Canada's gun-owners will no longer have to worry about facing a jail term if they are a few days or week late in renewing their licences, after the government gazetted a change to the country's licensing regime today.
As of Nov. 30, failure to renew on time will become a mere paperwork issue, not unlike failing to pay for renewal of a driver's licence on time. There will be a six-month grace period for the gun-owner to get their licence up to date.
As things stand today, an expired licence can lead to a criminal charge of unauthorized possession, carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Although the change is being implemented by the Liberal government, It is actually a provision passed into law by the Harper government as part of its Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, which the Liberal Party — then in opposition — voted against.
While the law received royal assent in 2015, certain provisions, including the grace period, did not take effect immediately.
Gun owners' organizations had long argued that the rules criminalized otherwise law-abiding Canadians for mere oversights in paperwork.
By allowing the change to come into effect, the Liberals are showing that they don't intend to roll back all of the changes the Harper government made to Canada's firearms regime.
It also suggests the party is not spoiling for a fight over guns that would allow the Conservatives to again present themselves as the champions of rural Canada.
Liberals still oppose certain provisions
The Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act included some provisions that gun control advocates could support, including making it a legal requirement for all new licensed gun-owners in Canada to complete a safety course (in practice, the great majority already do).
It also stiffened the rules designed to prevent people who have been convicted of domestic violence from obtaining weapons.
Other parts of the law were intended to address concerns coming from shooters and hunters, including a provision stripping the RCMP of discretionary control over how firearms are classified in Canada, and giving the power to elected officials.
Another provision of the law removed the requirement for owners of restricted weapons, such as handguns and some semi-automatic rifles, to obtain an "authorization to transport" in order to take their guns to the shooting range or to a gunsmith. Permission to travel between home and range became an automatic part of the restricted firearms license.
The Liberal opposition was critical of those two changes. In particular, the party argued that removing the requirement for owners to get an authorization to transport amounted to giving gun owners permission to keep a handgun in their car.
Gun owners' groups have argued that concern is a red herring, since a driver pulled over with a restricted weapon would still have to show they are travelling on a direct route from their home to the range, and during hours when the range is open. Moreover, they point out, the gun must be transported unloaded, with a lock on the trigger, and inside a locked case.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is currently working on a new bill that would probably roll back some of the changes brought in by the Common Sense Act, including the more relaxed rules around transportation.