As the federal government prepares to scrap the long-gun registry, a number of groups are urging the government not to stop there.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner, whose private member's bill to kill the registry nearly passed in the last session of Parliament, are expected to announce the new legislation at an event near Ottawa Tuesday.
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The Conservatives tried and failed to get rid of the controversial registry several times over the last five years of minority government. Now that they have a majority, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has launched a campaign to try to persuade the government to do away with the current licensing scheme as well.
In a recent mailout to members, the group encouraged people to contact Toews. "While the Harper government should be commended for committing to end the wasteful and intrusive long-gun registry, the time is now to push for them to not stop halfway," the letter reads. "The time is now to eliminate the licensing requirement as well."
CTF spokesman Scott Hennig said his group has long advocated a return to the old Firearms Acquisition Certificates.
"We were told at the time [of earlier attempts to pass legislation] that going any further than that would be impossible and they wouldn't be able to get the support of the opposition," Hennig says.
With a majority that's no longer an issue and, according to Hennig, scrapping the current Possession and Acquisition Licence would save money and be more efficient.
"We actually just had one of our employees go through the whole process and despite the fact that he's been around guns his whole life and got 100 per cent on the test it took nine months and a lot of hoops to jump through to get his Possession and Acquisition Licence," Hennig said.
"So it's a considerable amount of bureaucracy attached to the PAL versus the FAC, where you still do have with the FAC the criminal record checks and whatnot that go on, but that was done in a lot quicker fashion in the 1980s."
Licence system brought continuous screening
Introduced in 1979, the FAC allowed people over the age of 18 to acquire a firearm. The certificates were valid for five years and were not subject to renewal because firearms owners required the certificate to acquire, not possess, a gun.
Changes to the FAC introduced in 1992 required applicants to submit a photo and two references along with more background information, and imposed mandatory safety training and a 28-day waiting period before a firearm could be purchased or acquired.
The Firearms Act of 1995 did away with the certificate system. Firearms owners now require a PAL to buy and possess a firearm.
PAL applicants must pass a test, fill out a detailed questionnaire and their spouse must sign off on the process. Once obtained, a PAL is valid for five years — but licensed firearms owners are continuously screened.
Last year alone, the RCMP revoked or refused licences to almost 3,000 people due to concerns about public safety.
But Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, says the current licensing system made another significant change that led him to support a return to the FAC system.
"If your firearms licence should expire, even for a minute, you are now a felony criminal that they can issue a warrant against," he said. "They can toss your house, they can put you in jail for up to four years."
Nevertheless, Bernardo said, he endorses the safety training aspect of the PAL.
Ed Hudson — a spokesman for the 600-member Canadian Unlicensed Firearms Owners Association who describes himself as a responsible gun owner but not a law-abiding one — said he knows two people who have been convicted for not having licences.
"We are responsible citizens and then because we choose to have this one piece of property, the government starts wanting to check on us more than anyone else," he said.
Originally from the United States, Hudson moved to Canada 34 years ago and became a citizen after falling in love with the duck hunting.
"The FAC is not going to protect the private citizen from the drug dealer any more than the licences, but the FAC did what people want done, which is that not anybody in Canada can own a firearm," he said.
Despite the pressure, Toews said, the government is committed to firearms licensing.
"We will continue to license firearms owners to ensure that they are properly qualified to have firearms," the minister said.