Government developing new firearms marking scheme

The federal government has once again deferred bringing into force firearms marking regulations that were approved by Parliament in 2004. It says the destruction of the long-gun registry and absence of consistent record-keeping by gun shops mean the existing scheme would do little to help police track gun crimes.

Destruction of long-gun registry among reasons cited for putting off regulations passed in 2004 — again

Legislation to require firearms be marked to help trace those used to commit crimes or seized in investigations was passed in 2004 but has never been brought into force. (David Thurton/CBC)

Firearm-marking regulations are the Sasquatch of Canada's gun safety policies: much talked about, but no one has ever seen them in action.

Parliament passed legislation in 2004, but it has never been enacted.

Its purpose was to help police trace guns used in crimes and to bring Canada into compliance with several international conventions, including the United Nations Firearms Protocol. 

The legislation requires all domestically made firearms to be stamped with the manufacturer's name, a serial number and the word Canada or CA. Imported firearms would also be stamped with the year they were shipped to Canada. 

Year after year, governments have deferred the law's implementation, usually citing the need for more consultation.

Delayed until 2018

Earlier this month, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced that the firearm-marking regulations would be delayed once again.

But this time around, the reasons are different. 

"The utility of the existing regulations is diminished by the destruction of the long-gun registry (i.e. the destruction of approximately 90 per cent of records for firearms in Canada) and the absence of business record-keeping requirements, since the efficiencies of tracing are realized when a record of the most recent legal owner can be linked to a specific combination of information (serial number, name of manufacturer, etc.), which is marked on the firearm," reads an explanation published Wednesday in the Canada Gazette.

Consequently, the department argues that marking firearms with the year of import and Canada or CA "is not sufficient to uniquely identify the legal importer of the firearm to facilitate tracing."

The document goes on to say that after consulting the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and Global Affairs Canada, the existing scheme wouldn't result in improved public safety and that government will have to come up with another kind of marking scheme. The new deadline is Dec. 1, 2018.

Gun enthusiasts, hunters and sport shooters have, over the years, lobbied hard for each deferral and praised every delay.

They argued markings would do little to stop gun crime given that many criminals already file serial numbers off their weapons. It is also widely believed that markings would make firearms more expensive.