In Canada we have been subjected to three increasingly restrictive firearms control laws in the past several decades, culminating with the Firearms Act. Realistically, we must assume that this is an identifiable trend that will continue in future.
Licensing is one of the new components of firearms law included in the Firearms Act. From a variety of sources we have determined that licensing has been responsible for the bulk of the costs associated with the act to date. Even the staunchest advocates of "firearms control", the Coalition for Gun Control, admit as much. Given the disparity between the costs of the old Firearms Acquisition Certificate and the new license it is reasonable to question what benefits are derived from that added cost.
The government, in an attempt to justify these cost differences, has attempted to mislead the public into the belief that safety training, safe storage and the necessity of background checks did not exist without the new act, when, in fact, they did. Licensing requires a background check and safety training that includes what constitutes safe storage under the law. These requirements were in effect before the licensing requirement rendering licensing redundant for these three purposes. The FAC is not a license. It is, essentially, evidence that a background check has occurred, insuring an individual has not been deemed a threat to public safety and therefore, cannot be denied the right to purchase a firearm.
With the introduction of a license the issue of rights versus privileges arises. If private ownership is accepted as a licensed activity, it will result in moving what was previously a right into the realm of privilege. Before this situation is accepted by gun owners they must ask themselves if it will contribute to the government's increasingly restrictive policy in regards to firearms ownership.
The United States have a constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms.
That right is continually subjected to challenges as to its validity and intent. Rights themselves are subject to limitations. Individuals are also guaranteed the right to life in the United States but that right can be removed when that individual takes another's life.
What then is the difference if firearms ownership is a right or a privilege? In the case of rights the burden of proof rests with the state in the denial of those rights. In the case of privileges the burden of proof shifts to the individual. If it is a right to own firearms the state must prove grounds for the denial of that right. If it is a privilege individuals must prove they should not be denied ownership.
In the case of South Africa licenses have been denied, not on the basis of a perceived threat to public safety but for a number of unrelated reasons, lack of need being included in the reasons. In Canada, ownership of some firearms can be denied if a need is not demonstrated.
These are cases where the burden of proof rests with the individual.
The supremacy of rights versus privileges, in the retention of the private ownership of firearms in Canada, is obvious even if that right is difficult to retain and subject to restrictions as it is in the United States.
Do Canadians have the right to firearms ownership? The English Bill of Rights provided the right to English citizens. The preamble to the British North America Act extended that right to Canadians. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteed the continuation of these rights.
Our situation is similar to that of the Americans. American courts continue to debate the meaning and intent of the words written into the constitution in regards to the right to bear arms. In Canada, section one of the Charters of rights and freedoms allows latitude in the interpretation of rights. The fact that judges of the Supreme Court of Canada are appointed opens it up to questions of its impartiality in the interpretation of these rights. That same court has revisited past Supreme Court decisions and has revamped them in light of current social conditions thereby demonstrating the subjectivity of their decisions.
There is no reason to believe that present decisions will not be opened up for scrutiny at a future date. We do have a right to own firearms even if current judicial, political and social conditions do not favor it.
Separate from these written rights is the fact that Canadians have traditionally owned firearms without benefit of licensing. In fact, they have done so for the duration of the existence of this nation up until the implementation of the Firearms Act. If it did not require a license, was it not, in effect, a right?
The fact that many organizations, that exist to protect the ownership of firearms and the hunting activities that occur with them, would surrender the right so readily demonstrates their lack of suitably to defend against further encroachments on gun ownership. A defense on their part, that public opinion dictates the necessity of the acceptance of licensing amounts to nothing more than a surrender of responsibility.
Public opinion as the Supreme Court of Canada has demonstrated is fluid.
As licensing has not been proven to enhance public safety their job is to appraise the public of the situation and reject with all the
resources at their disposal this unnecessary encroachment.
Stellarton, Nova Scotia
15 January 2004
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