TheGunBlog.ca — Following is a Q&A about Canada’s planned new gun law with Wes Winkel, president of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association, the country’s main industry group. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police responds to three questions about the firearm-classification system.
Winkel, who also owns Ellwood Epps Sporting Goods about 150 km north of Toronto, spoke in a telephone interview yesterday and today. The interview was edited for clarity.
The Ottawa-based RCMP’s Media Relations responded by e-mail to written questions from TheGunBlog.ca today.
Q&A With Wes Winkel
What do you think of the RCMP being given the power to classify firearms?
The most troubling part of this whole legislation is that.
The fact that the government is going to give them carte blanche is very scary.
That’s not the job of the police. They’re not supposed to be law makers, they’re supposed to be law enforcers.
How significant is this?
I’m very concerned. Look at what’s happening to the Swiss Arms and the CZ 858.
Historically over the last few years, they’ve continued to prohibit guns, whether out of public pressure or a change of philosophy or some other reason. It might not even be the administration that’s in place now that has the desire to change things, but somewhere down the road, they might.
The problem with the way the law is written now is that a “variant” of an AK-47 or AR-15 is a pretty loose thing.
Is it that big of a stretch to think that somewhere down the road, someone at the RCMP says, “All these models of AR-15s are variants of an M-16.” I’m not saying they want to do this now. I’m saying they’ve proven to be untrustworthy in this field in the past.
[Ellwood Epps has sold Swiss Arms and CZ 858 rifles, Winkel said.]
I have colleagues and friends who own them.
We know that our industry tends to be distrustful because of what has happened in the past. A natural response to this is, “Uh-oh, here they come again for more of my property.”
“Prohibited” handguns a few years ago are a great example. They only grandfathered the ones in individual hands. All the ones owned by business were taken. That was the catalyst for people to say, “Whoa, we’re way too exposed here.”
Could you say more about the plan to ban the Swiss Arms and CZ 858 rifles?
They’re attacking legally owned firearms.
The Swiss Arms and 858 were imported legally under the guidance of Imports Canada and the RCMP. They were sold to clients with a legal licence and using legal funds. And here they are prohibiting them, devaluing people’s rights and people’s property. It’s not right.
Grandfathering is a way of seizing property.
Those Swiss Arms rifles cost about $3,500. Most people bought a Swiss Arms to go hunting because they can’t go hunting with an AR-15.
The 858s cost under $1,000, but there are many more out there. They were legally purchased under the guidance of the RCMP.
There’s another example, the Walther G22 rifle. We sold a lot of them as “Non-restricted,” registered and classified that way. A year and half later, the RCMP said, “We made a mistake, they’re now ‘Prohibited.’”
The RCMP have deflected any classification mistakes that they have made. In some situations, they actually had these firearms for inspection.
We’ve imported firearms that are brand new, and we’ve worked with the RCMP. It’s their job to do their due diligence.
The people who bought these things had no idea there was a mistake. It’s their personal property. It’s being devalued and they’ve done nothing wrong.
Some people think the bans are OK because they affect only a few hundred or a few thousand people. What do you say to them?
They think, “Oh, I don’t own it, so it’s OK.”
What people don’t realize is that next time, it might be something that you own. If you had stood up for the guy that owned the Swiss Arms, or the Walther G22, or the CZ 858, maybe this time it wouldn’t be your AR.
How will the requirement to keep transaction records affect stores?
When they start talking about keeping records, it puts everyone on edge, because here they are banning legally owned property. They keep taking away our stuff.
That’s why the record keeping is such a concern for gun owners. There’s a supreme mistrust by gun owners in their government because of that.
There are some things that are troubling.
Now we have to record a reference number. Businesses are going to be opened to liability if they don’t have their record keeping done, so they could be punished for paperwork mistakes.
Plus, there are times when websites are down and you can’t access them.
[The online licence-checking program requires entering the buyer’s licence number, date of birth and city of birth.]
If you were born in Toronto, it’s easy. But for some guys born in rural places or overseas, it can take a long time to find the right place or the right spelling. If the website’s down or there’s a problem and you need to call someone, call centres aren’t open outside of business hours or on weekends.
The one concern that I have is the dismissal that this doesn’t change a whole lot from before. The concern of the industry is: How will things morph over time.
We saw this with registrations initially. First the call centres were open 24 hours, then not in the evenings, then not weekends. That was a problem if you had a guy who drove for five hours to pick up a rifle. That’s what’s concerning: Where does this all go in the future?
You’ve said that you weren’t consulted while the law was being drafted.
There’s stuff that we could have proposed that might have actually been helpful in creating a safer society.
It’s absurd that this government is trying to enact legislation without consulting industry.
We have families, we have children, we want safety. Nobody is more interested in safety than us. They continue to have this mentality that the gun industry is evil.
[At the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association,] Every person on that board of directors has young children. We want things to be safe. We are the same as every Canadian, we just happen to have the knowledge of what makes sense and what doesn’t.
How about the expanded background checks that will focus more on mental health and cover someone’s entire life?
At first glance, most people might say it’s not a big deal.
[At the government’s Summit on Gun and Gang Violence two weeks ago, we heard that] The Canadian Mental Health Association people are very upset that the government is going to be cracking down on people with mental-health issues. Once it becomes public that you went to a doctor to be treated for a mental-health issue, if they take their guns away, do you think anyone is going to go to their doctor and say, “Hey, help me, I’m struggling here.”?
Mental-health people at the conference were saying, “You can’t do this.”
Now that you have a lifetime to go back on someone, say a guy got into a fistfight when he was 19. He learned his lesson, and he’s a good citizen. Now he’s in his mid-40s and he’s being treated for depression. Is that grounds for pulling his licence while he’s being investigated?
[In some cases] They do pull the guns during the investigation.
Now all of a sudden you have what could be a fairly normal citizen that got trapped into something he shouldn’t be in. He may not be a public-safety concern.
Even if this is not the intent of the law, it may make gun owners afraid to talk to their doctors about mental-health issues.
If you’ve got someone who needs treatment who is sitting scared at home because they’re afraid to lose their guns, that’s counter-productive.
Why is the government picking on people with mental-health issues?
We’re supposed to be reducing stigma. Look at the #BellLetsTalk campaign. Now we risk having a big red light that says, “If you have a problem, stay at home, don’t seek help.”
Any thoughts on what was said today about firearms marking?
There’s a statement in one of the documents that says there will be criminal provisions for anyone who violates any marking regulations. We’re trying to figure out where that statement comes from and what the intent of that is. We’re getting advice from legal counsel.
Q&A With RCMP
Why does the RCMP reclassify firearms?
The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is responsible for firearms-related policy and the Firearms Act which includes requirements related to possession, sale, transfer, storage, display and movement of firearms. The Minister of Justice is responsible for the Criminal Code, which includes firearms-related offences, penalties and criteria defining the classification of firearms.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Canadian Firearms Program is responsible for the technical determination of the classification of firearms in accordance with the Criminal Code. Firearms in Canada are classified pursuant to definition set out in the Criminal Code. Technical experts within the RCMP apply the definition to determine the firearm’s classification. The RCMP will only make changes to the classification of a firearm in the event that the manufacturing process changes, or new information, brought to the attention of the RCMP, reveals that the firearm meets the definition of a different classification under the Criminal Code.
How do you respond to people who legally owned firearms, and then were faced with a reclassification that prevented them from enjoying the firearm and that cut its market value?
This question should be redirected to Public Safety Canada.
Do you have plans to reclassify any firearms at the moment?
The RCMP will only make changes to the classification of a firearm in the event that the manufacturing process changes, or new information, brought to the attention of the RCMP, reveals that the firearm meets the definition of a different classification under the Criminal Code.