History of the Gun Laws
Controls on the carriage and transfer of firearms in Canada were
first codified in 1892. Permits to carry handguns were required
In 1976, major amendments to the Criminal Code were introduced
which required that individuals seeking to acquire any firearms,
including rifles or shotguns, must obtain a Firearms Acquisition
Certificate (FAC) and a Restricted Weapons Permit for handguns and
some military weapons. Fully automatic weapons were banned, although
current owners were grandfathered. Anyone who owned a firearm prior
to 1978, did not need to obtain an FAC and an FAC entitled the holder
to acquire as many firearms as he or she wished within a five-year
period with no need to renew, unless he or she wished to buy more.
Although there were efforts to introduce registration of firearms,
these failed and the law explicitly prohibited firearms officers
from asking an FAC applicant how many or what type of guns he or
she owned or intended to acquire.
In response to public demand following the 1989 killings at the
Montreal l'Ecole Polytechnique, Kim Campbell, then Justice Minister,
introduced Bill C-80, which banned some military weapons and large
capacity magazines, strengthened FAC screening and application processes,
and defined safe storage of all firearms. The Bill failed to pass
second reading, largely because of opposition from rural and western
Conservative backbenchers. A Special Committee was struck to review
the legislation and despite pleas from police and other gun control
advocates to strengthen the bill, most of the emphasis was on modifying
it to accommodate the objections of gun owners.
New legislation Bill C-17 was drafted and became law
Dec. 5, 1991, after a long struggle between gun control supporters
and opponents. Although the Conservative-dominated Senate passed
the law without amendment, it wrote to the Minister of Justice and
suggested that she should have considered registration of all firearms.
The debate over the specifics of the regulations dominated the next
couple of years and Bill C-17 came into effect in 1993. While gun
control advocates supported the law they maintained throughout that
it did not go far enough and advocated changes to strengthen it.
Opponents of further measures, on the other hand, objected to the
While in opposition, the NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Liberals had supported
controls that went beyond Kim Campbell's legislation and continued
to support it through the election. The issue was raised in the
election debate, the Liberal Party Redbook included a commitment
to strengthening controls, although the precise measures were vague.
The Liberal Party convention passed a series of resolutions related
to gun control. When the party took power there was the expectation
from many that they would move to introduce further restrictions.
The NDP, having lost its urban power base, however, reversed its
During his first year as Justice Minister, Allan Rock consulted
with a wide range of individuals and groups. Approaching the summer
of 1994, it appeared that he was prepared to move forward. Both
advocates and opponents of further control intensified their efforts.
On Nov. 22, 1994, the Minister unveiled a series of proposals and
on Feb. 14, 1995, he unveiled Bill C-68. The key elements of the
bill were: stiffer penalties, including mandatory sentences for
firearms misuses, theft and smuggling; licensing of all gun owners;
registration of all firearms; and a ban (with grandfather clause)
on semi-automatic military weapons (including the Ruger Mini-14)
and short-barrelled handguns. The licensing provisions were to take
effect by 2001 and the registration provision by 2003.
Throughout the next months lobbying continued with considerable
opposition in Parliament from the Reform party and Liberal backbenchers.
During the committee process, some modifications were introduced
to address objections to the legislation: an offense punishable
through summary conviction was introduced for first-time violators
of the registration provisions; inspection powers were restricted
to owners of more than 10 guns or prohibited weapons; modifications
to lending provision and transfer of heirlooms were the other principal
changes, but these did little to satisfy hard-core opponents.
The law passed the House of Commons by a comfortable majority on
June 13, 1995, and then was referred to the Senate.
The Conservative-dominated Senate became the scene of an unexpected
and high profile battle. In the end, the Legal and Constitutional
Affairs Committee recommended a number of amendments to accommodate
concerns of the opponents, but these amendments were defeated when
seven Conservative senators, including the chair of the committee,
constitutional scholar Gerard Beaudoin, voted with the Liberals.
The Bill passed the Senate on Nov. 22, 1995, and was proclaimed
into law on Dec. 5, 1995, the eve of the sixth anniversary of the
Published in Parliamentary
Names & Numbers #5, Spring 1996.
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