BRIEFING TO THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY AND NATIONAL SECURITY (SECU) REGARDING PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BILL C-637, AN ACT TO AMEND THE CRIMINAL CODE (FIREARMS STORAGE AND TRANSPORTATION)
By Tony Bernardo, Executive Director | Canadian Shooting Sports Association
Canada – -(Ammoland.com)- Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the SECU Committee.
My name is Tony Bernardo, and I am the executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association. I have been asked to testify before this committee in regards to the technical aspects of Bill C-637. I also wish to provide some background information regarding the development of this situation with air guns in Canada.
The current laws and regulations Canada has regarding air guns came about as a result of the RCMP firearms lab trying to circumvent previous regulations in order to further restrict the possession of air guns. The firearms lab had been taking airguns of the type purchased at Canadian Tire stores and firing ultra-light pellets from these air guns, chronographing the velocity of these ultra-light pellets. When it was determined that the velocities exceeded 495 feet-per-second, they classified these ordinary air guns as real firearms and demanded that they be registered.
Needless to say, with hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of these very ordinary BB guns in the public domain, the Liberal government of the day was extremely concerned that Canadians would find themselves in criminality over the purchase of a common BB gun. The Minister of Justice at that time, the Honourable Anne McLellan, decided to form the original Firearms Experts Technical Committee. This committee was given the mandate to develop new air gun laws that would prevent the RCMP from continuing down the path of criminalizing ordinary Canadians. The makeup of the committee was wide and diverse and included members of the firearms community, activist groups and the RCMP, among others.
Over the course of several months, the committee met a number of times to best discuss how to keep Canadians safe without unduly restricting freedoms or criminalizing ordinary people. I was privileged to be on that committee and to serve Minister McLellan in that regard. After months of work, the committee recommended that our current air gun laws be changed from a simple 495 feet-per-second velocity ceiling to its slightly more complicated 495 feet-per-second with a newly introduced energy component of 5.7 Joules of kinetic energy. Because kinetic energy is a measure of mass times velocity squared, the use of ultra-light projectiles in BB guns would not exceed the energy requirement even though the tested velocity might be over 495 feet-per-second.
This is a very important point, and I will return to this later in this presentation.
Of particular interest to this committee might be the issue of why this law is so needed. Air guns found themselves in the crosshairs of the Supreme Court of Canada as a result of the so-called “pig's eye test.” The pig's eye test was introduced several years ago as court evidence by zealous Crowns bent on obtaining Criminal Code firearms convictions against individuals who had committed certain offences with air guns. Related to this is the Criminal Code definition of a “firearm.” Section 2 states: “‘firearm’ means a barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet or other projectile can be discharged and that is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death to a person, …”
The pig's eye test is based upon a post-war military study that demonstrated that a velocity of 214 feet per second was necessary to incapacitate a person. This was accomplished by firing military projectiles, not BBs, into the eyes of dead pigs. However, velocity does not tell the whole story.
As illustrated in the first part of this presentation, it is recognized that velocity alone is not sufficient to seriously injure a person. A speck of dust at 214 feet-per-second would make a person's eye water. A bowling ball at the same speed would easily kill someone. This was recognized by Minister McLellan's committee and was incorporated into Canada's air gun laws.
As well, there has been no demonstrated correlation between a pig's eye and a human's eye. We know that an octopus' eye is different than a sparrow's eye – which is different again from an alligator's eye. But there has never been a medical correlation of which I am aware, between a pig's eye and a person's eye.
Why is this important? Because the Criminal Code says “serious bodily injury” to a person – not a pig – and if one is to accept the premise that these are interchangeable, it must be clearly established that these two eyes are the same.
The third point regarding this test is that there is no legal opinion I am aware of that states that losing an eye constitutes a “serious injury.” I'm sure we can all agree that it would almost certainly be very painful and would bring out a huge squeamish factor in most of us. However since the beginning of mankind, people have been lost eyes in accidents and gone on to live perfectly normal lives. Once again, I am not suggesting that damaging an eye is not a serious matter. It certainly may be. I am simply stating that there is no legal evidence to establish this fact and that this is necessary when a Criminal Code conviction hangs in the balance.
The point of all of this information is that Canada's air gun laws were developed based on the results of committee recommendations from a group of experts appointed by the former Chrétien government. Justice Minister McLellan was satisfied that the recommended changes to the old regulations on air guns were both evidence-based and satisfied public safety requirements. Indeed, we have been using these regulations since that time, and there has been no lack of safety surrounding Canada's air gun laws.
Bill C-637 does not even restore the former government's status quo on BB guns as non-firearms. It only speaks to transportation and storage regulations. A kid with a BB gun can still be charged with firearms offenses in certain circumstances and a myriad of other very serious Criminal Code offenses. The decades-old warning to be careful with your Red Ryder BB gun certainly pales against the specter of being run through Canada's legal system.
Even with the successful passage of this bill, all that reverts back to the previous regulation is the storage and transportation of these BB guns.
Air guns are the primary trainers of the firearms world. Many, many generations of novice shooters have learned the skills of marksmanship and the responsibilities of safe gun handling through the use of pellet and BB guns. Many more will. The air gun is a marvelous training tool with which to teach. They are quiet, safe and very accurate. That the Supreme Court of Canada chose to circumvent the clearly stated will of Parliament is disappointing to the tens of thousands of Canadians I represent. These lawful, trustworthy citizens of this great country now look to you to make this right again.
It is the position of the CSSA that we support this bill. We would like to see it expanded to fully return to the old status of air guns enjoyed by Canadians for so many decades. Air guns are not firearms. They do not have the reach, lethality or potential of real firearms. Those air guns that do possess the characteristics of real firearms were already adequately regulated within Canada's legal framework. BB guns should not be treated as firearms. I think all of us intuitively recognize the wisdom of this, and we look to our Parliament to make this right again.
Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.
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 www.cdnshootingsports.org