OFAH’s Brian McRae Discusses Municipal Firearm By-Laws: Q&A
Municipalities have important powers to affect firearm users and businesses, beyond federal and provincial laws.
6 Aug 2020
4 min read
TheGunBlog.ca — Brian McRae, who oversees municipal hunting and fishing issues for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, comments below on municipal firearm by-laws.
TheGunBlog.ca spoke with McRae by phone and e-mail in late July and early August. Headings and links were added by TheGunBlog.ca.
Why It Matters
- Municipalities have powers to restrict firearm users and businesses beyond federal and provincial laws, and often invent new rules without knowing existing ones.
- Canada’s governing Liberal Party is preparing municipal handgun confiscations, in addition to the current national rifle and shotgun confiscations.
- Firearm users improve policy when we share our expertise and experience, and elect politicians who respect our rights.
Q&A With OFAH’s Brian McRae
OFAH, Senior Advisor, Community & Partner Relations
Why would a municipality decide to invent new regulations?
Section 119 of the [Ontario] Municipal Act allows a municipality/township to create a discharge of firearms by-law under the context of “Public Safety.”
Unfortunately, most reviews have little to do with public safety and are often triggered (sorry, no pun intended) by someone filing a complaint (e.g., hearing a gunshot, or seeing someone hunting). Sadly, one un-justified/un-confirmed complaint can result in a by-law amendment that further restricts the use of firearms in an area (we have seen it happen many times). One of the main issues is that there are no standards or criteria that a municipality needs to meet or reach to permit them to create or amend these by-laws.
Someone complaining about gunshots or hunting is not a public-safety concern, nor should it be a reason to create or amend a by-law without the proper investigation occurring to confirm whether or not there is an actual issue/public-safety concern (which very rarely occurs).
In saying that, and I don’t want to imply that all reviews are unwarranted, there are situations or circumstances that justify a review, like a new development (i.e., subdivision).
In the end, we want to work with all municipalities to ensure any public-safety concerns are addressed, while not overly restricting hunting, trapping and/or recreational shooting opportunities.
Where does the OFAH come in?
The OFAH has been the leader in these discussions for decades, and are often the only organization/stakeholder voicing concerns for firearms users at the municipal level.
The municipal file is huge for the OFAH (includes files such as discharge of firearms by-laws, Sunday gun-hunting opportunities, noise by-laws, access, etc.).
We’ve been involved in approximately 100 reviews over the last 10 to 15 years so we have the necessary expertise.
We often hear about these reviews from our members, which is critically important as local residents generally have a pulse on what is happening in their own neighborhood.
We will then work with those residents, to ensure that staff and council are aware of any concerns there may be (sometimes there are only minor concerns, while others are more extensive/time consuming).
What makes municipal regulation so significant? A lot of people focus mainly on federal regulation.
These are scenarios that affect individuals at a personal level, at an “in my backyard” level.
Municipal discharge by-laws can directly affect people on their own property. Firearms, often bows, also pellet guns.
These by-laws can dramatically restrict a person’s ability to go out hunting or plinking on their own property.
What’s the potential risk?
Often you see staff writing by-laws with little to no knowledge of the current rules and regulations in place at all levels of government, which often leads to overly restrictive by-laws.
How does the policymaking process work in general?
It really depends on the municipality.
In a lot of cases, council will direct staff to review their own by-law and make suggestions or draft amendments. In that case, it’s often the by-law officer who will craft the by-law, and it goes back to council.
When that happens — and based on the author’s knowledge of the current provincial and federal rules and regulations already in place when it comes to hunting and firearms ownership/use in general — there is a much greater chance the draft by-law needlessly restricts lawful activities.
Another way is council will direct a committee to review the by-law. This is definitely a better way, because they have the ability to invite stakeholders and experts to inform their review. Police, conservation authority, hunting associations, firearm users, …
The city of Hamilton is a great example of this. Ultimately, it led to a very well-written by-law that actually reduced some of the restrictions towards legal hunting activities/opportunities. It was a great example of what can happen when a municipality works with stakeholder groups to make sure they are not overreaching or overlapping with existing rules.
What do you wish people understood better?
One of the big messages to get across to people is that: They live in their areas, they have their ears close to the ground.
If they hear of an issue, whether it be a fishing issue, or a discharge issue, or an issue at the range, the biggest thing we try to push is: contact us as soon as possible.
We want to be involved and engaged well in advance of this process.
The later you get involved in the process, the more difficult it is to get any change in the by-law.
If there are whispers of change, we want people to let us know. We’ll contact the municipality and ask for information.
In at least half of cases, we don’t find out about them until the 11th hour. It’s pretty hard to have any cause and effect when you hear about it that late.
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