Stricter gun rules recommendation by Alberta judge sparks debate

An Alberta judge's call for better screening of gun applicants' legal and mental health backgrounds is drawing fire from Canada's National Firearms Association.

Fatality inquiry calls for better screening of applicants' legal and mental health backgrounds

The recommendation from an Alberta judge that gun application screening should be tightened, is sparking a debate. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The suggestion by an Alberta judge that gun application rules should be tightened is sparking debate. 

Provincial court Judge Marlene Graham recommended better screening of an applicant's legal and mental health backgrounds in a fatality inquiry looking into the shooting death of Corey Lewis, who was gunned down by Okotoks RCMP officers in 2010.

Lewis was unarmed at the time, but had several registered weapons in his home. The judge said she found it disturbing that he was ever granted a firearms license given his mental health history. 

'Plenty of enhanced screening'

Blair Hagen with Canada's National Firearms Association disagrees with Graham's recommendations.

"We've got plenty of enhanced screening now," he said. "There are very, very few ways that they could amend this."

He takes issue with stringent regulations being placed upon people who don't require additional impediments to owning a gun. 

"I think it's unfortunate, but trying to enforce more regulations and tweak the system is not going to have the effect of preventing this thing in the future. What it is going to have the effect of is targeting the wrong people."

'Err on the side of caution'

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann, who co-chaired Alberta's mental health review, says he doesn't want to see people with mental health issues targeted, but he agrees with the judge's recommendations.

"We should err on the side of caution for public health purposes and not give a rifle or a gun or a firearm to someone who we think there is a potential for harm," he said. 

However, he also says it's a question of "relative risk."

"We can not exclude people just on the basis that they've had a diagnosis of a mental illness," said Swann.

He believes that "anyone who has anything to fear, or anyone with an experience with that individual relative to risk should be consulted and should be included in the evaluation."

The judges recommendations are non binding. 

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