The RCMP have abandoned the traditional definition of “crime guns” that was limited to violent crimes), expanding the definition to include administrative crimes as well as violent crimes. This new definition exaggerates the numbers of “crime guns” and has been used to justify cracking down on those who forget to renew his or her PAL.
Judge for yourself. The new RCMP definition says:
“A firearm is a crime gun if it meets any one of the following criteria: “any firearm that is illegally acquired, suspected to have been used in crime, has an obliterated serial number, illegally modified (e.g., barrel significantly shortened).”
This definition conflates illegal acquisition with the use or suspected use of a firearm in a violent crime. By so doing, the RCMP blurs the distinction between administrative crimes and violent crimes. Any licenced firearms owner who lets his or her PAL expire becomes a criminal by not having a valid firearms permit and his or her guns become “crime guns.”
The RCMP’s new definition of “crime guns” violates an important legal distinction and, as a result, treats lapsed PAL holders as if they were violent criminals or arms smugglers. By blurring the distinction between administrative crimes (malum prohibitum) and violent crimes (malum in se), the RCMP can justify increasing police resources so they can crack down on PAL holders.
Crimes that are malum prohibitum differ fundamentally from malum in se. Malum prohibitum (or wrong because prohibited) is used in law to refer to conduct that is unlawful only by statute, as opposed to conduct that is evil in and of itself, or malum in se.
The new definition bloats the numbers of “crime guns” because it employs vague terms such as “illegal acquisition,” which intermingles smuggling, theft, with lapsed permits. These are dramatically different violations. Conflating them means that life-long, law-abiding Canadians who let their permits lapse are to be treated exactly like arms smugglers and thieves. This is wrong. The term “illegal acquisition” is also vague because it includes “found guns,” which is an exceptionally broad “catch all” category, including guns confiscated from the homes of suicide victims or surrendered by heirs or elderly people who have no interest in firearms.
Definitions matter. These changes were not made arbitrarily. But for what purpose?
Perhaps the Police find it easier to arrest absent minded hunters and target shooters than gang bangers or violent terrorists? Or maybe the brass hats are just playing politics with the anti-gun Trudeau Liberals?
The RCMP’s new definition not only breaks with the RCMPs traditional usage of the term “crime gun,” but it also breaks with established international standards. Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom accept the RCMP’s new definition. Both countries define “crime guns” as those that are used or suspected to have been used in a violent crime. (Although a few American agencies do appear to have used a definition of crime guns that mixes both administrative crimes and violent crimes.)
The RCMP’s ersatz definitions exaggerate the threat to public safety of administrative crimes and subtly shift police priority to lapsed PAL holders away from organized crime (and associated drug gang violence).
Only by deliberately abandoning traditional definitions can the RCMP come up with claims like “the majority of gun related crimes in our communities are committed with guns that are domestically sourced.” The use of the term “domestically sourced” allows the police to avoid admitting that few “crime guns” have been stolen from law-abiding owners because the vast majority of domestic firearms have never been in the system. They have never been registered, nor have their owners ever got a firearm licence.
According to StatsCan, fewer than 5% of firearms used in homicide had ever been registered, even at the height of the long-gun registry, and just 2% of accused murderers have a PAL or POL. All publicly available information points to violent criminals relying upon smuggling for their firearms, even if police occasionally encounter “domestically sourced” firearms in domestic incidents. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2040531
This definition may have been motivated to increase the analysis of gun use in domestic murders. If so, it is important to keep in mind that firearms are only infrequently used in domestic homicides. In 2015, StatsCan reports that 70 female intimate partners were murdered, 20 of whom were shot and 33 stabbed. The problem is domestic violence, not firearms access.
 Gary Mauser, Special Request, Statistics Canada, Spousal Homicide, 8 March 2017, Study number CRO0157521.