Gun Industry Faces Turmoil, Costs as UN Marking Deadline Nears

Canada’s firearm industry is in turmoil over import-marking rules that start June 1, threatening gun shops, importers and consumers with surging prices, business closures and more than 5,000 job losses.

  • Marking imported guns sounds simple, but execution will be complex and costly, and may prove useless.
  • Gun industry is confused and unprepared, asking government to change the rules.
  • Government doesn’t exclude change, wants system that is “not too onerous.”

The government’s Firearms Marking Regulations, meant to apply the UN Firearms Protocol against illegal trade, will require that guns coming into Canada as of June 1 be coded with the country and year of import, such as “CA17.” The rules were adopted by the Liberal government in 2004, and the Conservatives delayed their coming into force until this year.

The marks seem like a simple way to track illicit shipments, but they’ll be useless. Street gangs in Canada or war lords in Africa can grind off the “CA17,” and smugglers can apply fake codes to make it look like firearms passed through Canada, or any other country.

Overhaul, Turmoil

The industry is asking the government to change the rules before they take effect, since businesses and police already trace guns easily by make, model and serial number. Companies also want to avoid paying for $100,000 engraving machines, and aren’t ready for the logistical overhaul needed to follow the regulations as they are written now.

“This has caused a great deal of turmoil for us because we don’t know how to comply,” Wes Winkel, president of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association, the country’s main industry group, said by telephone on March 29. “The original draft as completed is ridiculous and full of holes. On the surface when you hear it, it sounds like such a simple thing. As an individual importer, I underestimated the amount of complexity.”

42 Seconds

Winkel, the owner of Ellwood Epps Sporting Goods about 2 hours north of Toronto, said he met with Public Safety Canada to ask them to clarify or modify the rules, since the industry already satisfies the UN Firearms Protocol’s goal of tracking guns.

In one meeting, he invited a ministry official to pick a firearm at random from his inventory. They called the manufacturer, and it took 42 seconds to learn the date and time it shipped from the factory, and when it cleared customs, he said.

“The industry can do that,” Winkel said. “We do it for business reasons more than anything. I’m not going to pay for a shipment of firearms that doesn’t show up at my door, so they have to be able to track where that shipment goes.”

5,000 Job Losses

The industry group estimates the regulations as written will add an average of $200 to the price of firearms, which typically range from $500 to $1,500.

Many smaller companies will be unable to apply the markings and the higher prices will damp demand, potentially eliminating more than 5,000 jobs out of roughly 22,500 positions in the gun industry and leading to shut downs, Winkel said. Canada has about 2,500 firearms businesses with an average of 9 employees each, he said, plus another 2,000 companies that sell ammunition.

IRunGuns LLC triggered a backlash last month after the Canada-U.S. gun dealer downplayed the new import regulations, saying it can apply them easily and cheaply. Many in the industry said the company misunderstood the rules.

Confusion, Shortages

“My sense is that there’s a lot of confusion,” said Domenic Saverino, the owner of Toronto-based Al Flaherty’s Outdoor Store, who with Ellwood Epps is among Canada’s biggest independent gun retailers. “Everyone is saying the Liberals will pull it at the last minute. There’s no basis for believing this. People should take it seriously.”

Saverino said he’s already seeing shortages of many rifles and of handguns such as Smith & Wesson range kits, CZ Shadows and Glocks, and speculates that some distributors are stockpiling supplies to charge higher prices after June 1.

Any extra costs will be passed on to the final consumer, the more than 2 million Canadian men and women who are licensed to buy firearms for competition, hunting, recreation, self-defence or as part of a collection. Winkel, who has worked on the import rules for nine years, expects the government to exempt police and military gun purchases.

Government’s Response

“It is important to note that the Firearms Act regulations related to firearms markings were deferred until June 1, 2017, so they are not currently in force,” Andrew Gowing, a spokesman for Public Safety Canada, said on April 3 in an e-mailed response to questions by TheGunBlog.ca. “Markings allow law enforcement to combat the criminal use of firearms. It is important this be done in a manner which is not too onerous for firearms owners and businesses. We have nothing further to add at this time.”

Applying the markings as written is complex, Winkel said. The marks must go on after the guns have crossed the border, but before they’re delivered to the distributor. Someone needs to move the shipment to a dedicated area, remove the packaging, unbox each gun, remove any oil and grease and in some cases disassemble guns so they fit properly onto $100,000 laser-engraving machines that apply the markings to the law’s specifications. Too shallow, and they don’t pass. Too deep or too hot, and it damages the steel, rendering the firearm dangerous to operate and worthless.

Cost, Risk, Injury

The guns that pass will need to be reassembled, reboxed, repackaged and reloaded onto delivery trucks. All this needs space, time, specialized equipment and staff, since operating the lasers requires skill and precautions. There’s also the cost and safety risk from damage, loss and theft, and the potential for injury from the lasers.

James Bachynsky, a co-owner of Calgary Shooting Centre, opposes the regulations and worries about another risk from all the handling: scratches. One of his specialities is selling historic Swiss army pistols such as the SIG Sauer P210 with precious engravings and which retail for $10,000 — if they are pristine.

Regulation Is ‘Idiotic’

“All it takes is someone racking the slide and activating the safety, and you’ve just taken five or six hundred dollars off the value of the gun,” Bachynsky said.

“This whole UN markings system is designed around keeping firearms out of conflict zones,” Bachynsky said. “It’s not designed around keeping an engraved P210 out of that conflict zone. It’s designed around keeping a shipload of North Korean AK-47s out of that conflict zone. How does this keep North Korean AK-47s out of Mozambique? How exactly does us marking commercial firearms affect that? It doesn’t. It’s idiotic.”

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