TheGunBlog.ca — Tony Bernardo, the executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, comments below on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Firearms Reference Table.
We spoke with him by phone on Nov. 25. The Q&A was edited for clarity.
What is the Firearms Reference Table?
It is the No. 1 catalogue of guns in the world. It’s the most comprehensive catalogue of guns ever created.
It lists firearms, legal classifications and technical details.
The FRT is an internal RCMP document. It is not a book of judgment. It is the opinion of the RCMP technician who did the evaluation on the gun.
That said, it’s an amazing piece of work. It contains guns and details that are so obscure that you wouldn’t believe it.
Take a hypothetical pistol, the model 1909. The FRT would show the technical differences between the 1909, the 1909 A, the 1909 A1, and so on.
So one version with a 4.3-inch barrel is “Restricted” and one with a 3.75-inch barrel is “Prohibited” based on barrel length. And if they also make it in a 4.3-inch in .32, that model would be “Prohibited” based on calibre.
It sounds pretty straightforward.
Most classifications in the FRT are supposed to be self-evident.
The classifications are based on criteria defined in legislation.
If I pull out a single-shot .22 bolt-action rifle in any length, it’s cut and dry.
For 99.9% of guns, it’s cut and dry. It’s that 0.1% that isn’t.
What’s the problem with the FRT?
The problem is the misuse of the FRT.
The RCMP has, quite frankly, blown the confidence of the community in how they’ve used the FRT.
The problem is that the RCMP has made what our community regards as mistakes.
They tell us this cheap plastic .22 is a variant of an AK-47, and everybody goes, “What!?” The outcry on that was pretty big by us because it’s wrong.
Right now, a “variant” is anything the RCMP says it is. Worse, there is little recourse.
And Bill C-71 came along to make things worse.
When Bill C-71 came along to overthrow Bill C-42, [Minister of Public Safety Ralph] Goodale said, “We’re giving the decision making power back to the RCMP.”
The RCMP doesn’t have that power now and never did have the power. They became the oracle by default because the government didn’t have anyone else.
The government went to the RCMP for opinions on any guns that were controversial.
By default, the RCMP became the lab that would make a rating on whether a particular firearm was “Non-restricted,” “Restricted,” or “Prohibited.” And the Liberal cabinet minister would rubber stamp it.
What are some examples of problematic RCMP interpretations?
Take the Walther G22. Canada has a prohibition on bullpup stocks. Not bullpup guns, but bullpup stocks. What the RCMP did was determine that the Walther G22 could fire outside of its stock, so they classified the plastic stock as “Prohibited.” That kind of torqued, convoluted thinking and you just scratch your head thinking, “Come on, really?”
Or take the Squires Bingham AK22 and M1622, both of which are .22 rifles. The RCMP called them “Prohibited” variants of the AK-47 and M-16. How can they possibly be a variant of the AK-47 or M-16? They have no common calibre or parts. The RCMP said it’s because of the way they look. You’d have to be blind to not recognize from 100 feet away that these are not variants of an AK-47 or M-16. From that RCMP logic, my car is a variant of a Ford Model T. It’s got four wheels and a steering wheel. In fact, no, not quite. It’s nothing like a Model T.
The Mossberg Blaze is very similar. They didn’t ban the gun, they banned the look. There’s no problem with the Blaze, there’s a problem with the Blaze 47 because of its plastic stock that made it look like an AK-47. You can buy the Blaze, and you can buy the Blaze 47 stock from any retailer that wants to import it. And you can put your 47 stock on your Blaze and it’s perfectly legal but the Blaze 47 is “Prohibited.” Tell me where that makes any sense? They’re saying this is a variant of an AK. Really?
And then regulators and law-enforcement at customs, imports, exports and commerce rely on the RCMP’s opinion.
The one thing to understand though is that the FRT is not the book of doom.
In court, FRT decisions have been overturned.
Nowhere in legislation does the RCMP have the right to make classifications. Only the minister has that right.
The RCMP’s opinion is simply the opinion of a technologist.
You’ve made proposals to improve the process, right?
What the CSSA has proposed is a panel of experts.
It would be a mistake not to include the RCMP and the Ontario Centre for Forensic Sciences. Include those two groups, in with a group of say, four industry experts, that makes the adjudication of firearms that are grey. Most of them are not grey.
That’s why we need an adjudication body in addition to the RCMP. Not instead of, but in addition to. That’s why we need a panel of experts so that we can have a system that our community trusts.
Most governments have been sympathetic to what we’re asking for.