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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 1913.

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 increased regulations.

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 position.

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 Montreal massacre.

Published in Parliamentary Names & Numbers #5, Spring 1996.


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