From the January 2001 Idaho Observer:


First we have the British and Australian examples of gun confiscation: Incidence of armed and violent crimes have increased dramatically and cases of unarmed innocent people being injured or killed are continuing to rise. Closer to home, we will soon have the Canadian example of gun confiscation. Fortunately the Canadian example may more closely represent what will happen in the U.S. as Canadian gun owners are not giving up their guns as easily as the Brits and the Aussies.

Half of guns unregistered as of Jan. 1 deadline

Millions of Canadian gun owners refuse to acknowledge new law

by Jill Mahoney

EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada -- As many as half of Canada's gun owners could be in violation of federal law on Jan. 1, the deadline for obtaining firearms licenses.

So far, 1.7 million people have enrolled with the federal government's gun registry. The exact number of Canadians possessing firearms is unknown but estimates range from fewer than 3.3 million to as many as nine million.

In any case, it appears that far more people own guns than are participating in the registry under the controversial legislation, still often referred to by its legislative name, Bill C-68.

“They've got a heck of a mess on their hands,” Jim Hinter, president of the National Firearms Association, said. “I think it proves that there's literally millions of Canadians who are just refusing to participate in what they see as a bogus law.”

As of Jan. 1, gun owners without licenses cannot buy ammunition. Penalties for someone found possessing a firearm without the proper paperwork range from temporary seizure of the weapon to five years in prison.

The application of the law promises to be uneven. Police forces across the country are responsible for enforcing it but are deeply divided in their support. Provincial Crown attorneys are charged with prosecuting alleged offenders, but Alberta and some other provinces want federal Crowns to handle prosecutions.

From its inception, the Firearms Act has faced heavy opposition. A group of provincial and territorial governments, led by Alberta and supported by gun organizations, challenged the law all the way to the Supreme Court, but failed in June when that court ruled the legislation constitutional.

The licensing and registration program has cost $327 million, since the law's passage in 1995, to April 1, 2000. Bill C-68 requires that all owners of long guns (rifles and shotguns that had been previously exempt) obtain possession licenses by Dec. 31, 2000, or after their existing firearms acquisition certificates expire. By Dec. 31, 2002, people must register each of their guns, a provision that is even more controversial than licensing.

The government has run an extensive advertising campaign. It plans large ads in newspapers in major cities this weekend reminding people they must get their licenses, which are selling for a reduced rate of $10 to encourage compliance. In recent months, it has set up booths in malls to help people with their applications.

The issue of how many Canadians own guns is itself controversial. The National Firearms Association contends the number is between seven million and nine million, or nearly one person in three. The federal government commissioned public-opinion surveys three years ago that concluded there were 3.3 million gun-owning Canadians.

Now, however, Ottawa is backing away from that number, saying that many people have either sold their firearms or given them away because of the approaching deadline.

Pressed to estimate the number of gun owners, David Austin, a spokesman for the government's Canadian Firearms Centre, could not provide a ballpark figure, saying 3.3 million is “probably high, but I can't tell you really now how high.”

Mr. Hinter of the firearms association said it is in the government's interest to low-ball gun ownership figures so that the rate of compliance with the law looks higher than it really is.

“The government is going to keep lowering the estimate of the number of gun owners until they can declare success with Step 1 of the law, run around and claim victory,” he said.

Mr. Austin rejects that argument and says the vast majority of Canadians are enrolling. “I think you're going to find that Canadians generally are compliant; they know it's the law of the land,” he said.

He also said a great many applications are likely in the mail and more are to come as owners scramble to meet the Dec. 31 deadline. Because of the deluge, staff working 24 hours a day are issuing temporary licenses that are valid for up to six months and will be replaced by proper documentation in the new year.

Owners of gun stores say some clients are intending to flout the law. “Lots of customers say, 'To hell with it',” said Wolf Gronau, who operates a gun shop in Edmonton.

Gronau, who has a firearms acquisition certificate that is valid for another three years, saving him from having to apply for a license under the new law until his current one expires, said the legislation will result in the spread of the black market for firearms.

Along with buying guns illegally, Mr. Gronau said, people will purchase their ammunition under the table because the law requires a license to buy bullets.

He added that he has seen at least a 50-per-cent jump in sales of ammunition this fall by his customers and the extra materials may end up on the black market in the new year.

Although opinion polls have shown that most Canadians support gun control, Bill C-68 has been intensely criticized by gun groups and by provincial and territorial governments. Some argue that those responsible for violent crime will not obtain licenses and that the law violates people's fundamental personal and property rights.

One gun group urged its members to thumb their noses at the law by refusing to obtain licenses. Other organizations recommended that people overwhelm the phone lines, fax machines and mailbags at the government's processing centres.

This fall, the Canadian Police Association, which represents the country's rank-and-file officers and is deeply divided over the legislation, postponed the question of supporting the law until later this year.