First published at Global News on May 12, 2017.
If I were a more daring person, dinner with my parents last week could have cost me jail time.
No, I’m not talking about a family meal devolving to blows before the dessert course, but rather a bizarre provision of the law that impacts hundreds of thousands of Canadians — including me.
I needed to take my handgun to the gunsmith last week for a minor maintenance issue, dropping it off before work with the plan of picking it up afterwards.
I live on one end of the city; the gun store is on the other — the same end in which my parents live (though my mother would be mortified by this juxtaposition.)
If I were getting my knives sharpened or squash racquet restrung, I would have picked it up, gone to dinner, and then headed home. With a gun, it’s not so simple.
To transport a restricted firearm, the class in which handguns fall, the law requires I take “a route that, in all circumstances, is reasonably direct for the specific indicated purposes.”
The precise interpretation of that depends on the jurisdiction, and the police officer who catches you, but one firearms expert told me even a Tim Hortons stop on the way home could be illegal.
When I asked the Ontario firearms office for advice on my scenario, I was only reminded of the conditions of my license.
Those conditions also prevent target shooters from stopping at the gun store for ammunition on the way to the range. If you get caught, it could mean seizure of your firearm and revocation of your license — and possibly even criminal charges.
Who does this law protect?
Had this been a non-restricted gun — which most rifles and shotguns are — I could have taken whichever route I wanted and even kept it in my car during the work day, provided it was stored properly.
It’s reasonable to maintain strict rules surrounding ownership and transportation of firearms, but people must realize gun owners have already passed safety courses, been vetted by law enforcement, and are subjected to almost daily police checks.
We’re also subject to warrant-less home searches, despite a constitutional right to freedom from search and seizure.
Yet still, running afoul of the regulations could be irreparable.
The penalty for these minor regulatory infractions would be akin to having your car impounded and your driver’s license suspended for being late in renewing your stickers.
That I needed to drive 20 kilometres out of my way is certainly a first-world problem, but it’s indicative of the bigger mess that is Canada’s bundle of convoluted and needlessly strict firearms rules as laid out in the Firearms Act.
The more I learn about guns themselves, the less sense the laws make.
To get a handgun that shoots a .22 LR calibre round (with a length of 15.6 mm), one needs a restricted license complete with transportation restrictions, registration, and increased oversight from law enforcement. A rifle that shoots a .50 calibre round — a cartridge the size of a small flashlight — accurately to over two kilometres away requires only a basic possession and acquisition license.
Someone could walk into a gun store, buy it, and leave in a matter of seconds after only flashing their license. Even so, most Canadians don’t view firearms as a clear and present danger.
When someone does commit an atrocious crime with a gun, the regulations are irrelevant.
If Justin Bourque or Michael Zehaf-Bibeau used restricted guns, I doubt their plans would have changed had they been reminded to take only a direct route to and from home and a gun range or gun shop.
Regardless of classification, if someone is intent on killing, they’ll use the resources they have available to them.
I would blow past my word count for this column if I listed all of the firearms that bear stricter classifications than others that shoot the same ammunition at the same rate of fire. Often, the sole difference is aesthetics.
Some guns just look scarier than others. Should that make them harder to get, or more convoluted to transport?
It sounds like a trope to say we shouldn’t penalize law-abiding gun owners, but the firearms system does that every single day.
These headaches exist even after improvements put in place by Stephen Harper’s government simplifying some of the rules around firearms and changing the classification guidelines.
The stakes are higher for gun owners than most other groups in Canada in the event of a slip-up.
What if my cable lock isn’t closed all the way? What if I forget my license at home? What if I need to stop to change a flat tire on my way home from the range?
These questions shouldn’t be the difference between one’s arrest and one’s freedom.
By the way, I made it to dinner — gun-free.