Justice Minister Allan Rock says a tough universal gun control law is necessary to stem crime in Canada - and could head off the formation of private American-style militias.
Gun control opponents complain that the clear reference to the Oklahoma City bombing - linked to a private militia - is fearmongering.
A gun control bill is in its final stages, with a parliamentary committee conducting hearings before the House of Commons gives final approval, probably before summer.
The justice minister says he will accept only minor alterations, and passage is near certain.
The government’s bill would stiffen jail terms for people convicted of using guns in the commission of a crime, crack down on firearms smuggling, restrict ammunition sales and require registration of all of the estimated 7 million guns in Canada by 2002, including handguns, rifles and shotguns.
Rock, referring to the Oklahoma City bombing to bolster his arguments, told the parliamentary committee earlier this week that a universal firearms registry will make it harder to create private militias, such as those targeted in the bombing investigation.
“Registration will provide information to police about whether someone is stockpiling firearms,” the justice minister said. “Isn’t that what authorities should know, whether someone is stockpiling guns, creating their own militias?”
Opponents say that’s a scare tactic.
“I haven’t seen any sign that anybody is trying to create a militia in Canada,” said David Tomlinson, president of the National Firearms Association. “As usual, the Canadian government is reacting to events in the United States.”
Gun lobbies in Canada are not nearly as powerful nor as organized as those in the United States. The National Firearms Association, an Alberta-based group, is made up largely of rural and small-town gun owners. It’s membership is only about 30,000.
However, there is a lot of opposition to the gun control bill, much of it from rural Canada, particularly in the north where guns are a way of life. Many people there, especially Indians and Inuit, live at least partly by subsistence hunting.
“It’s urban minds that have designed this bill for urban centers, and it doesn’t make sense,” said Stephen Kakfwi, justice minister in the Northwest Territories.
Other critics say registration will do nothing to reduce crime but instead would make criminals out of law-abiding citizens. Some gun owners say they will refuse to obey the new registration law.
“It’s a mockery of a bill,” said Olympic shooting medalist Linda Thom. “We want it killed.”
The government of Saskatchewan wants an amendment giving the province a choice on registration. Saskatchewan Justice Minister Bob Mitchell suggests applying the law only in populous provinces with high crime rates such as Ontario and Quebec. But Rock insists the program must be national.
Even Americans would feel the effects. Under the bill, people visiting Canada to hunt would require a temporary license and registration certificate to bring a gun into the country.
Canadians claim most of the illegal guns in Canada are brought into the country from the United States. However, Associate Deputy Minister Ian Bennett admitted Ottawa doesn’t know how severe that problem is.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: GUNS IN CANADA Proposed gun registration law All guns would have to be registered: handguns, restricted guns, rifles and shotguns. Registration fees: Existing guns: not more than $10 for first 10 guns (could increase to $18 for first 10 guns by 2002). New guns: $15 for each shotgun and rifle, $60 for each handgun. Would cover approx. 7 million guns. Associated Press