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How to protect yourself from upcoming changes to gun laws

New gun legislation could be arriving in 2019 could create problems for you if you are a gun owner. The government’s Bill C-71 passed through a second reading in the Senate last month and it could become law before the next federal election. If it gains Royal Assent, the new gun-control measures would give the RCMP the ability to classify guns without providing notice of the changes in the law, meaning gun owners could unknowingly find themselves possession of illegal guns because of a change in classification.

Certain models of two types of firearms – the Ceska zbrojovka CZ-858 rifle and certain Swiss Arms firearms — could also be reclassified as “prohibited”. This means owners of these guns who wish to keep them will have to apply to have their guns exempted from the new legislation through a process known as “grandfathering”. If they don’t, they could be found to be in possession of a prohibited firearm and in breach of the law. Other changes could require gun store owners to keep records, such as make, model, and serial number, of the guns they sell for 20 years.

Gun ownership in Canada

Firearms are regulated primarily by the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code. Any gun in Canada is labelled as either unrestricted, restricted, or prohibited. Ordinary rifles and shotguns are normally unrestricted, although there are some exceptions.

Examples of restricted firearms include:

  • handguns that are not prohibited;
  • semi-automatic, centre-fire rifles and shotguns with a barrel shorter than 470 mm;
  • rifles and shotguns that can be fired when their overall length has been reduced by folding, telescoping or other means to less than 660 mm;
  • firearms restricted by Criminal Code Regulations.

Prohibited firearms include:

  • handguns with a barrel length of 105 mm or less and handguns that discharge .25 or .32 calibre ammunition, except for a few specific ones used in International Shooting Union competitions;
  • rifles and shotguns that have been altered by sawing or other means so that their barrel length is less than 457 mm or their overall length is less than 660 mm;
    full automatics;
  • converted automatics, namely full automatics that have been altered so that they fire only one projectile when the trigger is squeezed;
  • firearms prohibited by Criminal Code Regulations.

There is a variety of firearms offences under both the Criminal Code and Firearms Act such as simply having a restricted or prohibited firearm in your possession. Firearms offences are considered very serious crimes in Canada and perpetrators are liable for up to 10 years in prison in the most serious cases. If you want to dispose of a non-compliant gun or donate it to a museum so as to comply with the law, you need to be very careful. If you do so without permission and the police find out about it you could be convicted of transporting a restricted or prohibited gun.

If you choose to destroy a restricted or prohibited gun and you do not report it to the police, you could also be convicted of an offence. In this case from Edmonton, a man who was prohibited from possessing a firearm for five years was discovered with a Winchester rifle. The man said he had found the rifle but was “scared” to alert the police straight away because of his ban. When his common-law wife found out about the rifle she made arrangements to dispose of it. The man appealed against his convictions for firearms offences, however, they were upheld on appeal after the court found he did not take “reasonable steps” to deal with the gun.   

Problem for gun owners

The new regulations under Bill C-71 pose a serious problem for gun owners. People who suddenly find themselves in possession of restricted or prohibited firearms will have to relinquish their weapons or find themselves on the wrong end of the law. This is not as easy as it sounds and it’s important you follow the correct procedure.

Another issue is what should you do when someone else’s gun collection falls to you. Say you have an elderly relative who passed away or is presenting symptoms of alzheimer’s or dementia. If that person has a firearm that, because of changes in the law, is now considered a restricted or prohibited weapon and you have to transport the weapon, or if possession of the weapon falls to you, what should you do?

You might be tempted to keep the gun. This is a mistake. You are not licenced for that gun and depending on the classification, it may be prohibited. You are in all likelihood committing a serious offence by taking it into your possession.

You may think your best course of action is to hand the weapon over to the RCMP or Chief Firearms Officer. This could also be a mistake and is laden with pitfalls.

The first thing you need to do is make a determination as to whether these firearms are restricted or prohibited. The difference in classification can sometimes come down to small details only someone who knows firearms would be able to identify. But how do you do that?

If you have a question about a gun you have in your possession and you want to protect yourself from the changes in gun ownership laws, your best bet is to contact a lawyer. Anything you discuss with a lawyer is privileged information and is therefore protected in any potential future court proceedings. A lawyer will be able to arrange a classification and walk you through the necessary steps to make sure you are protected from any criminal liability.

The lawyers at YYC Defence are well versed in weapons offences and they will be able to help you with any weapons-related questions you might have. A weapons charge is not something you want to face on your own so if you find yourself accused of this type of offence, give us a call on (587) 834-2746.

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