Both gun owners and gun control advocates say they're confused by the government's handling of a ban on a class of military-style rifles.

Gun owners say they don't know what the government's five-year amnesty on the Swiss Arms Classic Greens means.

The guns are semi-automatic rifles called Classic Greens and they've been available in Canada for about a dozen years.

Last week the RCMP changed the guns' classification from "non-restricted" to "prohibited" on its firearms reference table (FRT), a document available only to police and other authorized people such as gun shop owners.

No announcement was made, and the RCMP has not responded to numerous calls about why the guns were banned.

However, in an earlier email to a gun shop which was posted on a blog, the RCMP said they suspect the guns could be easily converted to be fully automatic. Automatic weapons, which shoot a spray of bullets with one trigger pull, are illegal in Canada.

Michael Bryant, a spokesperson for the Coalition for Gun Control, is a little confused as well. Bryant, a former Ontario attorney general, said in a phone interview, "How can amnesty be given for a prohibited gun? I'm not sure that will stand up."

Gun owners called their MPs

Gun owners were outraged when news of the ban appeared on gun association websites. The websites urged owners to call their MPs.

There were reports Conservative MPs were lining up at the mikes during last week's caucus meeting to let Prime Minister Stephen Harper know their constituents were upset about the gun ban.

The National Firearms Association's Facebook page posted, "Big discussions, big developments. Good people are bringing the fight to caucus. Stay tuned."

By the end of last week, the government announced the amnesty for Classic Greens. But gun owners aren't necessarily happy about the news.

James Bachynsky of the Calgary Shooting Centre, reached by phone in Calgary, said, "They [gun owners] don't know if they can sell their guns or use their guns. They just know that if they're stopped, they're not going to be arrested for possession.

James Bachynsky

James Bachynsky, owner of The Calgary Shooting Centre, says the Firearms Act is vague and confusing. (Facebook.com)

"Ten thousand people woke up this Monday morning and found out they might be criminals," said Bachynsky.

Bachynsky is angry the RCMP didn't suggest owners would be compensated for the $4,000 guns they'd legally purchased.  Instead, he says, the RCMP said owners should take the guns back to the dealers.

Bryant says a free pass for possessing a banned weapon has never happened in Canada.

A spokesperson for the public safety minister's office, asked about the legality of the amnesty, referred to last week's statement about the amnesty. "Details of the amnesty will be made public in the near future," said Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, speaking for Steven Blaney.

Dispute between two Calgary gun shops

To add to the confusion, the story of how the guns came to be banned after a dozen years on the Canadian market seems have started with a dispute between two Calgary gun shops.

Bachynsky admits his company, fearing a shortage of the popular Classic Green rifles, purchased some used versions in Switzerland last year and had them refurbished and shipped to Canada. One of those guns ended up as a trade-in at The Shooting Edge in Calgary, operated by J.R. Cox.

Cox, in an interview with CBC News last week, said he thought the refurbished gun had been modified from an assault weapon that's illegal in Canada. "You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig. It was so badly beaten up. I've never seen a gun in Canada with a look like that. And it had a fresh coat of paint to make it look good," he said.

So he reported the gun to the RCMP.

Bachynsky says Cox wanted to "interfere with our business." Cox, who admits "the guys at the Calgary Shooting Centre used to be my partners," said, "They've managed to portray me as if I'm the bad guy. But I'm not the one who brought in 16 prohibited firearms which started this whole mess."

The upshot was that the RCMP not only banned the refurbished guns, but the whole class of Swiss Arms rifles.

RCMP wants to change gun classifications

But access to information documents show that for some time the RCMP has been wanting to change the classification of many of the newer guns brought into Canada.  In a briefing note obtained and published by Global News last year, the RCMP details a meeting planned with Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and his staff at a shooting range.

In the memo, the RCMP says firearm classifications have not been updated since the Firearms Act was passed in 1995. The result, it notes, is that "50-calibre sniping rifles and other military and paramilitary-type firearms are currently non-restricted."

An earlier document, addressed to the former minister, Vic Toews, warns that outdated gun classifications "pose a risk to public safety."

Gun owners say it's about property rights

Bachynsky says the issue is one of property rights. "The federal law enforcement agency is deciding what property people can own." He calls the Firearms Act "confusing" and "so vague, so poorly drafted" he'd like to see it "tossed out."

Michael Bryant

Michael Byrant, a former Ontario attorney general, is a spokesperson for the Coalition for Gun Control (Twitter.com)

Bryant says the gun lobby is now indulging in "gluttony" ever since its success in lobbying the government to dismantle the gun registry. "They are now eager for more restrictions to be lifted," he said, and the government is "doing an end run around the RCMP."

The gun lobby, he says, thinks Canadians have lost interest in gun control and want to "Americanize" the gun culture in Canada.

What's happened, Bryant says, is an influx of "the kind of guns we've never seen in Canada." He added, "These guns are not for hunting. They're killing machines."

Some gun owners say the Classic Greens are, in fact, sometimes used for hunting.

Corrections

  • The headline on this story has been updated from an earlier version that referred to Swiss Army guns. In fact, the gun manufacturer is Swiss Arms.
    Mar 07, 2014 10:04 AM ET