Canadian Gun Classification Needs Surgery, Not Mere Band-Aid Fix

CZ-858 Rifle
The CZ-858 Rifle debacle dished up by the RCMP revealed the government's distaste for being dictated to by meddling civil servants.
Canadian Shooting Sports Association
Canadian Shooting Sports Association

Canada – -( The Harper government appears earnest in helping gun owners slay the classification dragon, but it needs to take the beast down hammer and tongs with legislation.

The recent Swiss Arms and CZ-858 debacle dished up by the RCMP revealed the government's distaste for being dictated to by meddling civil servants.

That's a good thing. With that said, segments of the general public (and even some gun owners) seem to believe that certain guns are inherently more evil than others and should be legislated accordingly. And so, the problem remains that the proposed fixes for classifying guns according to varying degrees of “dangerousness” plays to the foolish premise that some guns are good and some guns are bad.

Gun owners have difficulty trying to find some consensus on this issue and opinions vary all over the map. Many believe that classifications need to exist if only to placate those who think the system keeps them safe. And as much as we try to educate them, we all know how some folks take to being lectured on a subject they think they understand.

We also need to recognize that the Harper government has committed to eating this elephant one bite at a time. Like it or not, that is a political reality, and over the last several years we have seen several steps forward. And there will be more.

So with all that in mind, let's try to envision some classification options that benefit firearms owners yet provide an adequate sense of security to the general public.

Let's look at four possible options:

  1. Create a new section within Section 12 of the Firearms Act known as section 12(9.) It would create a special category for firearms that the RCMP deems prohibited. But, people can continue to own, possess and use the firearms listed in this category. But, this option could cause public unrest if firearms that are considered prohibited can continue to be used and possessed by their owners. The government could be accused of abdicating control over prohibited firearms by letting the general public use them. Additionally, the rules to Authorizations to Transport (ATT) would have to be changed to permit these Section 12(9) firearms to be taken to a shooting range. Without this ATT change, Section 12(9) firearms would be legal to possess, but owners couldn't use them. Even if all these changes were made, gun owners still couldn't shoot them anywhere but on a Section 29 shooting range. So, this is certainly not the best option.
  2. Declare that the firearms involved are indeed prohibited 12(3) firearms and create a provision in Section 12 to permit new firearms to be added to the 12(3) category. Additional changes would have to be made to Section 12 to permit the owners of these firearms to be grandfathered into section 12(3.) Unfortunately, this options shares the same questionable optics as the previous option. The Authorizations to Transport rules would still need amending to permit taking section 12(3) firearms to a shooting range. Without this amendment, 12(3) firearms would be permitted to own, but owners couldn't use them. If all these changes were made, the firearms would still not be able to be used anywhere but on a Section 29 shooting range. Still not the best option.
  3. Add a simple sentence to the Firearms Act that enables a Minister to declare any firearm to be non-restricted. This would add to the Minister's powers under Order-in-Council because the ability to restrict or prohibit firearms is already within the Minister's purview. Certainly, this is an easy fix for the CZ/Swiss Arms but it still leaves the gigantic classification mess unaddressed. And without repeal of the restrict/prohibit powers, any positive change could be easily undone by a future government.
  4. A plain language rewrite of Section 12 of the Firearms Act could retain the prohibited, restricted and non-restricted categories, but Section 84(1) of the Criminal Code firearms definitions would be amended to accomplish two goals. First, it would reverse the prohibition of the CZ-858 and Swiss Arms rifles as per the Minister's stated intention. Second, it would change Canada's classification system into a simple and easy format for both firearms owners and police officers to understand.


  • The CSSA feels that rewriting Section 12 is the best of the four solutions for a number of reasons. The problem of overnight RCMP classifications that have plagued the Harper government would be eliminated.
  • These changes would also prevent the arbitrary reclassification of firearms into restricted/prohibited categories after Canadians have legally purchased them. It solves the second problem by simplifying the classification system so firearms owners, police officers and other public officials can finally understand them.
  • The first category, covered under Section 12, is the “prohibited firearm.” Our proposal defines a prohibited firearm as

(a) an automatic firearm,
(b) a firearm that is adapted from a rifle or shotgun, whether by sawing, cutting or any other alteration, and that, as so adapted, is less than 660 mm in length,

  • It defines a “restricted firearm” as

(a) a firearm that is not a prohibited firearm,
(b) a handgun
(c) a firearm that is designed or adapted to be fired when reduced to a length of less than 660 mm by folding, telescoping or otherwise.

  • It defines a “non-restricted firearm” as a firearm that is not a prohibited or restricted firearm.

This is far easier to understand than the confusing legalese used now.

It is an essential part of the political process to offer solutions, not just criticism. It seems very likely that most Canadians will be satisfied with a restructured classification system that retains the terms they recognize, but is fair to responsible, trustworthy gun owners. Firearms owners could take some satisfaction in knowing that one of the biggest shortcomings in the Firearms Act will finally be addressed. The CSSA feels this goal is achievable but we need your help. Write or call your MP and discuss these positive changes. Emphasize how this is good for all parties and help them understand how this will not compromise public safety one iota. It is important to act quickly on this, Minister Blaney's promised bill is just around the corner.

The CSSA is the voice of the sport shooter and firearms enthusiast in Canada. Our national membership supports and promotes Canada's firearms heritage, traditional target shooting competition, modern action shooting sports, hunting, and archery. We support and sponsor competitions and youth programs that promote these Canadian heritage activities. Website

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