make anyone safer.
The reality is that many people don't understand. Many people don't have a lot of experience with guns, or know anyone who does. This is starting to change as hunting and sport shooting become more popular with Millennials. But we are still many years from shooting sports becoming mainstream.
So, for those who often wonder why conservatives are so concerned about firearms, here are the top three reasons why you should also care.
Classification. Parliament has only cast broad definitions of what should be prohibited, restricted or readily available to licensed gun owners. The rest of this power has been delegated to bureaucrats who either propose changes to regulations, or more often simply “reinterpret” what the law means. In one case in 2015, it was determined that a certain small calibre rifle was non-restricted, but if a plastic shell was added to the outside to make it look like an AK-47 (while not changing any internal components), it was prohibited. It's as if putting a Ferrari body kit on a lawn mower engine makes a lawn mower a sports car – and should be taxed accordingly. If this type of logic was applied to other categories of property, people would be up in arms, no pun intended.
Reclassification. This is the ugly step sister of classification. Not only are bureaucrats making decisions without any sort of oversight from those who are elected by and accountable to Canadians, but they are also able to arbitrarily change their mind. We've seen a couple examples of this in the last few years. First, we saw the move to prohibit the CZ-858 and Swiss Arms rifles. These rifles had been sold as non-restricted firearms in Canada for a decade or more. Overnight, bureaucrats decided these rifles ought to be prohibited and that anyone owning these should be subject to serious prison time. Fortunately, the previous Conservative government took action to create a mechanism to overturn this decision. (Full disclosure: I worked in the Office of Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and worked very closely on this file.)
More recently, certain magazines (the part of the firearm that holds the ammunition cartridges) for the Ruger 10/22 rifle were deemed to be prohibited devices. Once again, these had been sold in Canada for many years. Once again, those who own them are potentially subject to serious prison time. No one would stand for the government saying that your car or your electronics are perfectly fine to own today, but tomorrow owning it might send you to prison.
Registries. This is probably one of the most easily understood problems with Canada's gun control system. In the 90s, the Liberal government spent over $2 billion to create a long-gun registry, ostensibly to track rifles and shotguns. It didn't do a whole lot and was an egregious waste of money. Many Canadians got on board with scrapping this boondoggle, which the previous Conservative government did in 2012.
However, there is a bigger problem here. First, when the government either keeps or requires the keeping of this sort of registry, it is first and foremost an invasion of privacy. If the items are legal to own and use, why add the extra layer of bureaucracy? The fact is that law-abiding gun owners are already tracked via licensing. Second, and more fundamental in this case, it creates a possible shopping list for criminals. Hacks and data breaches of corporations and governments are all too common. In fact, there was even an unauthorized disclosure of data from the former gun registry. This information in the hands of someone looking to steal guns to divert to the criminal market is very problematic.
A lot of folks on the right, who aren't particularly aware of live issues around firearms, tend to think the fight is over because the long gun registry was destroyed, and some tweaks were made in the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act. This could not be further from the truth.
First, those concerned about private property rights in Canada should be very concerned about aspects of firearms law. There is a long way to go to build a system that both takes measures to keep Canadians safe from gun crime, but does not unnecessarily burden those who obey the law.
Second, the Liberals have a bad track record on respecting gun rights. Their platform has a lot of concerning language relating to banning firearms commonly used for sport shooting. What's more, they have introduced a bill to assist the Government of Quebec in building their provincial long gun registry.
Those of us who own guns, as well as those of us who value small government and property rights, need to make sure the pressure stays on the government – regardless of which party is in power.