Selling guns without mandatory checks on new owners [UPDATED]


There’s not much point prolonging the argument about the government’s determination to scrap the registry for rifles and shotguns.  But as Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, comes up this evening for a final vote in the House—its passage assured by the Conservative majority—Canadians on both sides of this bitter debate should consider the practical implications of the outcome.

One important matter is what will now happen when guns are bought and sold by individuals. After the gun registry’s introduction in 2003, any transfer of a gun’s ownership had to be approved by the federal firearms registrar, since the gun changing hands had to be registered by its new owner.

When the Tories shred the registry, of course, that obligation will disappear with it.

There will still, thankfully, be mandatory licencing of gun owners. So I had guessed that an individual selling a gun would, at least, have to make sure the buyer is duly licenced. When Bill C-19 was tabled last fall, I looked for this new mechanism, and was surprised to find that the legislation only stipulates the seller of a gun must have “no reason to believe” the buyer “is not authorized to acquire and possess that kind of firearm.”

Why such a weak obligation? Why not specify that the seller must make sure the buyer has a licence? I’ve asked the Public Safety department that question and I will post the answer when I get it. [UPDATED BELOW]

It’s not as if there isn’t an obvious way for a seller to check up on the buyer. After all, there will still be a federal firearms registrar.  Indeed, the new law says that a seller of a gun “may request” information from the registrar about whether the prospective buyer “holds and is still eligible to hold” a gun licence. Again, then, why not specify that the seller must request that verification?

It seems to me that leaving this up to the discretion of the seller is an obvious flaw. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews doesn’t see it that way. When I asked Toews about it at his news conference this morning, he said, “It is very clear that there is a legal prohibition against the individual from selling to firearm a person who is not licenced. So that it would be a criminal breach for the person to do that.”

To me, it seems clear only that I’d be prohibited from selling my rifle to a person I “have reason to believe” isn’t authorized to buy. But how exactly would I have reason to believe one way or the other? It’s not as if I’m obligated to call the registrar and ask.

Toews also said, in exasperated tones, that getting rid of the registry will not make any difference at all when it comes to buying and selling guns. His words: “I think many people forget that the registry has nothing to do with the licencing and the transfer of firearms from a licenced owner to another licenced owner.”

Actually, the registry fundamentally changed the process of transferring guns between licenced owners. Licencing includes no mechanism under which the federal authorities must be alerted to the private sale of a gun. Their approval became a requirement only when every firearm required a separate registration certificate, valid only for a given owner, and thus a new certificate had to be issued when any gun was sold.

That’s not to say licencing has not been a key part of the buying and selling of registered guns. It’s the licencing of owners—not the registering of weapons—that involves the most background checks. And the licence is revoked when a court finds a gun owner to be a public safety risk. But it was the moment of registration that brought the seller and buyer into contact with the registrar, who would then check to see if the buyer’s licence status had changed.

A final, broader observation here. The licencing of gun owners is the more useful and, frankly, intrusive part of federal gun-control regulations. It has always seemed to me nonsensical for the Conservatives to argue that forcing honest duck hunters and farmers to register their guns is a grievous affront, but requiring them to get an owner’s licence is entirely benign.

In fact, licencing and registration regulations are closely related and grew from the same public policy concerns, albeit decades apart. When it came to the buying and selling of guns, at least, they made sense together. I don’t see what principle is served by eliminating one while leaving the other in place. I only see a system made less effective.


On my question about why sellers aren’t simply required to check on the prospective buyer’s licence with the firearms registrar, I received an emailed answer from the media relations officers at the Public Safety department.

It begins: “This government remains committed to reducing the administrative burdens for law abiding gun owners.” So I take it that the first and cardinal reason for not making it mandatory for sellers to check up on buyers  is merely to make transferring the gun easier.

The answer goes on to note that a seller might “physically inspect” the buyer’s licence or might “have personal knowledge” of the buyer’s licence status. Well, sure. But I think anybody can see that it would be better to check the system to be certain. Just in case the guy’s been in court lately or something.

Indeed, the department reminds me that the seller, when in doubt, is supposed to pick up the phone and verify the buyer’s licence with the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program: “Bill C-19 ensures that the transferor has a legal right to request and receive that information.”

That’s a good thing. So I ask again, Why not make that check mandatory? Oh, wait—my note from Public Safety reasserts the government’s reasoning: “We do not support additional burdens placed up law abiding, licenced gun owners.”

It’s not very persuasive. I find it hard to believe even most opponents of the gun registry would very vigorously object to being asked to pick up the phone and make a simple inquiry before they go to sell a gun.






Selling guns without mandatory checks on new owners [UPDATED]

  1. It also assumes the licensed owner is completely scrupulous or hasn’t fallen on such hard times that the prospect of reselling guns no questions asked hasn’t become attractive.  This has been a  big problem in US states, although possibly in ones where licensing requirements themselves aren’t as strict as Canada. 

  2. Vic “Deadbeat Dad” Toews has already asserted he doesn’t believe in evidenced based policies, what on earth makes you think he knows the facts of what his legislation requires?

  3. Good job raising the issue, but why did you wait until NOW to press the point rather than before it got to Committee? 

    • Because he’s a journalist, not a policy maker, and may have some sort of idealistic hope that our government knows the difference between its ass and a hole in the ground when it comes to developing policy?

  4. Good points JG. Another possible hitch in just leaving the licensing requirement has occurred to me. I’ve just received my unresticted license, valid for 5 years. There’s a requirement to report changes to my personal info within 30 days of moving; rather like a DL. We all know how often that one gets flouted or simply forgotten.
    So while they may be able to assume that there are UWs at my house they don’t actually know [ not sure if i buy a new weapon if it is passed on to the registrar, but i hope so?]. In fact there is a weapon here from my daughter’s biathlon club – not mine. And if i move there is only a requirement to update info.
    And yes i’ve been told that buying a weapon from an existing licensed owner is entirely at the discretion of that owner.

  5. This information has been repeatedly put out there and repeatedly obfuscated and buried with the white noise of the dark side. Do you really expect CONs to say look what we are doing?

  6. Wow really? You don’t get it?

    The owner MUST have no reason to believe. That means the onus is on them to be sure however the means. Illegal transfers are still illegal. The registry couldn’t stop illegal transfer so what was the point?

    • OTOH if the weapon was registered and tied to the owner the likelihood of an illegal transfer would be even smaller.

    • The owner MUST have no reason to believe. 

      Having no reason to believe that X isn’t true is not the same thing as having reason to believe that X is true.

    • No, we get it fine. You don’t.
      MUST have no reason to believe doesn’t mean they have to go looking for reasons not to.

      If they have to go looking, then why not put that in the legislation directly? The seller must contact the fire-arms registry to ensure the recipient can legally own the gun.  

      Seems pretty simple.

      • Semantics. It is the must that is important.

        Again, for those commiting illegal transfers, the wording has little meaning.

        And the last word is yours.

        • Semantics? What do you think laws are? It means that the only way a person can be prosecuted for selling to an unlicensed buyer is if the court can prove that there were substantive and obvious reasons for any normal person to believe that the buyer did not have a license: No evidence legitimizes sale. Stop being a macaroon…

  7. If for any reason a license is revoked it should be taken from the licensee immediately, that way a seller would not have to check  to see if it’s valid.

    • The Registrar of Firearms is notified of all licence revocations, is responsible for revoking all associated registration certificates, and works to ensure proper disposal of the firearms.
      Would you please ask the Public Safety dept; how the Registrar of Firearm will be able to carry out their task without the aid of the registry? Or you could ask the Public Safety dept how they’ll solve this problem; Joe Blow has his firearm licence revoke, how many firearms will the Registrar of Firearms ensure will be properly removed from Joe Blow’s possession?  
      Keep in mind since 2006 there have been a total of 12,321 firearm licences revoked.

  8. “We do not support additional burdens placed up law abiding, licenced gun owners.”

    If  that’s the case, maybe i wont even bother giving the tranferor a receipt when i purchase a 2nd hand weapon.

  9. Reminds me of a favorite song –

    This song is over – ‘The Who’

  10. You need a POL or a PAL to own a firearm in Canada.   These come with an intensive questionnaire and criminal records check.  You cannot have your hands on a firearm without one.  Period.  Do you guys even do your homework?

    • But apparently you can sell a firearm to someone without ensuring the individual has one.

      What’s confusing you about that?

      If we can’t be sure people are in fact checking to see if the buyer HAS a POL or PAL, then clearly we’ve lost even that much insurance.

  11. Aww come on. Is it illegal for a seller to sell a gun to someone without a licence. YES! Is it illegal for a buyer to buy a gun without a licence. YES! 

    Does anyone doubt this?? Do you think if you get caught selling a gun to someone without a licence that it will be fine?

    •  Stop being a macaroon… It means that the only way a person can be prosecuted for selling to an unlicensed buyer is if the court can prove that there were substantive and obvious reasons for any normal person to believe that the buyer did not have a license: No evidence legitimizes sale.

    • So if I have my license and buy and sell a lot of guns, I can sell to any idiot I want, and as long as I have plausible deniability, it could be gang members without licenses.

      Boggles the mind why anyone would try to stand up for this obvious loophole.

      Hoping to sell some guns are we?

      •  I think it could be argued in court that not presenting a physical copy of the license to be looked at would count as having reason to suspect they don’t have one…  But I agree clearer wording that puts more of an onus on the seller would be nice.

  12. You must have a government license to BUY and SELL a gun..So many misinformed people on here ..

    • You mean like re-sales and straw dog purchases and Craig’s list and all of the other ways of subverting the law that we see in the states… ‘must have’ is only as good as can enforce… so many people misinforming on here…

      •  Funny that you mention craigslist.   A few weeks ago, I tried to list a long gun for sale on craigslist, and it refused to allow the post. Neither eBay nor craigslist allow weapons sales in Canada.

    • Sure, but if you sell a gun you don’t have to check that the buyer has one.

      How is this a complicated thing to understand the potential abuse of?

    • Because nobody would ever try to buy a gun without a licence? Is that what you’re asserting?

  13. It seems to me that we should not be trying to turn property owners into law enforcement officers when they wish to sell their property. 

    Just like the rest of the gun registry, this only creates additional burdens on lawful gun owners.  To think that this would have any effect whatsoever on the people who commit gun crimes is silly.  The gun registry never reduced gun crimes. 

    • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence I believe applies here.

    • Actually, asking for the buyer’s PAL is not turning the seller into a law enforcement officer — it’s a case of CYA for the seller. Simple. If the seller writes a receipt (not an unwise idea, even if it’s on a scrap of paper) then the PAL number can be put on it. No comebacks on the seller. Again, just CYA.

  14. It will still be illegal to  sell a firearm to a unlicensed individual. So, the legal risk of conviction and prison is still with the seller of the firearm. “no reason to believe” the buyer “is not authorized to acquire and possess that kind of firearm.” means the seller will have to check the license to make sure it has not expired, and will  cover the type of firearm the person is buying. This is exactly the way it was done with the FAC system, before the Liberals made such a mess out of it.. Barring the ‘tinfoil hat paranoia’ of the left, this should not cause any more of a problem now, than it did then.. The difference now, with this method, is moving towards the situation where the firearm owner/buyer are not ‘totally’ pre-determined to be criminals.  They will officially loose the criminal status, when licensing reverts back to a FAC

    • Then why doesn’t it say the seller must have to check? It explicitly does NOT say that for a specific reason.

  15. “the registry fundamentally changed the process of transferring guns between licenced owners.”
    Perhaps if you had said transferring registered guns, you’d be less wrong.  The LGR has approximately 7.1 million guns in it.  Whether that is 50% or 90% of the total long guns in Canada remains a mystery, since the amnesty on registering has been perpetuated since the LGR was started. The process of transferring guns under the LGR meant that at some point during the transaction, you called the CFC to let them know.  Then you completed the deal.  Some time later, you received a notice that the transfer was approved and you would be getting a registration certificate. A couple days later the certificate came in the mail. But, the gun changed hands at the same time as the money. I’ve bought and sold, with licensed dealers and private citizens, and this is how it works.
    My objections to the LGR had nothing to do with the process or any ‘onerous’ requirements.
    There is no demonstrable benefit to public safety from it, and it cost the Canadian taxpayer approximately one billion dollars to get started, and roughly twenty-two million dollars per year (averaged) since then.  We’d have been far better off, from a public safety perspective, to have given that money to the police forces.

  16. What does this journalist not understand? Plain and simple — all you need to own a long-barrelled firearm is a valid PAL, which means you must register with the Police to receive it. You buy a firearm from a store, they ask you for your PAL, make sure it’s valid, and sell you the firearm. You want to sell it to someone else, you ask for THEIR PAL, make sure it’s valid, and if so sell it to them. Simple.

    What’s the hangup?

    • There’s no requirement you ask. Just a requirement that you believe they can legally have it.

      So let us say some shady person wants to make a bunch of money by selling to people who are unlicensed. Under the law, this person can assert that the buyers told him they had their PAL and he saw no reason to disbelieve them.

      • Doesn’t have to be that sinister…brother selling a gun to a brother or close friend with a lapsed, suspended . or none existent pal; does you best friend or brother tell you everything, do you ask? 

  17.  According to the the RCMP CFP website; over the past three years the total number of people who have registered firearms and didn’t renew their firearm licence when their firearm licence expired was 139,268. Correct me if I’m wrong; it’s still unlawful to own firearms without a valid firearm licence. Damn that administrative burden.

    I realize some people may have legally disposed of their firearms or have eventually renewed their firearm licence late; but would anyone be foolish enough to bet all of the 139,268 people who had an expired firearm licence; either renewed their firearm licence or legally disposed of all their firearms, if they no longer wanted a valid firearm licence.

    I’m wondering if; scrapping the administrative burden of possessing a valid firearm will be next in the Conservative’s sights. Of course, only the firearm owners will know when that happens. 

  18. Just try to call the CFC on any given day and time and you’ll know why it would be a pain in the ass to get some sort of verification that the person you are selling your gun to is indeed licensed. Wait times before you can actually talk to someone are very, very long.

  19. So when we sell a car to someone, should we then do a background check to see if they speed, how many accidents he/she has had, drunk driving charges, suspensions etc before we sell it to them? More people die every yearfrom cars but our society has accepted it as normal. Not every car accident makes the news, but almost every shooting does. The government/ anti gun people have found us legal gun owners as easy targets. Put some energy into the ilegal trafficing of guns instead. $.02

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