Are peaceable PAL holders being deliberately disarmed? The police appear to be using the firearms regulations to do so. Conviction can mean losing one’s guns, fines, even prison time.
My recent Special Request to Statistics Canada found that over 3,000 charges for violating bureaucratic firearms regulations (such as “unsafe storage”) are laid each year. Peaceable firearms owners face these charges, not thugs.
Canada’s gun laws criminalize accidental mistakes. Unlike a real crime, no criminal intent, (or mens rea) is required. (Mens rea is legalese for “guilty mind.”) Crimes that are malum in se (those that are inherently wrong by their nature, like murder or robbery), require the perpetrator to intend to commit a crime.
To be charged, all that’s required is sloppy paperwork. Forgetting to renew a PAL is enough to earn a criminal charge. A gun owner can even be charged if the renewal application is just lost in the mail!
Using CanSim I found that that 2,490 criminal charges were laid each year for “Unsafe Storage” from 1998 to 2016 across Canada. Add in another 587 additional charges for “Firearms Documentation” to total more than 3,000 charges per year for violating bureaucratic firearms rules! Conviction of just one of these charges can mean that an owner loses his or her firearms licence as well as his or her firearms. Unfortunately, StatsCan doesn’t record the criminal records of the individuals charged, nor the result of court proceedings.
Digging a little deeper, I submitted a Special Request to Statistics Canada to find out how many charges for administrative violations of firearms regulations involved violence. StatsCan would only give me a table for Canada (excluding Québec) from 2009 through 2015. Quebec was excluded, I was told, due to an allegedly high proportion of incidents where information on weapons was reported as unknown.
Analyzing the data for “the rest of Canada” (Canada excluding Quebec) I found that just 4% of the charges for documentation irregularities involving “unsafe storage” of firearms and “firearms documentation” were accompanied by criminal charges for violence. In 96% of these cases, the gun owner in question was just charged with administrative violations, without involving any violence.T1
Does that sound like the accused is a violent criminal? Violence would not be expected from a peaceable citizen – a hunter, target shooter or gun collector.
These statistics raise serious concerns in my mind.
Why do administrative offences appear to be issued primarily to peaceable firearms owners? Why?
Being convicted of violating administrative offences, such as possessing a firearm without a licence, or having a firearm unsafely stored, is grounds for losing one’s firearms. Unfortunately, these are police reports, not court records, so it is impossible to know how many of these charges resulted in jail time or the loss of a firearm.
Not all administrative violations are targeted to peaceable citizens. Some of the charges clearly relate to convicted criminals who had violated a court order. Charges for violence were involved in 11% of the 1,400 incidents for “Weapons Possession Contrary to Order” involving firearms each year.
Second, why wouldn’t the police routinely add administrative charges for violating firearms regulations when arresting violent criminals armed with firearms?
Why are firearms laws being used to disarm peaceable firearms owners and not violent criminals who use firearms ?
Firearms were used to injure approximately 1,300 victims of violent crimes annually from 1998 through 2016*. If these violent criminals had been charged with administrative violations in addition to their violent crime, there would be a lot more administrative violations. Why weren’t violent criminals charged with administration violations as well as their violent crimes?
Does this reflect plea bargaining? Are charges for administrative violations withdrawn in order to get convictions for violent crimes?
In sum, these findings suggest that law-abiding Canadian gun owners are the target of administrative infractions not violent criminals. Could this be part of a larger effort to disarm civilian firearms owners?
* This was estimated from the percentage of victims injured by firearms reported in the 2012 Juristat report, Firearms in Violent Crime.