The Quebec government will soften the regulations for its new gun registry after opposition from firearm owners that has included protests and boycotts.
The government is trying to resolve administrative “irritants” in the registration process, but the province remains determined to register all non-restricted firearms by Jan. 29, Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said on Wednesday.
Ms. Guilbault announced the changes at the National Assembly flanked by spokespeople for both gun-control and gun-ownership rights in the province. The minister emphasized the decision to make changes was reached by consensus and added that the softened rules will make it harder for holdouts to make excuses and refuse to register their non-restricted firearms, such as shotguns and hunting rifles.
(Restricted firearms such as handguns and certain rifles must be registered across Canada.)
The amendments will not be in place before the registration deadline, however.
“What we are doing today does nothing to compromise the registry. We are making it more simple and efficient,” Ms. Guilbault said. “Our position is reasonable and brings together people who do not agree on this issue.”
The biggest irritant to be eliminated is the rule requiring owners to report if a gun was temporarily away from its usual storage place for more than 15 days. Some firearm owners go hunting for weeks at a time. Ms. Guilbault said she hasn’t decided how temporary absences might be handled.
Two other changes will simplify the registration process. Owners will no longer have to provide measurements for the barrels of their firearms, and the province will not issue unique registration numbers that gun owners must carry. The serial number of the firearm will now suffice for registry purposes.
Alain Cossette, head of the Quebec Federation of Hunters and Fishermen, still called for the end of the gun registry, but he applauded the government for showing flexibility and common sense. “We want it abolished, but it has now lost some of its bureaucratic constraints,” he said. “We oppose the false sense of security and the high cost a registry brings with it.”
Since the registry was put into place almost a year ago, owners have only registered 349,952 of an estimated 1.6 million long guns in Quebec. (That estimate is based on the defunct federal registry and is six years out of date. Ms. Guilbault said 100,000 firearms are purchased annually in the province.)
Gun owners have doubled the pace of registration since December, but it still only amounts to about 3,500 firearms a day.
Mr. Cossette said his association does not support the boycott taking place among some firearm owners. “The law is there. It’s the law. It was passed democratically by 99 members of the National Assembly. Once the law was passed, we worked on changes instead. And now we’ll work on expanding on the eight [MNAs] who opposed it.”
Heidi Rathjen, the co-ordinator of Poly Remembers, a gun-control advocacy group created in remembrance of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre, applauded the government for the measures aimed at increasing participation in the registry.
“The government has illustrated they are firm and will carry on with registration. We are sensitive to the concerns of owners and are prepared to be flexible,” she said. “After eight years of political debate, judicial procedures, legislative and regulatory processes, we hope at least the political debate is now over.”
The legal debate is not over, however. Gun rights advocates are challenging the Quebec law on constitutional grounds. The Quebec Court of Appeal is set to hear the case Feb. 26.