Canada's long-gun laws explained

If the long-gun registry is abolished, most hunting rifles and shotguns will disappear from permanent records. But while police say that would make it harder for them to do their jobs, gun enthusiasts like Stephen Milton of King City, Ont., say the registry only hurts law-abiding Canadians.

What happens if the long-gun registry is scrapped?

Targeting the Gun Registry


10 years ago
What if the long gun registry is abolished? 6:13

The contentious long-gun registry is on the cusp of being abolished, meaning rifles and shotguns like those sold at Stephen Milton's King City, Ont., shop will disappear from government records.

But while police say that would make it harder for them to do their jobs, Milton says it would be a good move.

"We don’t have a gun problem. We have a criminal problem, we have a gang problem, we have problems with people who have no regard for the law whatsoever," he said. "And the very people the government wants to control [with the long gun registry] are the very people who do have regard for the law."

Milton owns Precision Arms and Gunsmithing with his wife, Lisa. One of a handful of licensed gunsmiths in the country, Stephen Milton, a former competitive shooter, has spent his life around guns.

"They’re not weapons, unless you’re a deer. Our intent is not to kill anyone or cause any harm to anybody’s property. We just hunt,  target shoot and do what we love to do."

Milton is often consulted by law enforcement on matters of gun-related crime and is widely regarded as an expert in the field.

Non-restricted, restricted and prohibited

Canada's Firearms Act was amended in 1995 requiring owners of hunting rifles and shotguns to obtain a licence and register each firearm. A deadline of Jan. 1, 2001, was imposed for licences to be obtained and all guns were to be registered by Jan. 1, 2003. The rifles and shotguns, classified as "non-restricted," were added to a central database managed by the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP) located in Miramichi, N.B. This database became known as the long-gun registry.   

The registry had previously listed only restricted and prohibited firearms, the other two classifications for guns in the Firearms Act.

According to the RCMP, there are 7.8 million firearms on the books. Of these, 7.1 million (90 per cent) are non-restricted firearms, a category that includes rifles and shotguns, but also some military-style firearms such as the Ruger Mini-14 used in the Montreal Massacre on Dec. 6, 1989, and in the recent shootings in Norway. The fact that the type of long gun that was used in the Montreal Massacre to kill 14 female students at the École Polytechnique and in the Norway shootings where 77 people died falls into the non-restricted classification worries Montreal Massacre witness Heidi Rathjen, who says, "If you take [the gun registry] away, the Conservatives will have blood on their hands."

Bill C-19: Amending The Firearms Act

The Firearms Act is intended to keep guns out of the hands of those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. To meet these objectives, the Criminal Code of Canada governs the licensing of restricted and prohibited guns.

Restricted guns, including some handguns and assault rifles, can be bought and sold in Canada with the appropriate Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL). Prohibited guns, including some automatic and higher-calibre handguns and rifles as well as those that are easily concealed, however, can only be owned by those in possession of a grandfathered licence, issued to gun owners in possession of a prohibited gun prior to changes in the Firearms Act in 1998.

If the long-gun registry is scrapped, as Bill C-19 proposes, restricted and prohibited guns would still be documented at the point of sale and ownership records would still be listed on the RCMP's Firearms Information System (FIS). The main change would be that records of non-restricted firearms, currently documented on the registry, would be erased from the FIS, meaning law enforcement, and the government, would have no permanent, central, traceable record of the number of non-restricted firearms an individual may own. Canadian gun laws would in effect revert to a time before 1977. 

 In 1977, the Criminal Law Amendment Act required businesses to keeps records of firearm sales in order to help police trace firearms back to their original owners. Records such as these enabled police to trace the perpetrator of the Montreal Massacre. In fact, it was the desire to prevent another such tragedy that led to the creation of the long-gun registry.

Police chiefs worried

According to the RCMP, just over seven million firearms would be taken off the registry, which worries the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

The registry is a one-stop central database of all hunting rifles and shotguns in Canada which they say they check thousands of times a day. In their statement to the House of Commons on Nov. 17, they argued that the registry for non-restricted long guns provides an investigative tool, promotes further responsibility and accountability by firearm owners, balances individual privileges and the broader right of society to be safe, prevents stockpiling and reduces crime.

The chiefs aren't alone in their criticism.

"The registration of all firearms is a good investment and will reduce the chances that dangerous people will get guns," said Karen Vanscoy, a member of the Coalition for Gun Control.

Vanscoy knows first-hand what can happen when the wrong person gets possession of a gun. Her daughter, Jasmine, was killed in 1996 by a family acquaintance with a stolen handgun. 

But those like Milton who favour ending the registry insist the change will make no difference.

"You are not going to make Canada safer by making laws tighter for law-abiding people that want to do nothing else but abide by the law," he said, "and the people who register their guns have proven that that’s the kind of people Canadians are."  

Bill C-19 has passed first and second reading in the House of Commons. It is currently before committee, where it will be examined clause by clause before it goes to the Senate for a vote, and then possibly on to receive royal assent and become law.

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