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Liberals misfire on proposed gun laws: retailer

Bill would expand background checks, record-keeping requirements

A proposed bill by the federal government is a half-cocked attempt to tighten gun control, according to a local firearms retailer.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has tabled Bill C-71, which would include expanded background checks, require sellers to keep records of sales and inventory, and allow the RCMP to arbitrarily classify guns.

The legislation, if passed, will create unnecessary headaches for those who buy and sell firearms, said Wes Winkel, owner of Ellwood Epps Sporting Goods in Severn Township.

It would require sellers like Ellwood Epps to confirm the buyer’s Possession and Acquisition Licence is valid, which means a call to the Canadian Firearms Program offices in Miramichi, N.B. It sounds simple, Winkel said, though he added it has echoes of gun-registration legislation enacted in 1998 by then-prime minister Jean Chrétien’s government.

He recalled the time a major snowstorm shut down the Miramichi offices, and no one could purchase a firearm at Ellwood Epps because there was no one to confirm the validity of licences.

Those delays could lead to a loss in business, he worries.

Another of Winkel’s main concerns with the proposed bill is the expanded background checks, which currently delve into the past five years of a buyer’s history. This bill would scrutinize the buyer’s entire lifetime.

“At the surface, you think it’s a good thing,” Winkel said, “but life’s a long time.”

He worries someone who was “young and stupid and got into a fight and got an assault charge” years ago might not be able to purchase a gun.

Mental health and addiction issues are also considered in background checks, and Winkel feels the proposed changes could be counterproductive, that those with mental health problems won’t seek help for fear of losing their guns.

“Our concern is people won’t go to their doctors,” he said. “We don’t want people who are around guns to not talk to their doctors if they’re having mental health issues.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been adamant this is not a return to the long-gun registry, which was scrapped by his predecessor, Stephen Harper.

“This is not, at this point, a registry,” Winkel acknowledged, but he added requiring sellers to maintain records for 20 years could effectively lead to something similar.

The majority of those who buy firearms at Ellwood Epps have no problem with the business keeping their information on record. However, some request their information not be kept on file, and “those few clients per year aren’t going to be happy” about the new rules, Winkel said.

Some gun owners who coughed up considerable cash for certain firearms won’t be happy about the legislation, either. With the RCMP being allowed to classify guns without the approval of politicians, the Ceska Zbrojovka CZ-858 and some Swiss Arms firearms will become prohibited.

Ellwood Epps has sold about 150 Swiss Arms guns since 2005, and they cost approximately $3,500. The local store has sold some 300 CZ-858s in the same period of time, at about $800 each.

“Until this bill passes, they are just standard hunting guns,” he said. “They just look a bit mean.”

That’s why he believes the move to classify them as prohibited it simply a matter of optics. The curved magazine and the pistol grip are what make the CZ-858 “look scary,” Winkel said. The magazine only holds up to five shells — the maximum allowed by law. The Remington 750, a more traditional-looking rifle, also holds up to five shells, but the cartridges are more powerful than those of the CZ-858.

“These guns were bought in good faith,” he said of the CZ-858. “They’re bought by doctors, lawyers. This is just a gun they like.”

If the bill passes, those gun owners could be grandfathered in, allowing them to keep the guns but not use them.

“This is why gun owners are so often against more regulation,” Winkel said.

In its response to Bill C-71, the Coalition for Gun Control said, “the Liberal government has made an important first step with this new gun legislation, including reintroducing stronger licensing provisions and controls on sales of firearms. Stronger measures are desperately needed. Most Canadians do not know that when they ended the registration of unrestricted firearms and destroyed the data on 6 million firearms, they failed to reintroduce the controls on sales put in place in 1977. Contrary to what many Canadians believe, there are stronger controls on gun sales in the U.S. right now than in Canada.”

Winkel, who is president of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association, said the job of the Coalition for Gun Control is to lobby for stricter regulations, so he feels that group will never be satisfied.

“When is enough enough?” he said. “The truth is it will never be enough.”

Another part of the proposed bill Winkel finds “ridiculous” would require owners of restricted or prohibited firearms to obtain authorization to transport them.

Winkel said no one who intends to commit a crime with a gun is going to call and say, “Excuse me, sir. I’m going to rob a convenience store. Can you give me permission to transport this gun to Mac’s Milk?”

Asked if he hopes the bill will be voted down, he said, “as written, absolutely yes.”

But he isn’t holding his breath.

“It’s a minister’s bill, so we know it won’t fail, especially in a majority government. This bill ain’t going away.”