Ontario is abandoning a policy launched at the behest of the gun-shop lobby that loosened inspections of firearms businesses across the province for nearly two years and placed thousands of firearms outside the scrutiny of provincial inspectors.
Launched in March, 2017, the policy instructed the province’s gun-shop inspectors to stop checking every restricted and prohibited weapon – legal categories comprised largely of handguns – in gun-business inventories. Instead, the new practice, based on one devised by the U.S. military in the 1940s, required inspectors to scrutinize as little as 2 per cent of a gun-shop’s total restricted and prohibited inventory.
The purpose of an inventory inspection is to ensure the province’s commercial stock of restricted and prohibited guns is accounted for in the RCMP’s central firearms registry and to detect rare cases of legal guns being diverted to the illegal market.
In an interview, Ontario’s Chief Firearms Officer OPP Superintendent Dwight Peer said he was immediately suspending the military sampling practice and placing the whole inspection regime under review.
“My feeling is that the entire process needs to be revamped,” he said.
The move comes after The Globe and Mail made inquiries about the sampling policy for gun-shop inspections.
Universal inspections are the standard in other provinces. In the United States, inspectors from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms check every gun in an inventory against the business’s legally required ledger of firearms transactions, according to a 2016 report by Orchid Advisors, a gun-industry consultancy.
Supt. Peer said his predecessor initiated the sampling policy after consulting with major firearms businesses that had complained that universal inspections were too onerous.
“Under the 100-per-cent inspection policy, it used to take four days with three officers and one of our staff to check our stores,” said Wes Winkel, owner of Ellwood Epps Sporting Goods in Orillia, Ont., and president of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association. “It would disrupt the business.”
Mr. Winkel said he and others in the industry proposed the sampling policy to streamline the process. “Other provinces are now looking at adopting this as well,” he said, calling the full inspections “a gross waste of taxpayers' dollars.”
“The businesses are not the problem," he said. "We carry thousands of restricted and prohibited firearms and we ensure we track and store every one of those properly every day.”
The military sampling policy is laid out in an internal memo signed by former chief firearms officer Bryan Martin and obtained by The Globe through freedom of information legislation. It shows inspectors needed to sample just 192 guns at businesses with total inventories of between 3,201 and 10,000 firearms. That sample size dropped to 125 for businesses with between 91 and 3,200 firearms in stock.
The memo states that if problems are identified within the sample, the inspector may increase the number of firearms under inspection. It specifies that incorrect serial numbers, newly imported firearms that haven’t been registered and firearms on loan to or from other businesses should be considered administrative problems that don’t warrant a broader inspections.
The memo explains that the prescribed sample sizes are based on an “inventory sampling plan” known as MIL-STD-105, which was created by the U.S. military around the time of the Second World War to determine the maximum number of allowable deficiencies in a bulk purchase.
The U.S. military abandoned the practice in 1995.
Supt. Peer said MIL-STD-105 is a quality-assurance test that was wrongly put to use in an inventory-control capacity. “We will not be using it in future inspections,” he said. “We will be doing an inventory count of some kind.”
While he’s rejected MIL-STD-105, Supt. Peer won’t rule out replacing it with another sampling model, especially for larger stores.
Gun-control advocate Wendy Cukier said the memo was the first she’d heard of a sampling approach to inspections and balked at the apparent power of the gun-shop lobby to push the policy through.
“I do think the Canadian public would be shocked to hear about how this came about,” said Dr. Cukier, president of the Coalition for Gun Control and a professor at Ryerson University. “The whole idea that sampling would be acceptable when the impact of errors is so significant really surprises me and is not consistent with what anyone working in public health and safety would expect.”
Every province and territory has an RCMP-funded chief firearms officer responsible for firearms licensing and transfer issues. In Ontario, the CFO is administered by the Ontario Provincial Police and employs around 20 inspectors to scrutinize 1,100 licensed firearms businesses.
Supt. Peer said his office has found little evidence of illicit activity at provincial gun businesses, but Dr. Cukier argues that’s proof the universal inspections were working.
As for the time and labour associated with checking every last gun in every last gun shop, Dr. Cukier is blunt. “Guns are dangerous,” she said. “If you want to sell them, there should be costs associated.”