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Down the Road to Failure by Don Meredith © 2002
(first published in the May/June 2002 Alberta Outdoorsmen

field shoot

If you run a business, you know an informed customer is important to the future of that business. A person looking for your product or service needs to know 1) you exist, and 2) that you provide quality at a competitive price. It works similarly for governments. An informed public is more likely to understand and comply with the law, use the services available and maybe support the political party in power.

If that's the case, then why don't the people who run the Canadian Firearms Centre understand the concept and communicate properly with their customers?

As I have outlined previously in this column, I have no intention of breaking the federal firearms law. I think there are more important battles to wage than spending my time in court fighting a battle I know I cannot win. So, in 2000 I dutifully applied for and received my licence to possess a firearm before the deadline of January 1, 2001. However, when the licence arrived I was surprised to find that no instructions accompanied it. Must I carry the licence at all times or only when I'm using a firearm, or do I just keep it stored in a safe place? When I went to the federal Firearms Centre's web site, I could not find answers to my questions.

So, I sent an e-mail message to the centre and asked them just how was the licence to be used and why was it so difficult to find this information. Within a couple of weeks I received a response explaining that as of January 1, 2001, the firearms licence was indeed to be carried with me every time I used or transported a firearm. With regard to why the information was so difficult to find, they informed me that it was on their web site — I just had to go to their "Legal Texts" section where it was spelled out in the amendment to the Criminal Code.

I hadn't considered the Criminal Code, and upon investigation I did find the pertinent phrases — but all in legalese that requires at least a three-time read to even begin to understand. As a result, I'm sure that many firearms-licensed hunters were in the field in 2001 without their licences and in violation of the Criminal Code. Shouldn't it be the responsibility of the Firearms Centre to inform licensed owners of their responsibilities, at least at the time they issue the licences?

This year I dutifully took advantage of the free period to register my firearms (which ended for Albertans on March 19), and a few weeks ago I received my registration certificates for each of my guns — printed in black and white, four to a sheet, with markings indicating that I should cut out each one with scissors. Once again there were no instructions about how the certificates are to be used. They did come enclosed in what I would call a start to a form letter — it had the address of the Firearms Centre at the top, followed by my name and address — except there was nothing else on that 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheet of paper. For the price of sending me my registration certificates, they decided to send me a blank letter that could have easily been used to explain how I am to use the certificates — and hey, what the heck, maybe how I am to use my firearms licence, too — in case I hadn't bothered to ask before.

Once again, I searched the firearms centre web site and found no explanation of how these certificates are to be used. Must I carry them with me when using firearms? Must they be with the firearms when they are stored? What happens when I transfer a firearm to another person, does the certificate go with the firearm, even if the person is only borrowing it? And what about the Firearm Identification Number (FIN) stickers that at one time I understood were to be placed on each firearm to indicate that it had indeed been registered (as opposed to hauling around a wad of paper certificates in your pocket)?

So, again I sent an e-mail message to the centre with my questions, and within a couple of weeks I received the following information from the centre's so-called Communications Group:

  • With regard to FIN stickers, they will only be issued for firearms that do not have a serial number, and about six weeks after the issuance of the certificates.
  • As of January 1, 2003, firearms owners should be able to produce their registration certificates if requested by a peace officer.
  • If you do not have a registration certificate with your firearm as of January 1, 2003, your firearm could be seized by a peace officer. You would then have 14 days to produce the certificate, after which the firearm would be returned to you.
  • Yes, the appropriate certificate should be given to anyone borrowing a firearm.
  • No, a certificate cannot be transferred to a new owner of a firearm. During the ownership transfer process, the Firearms Centre will issue a new certificate to the new owner — despite the fact the certificates have nothing on them to identify the owner.

As to why this information cannot be readily found on the web site, once again they informed me it's all in the Criminal Code of their Legal Texts section. There was no explanation as to why this information is not at least presented to the firearms owner when the certificates are issued.

So, unless you have the motivation and temerity to drill deep into the Canadian Firearms Centre web site, or contact the centre either through e-mail or telephone, you would not know how you're supposed to use your licence and certificates. Is this the way to communicate with your customers? I don't think so. Why aren't the simplest rules of public relations being followed to help firearms owners comply with the law?

I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me if a government hasn't taken the necessary steps to inform its citizens about a law, that government may have trouble defending that law in court. It's true that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but a citizen must have reasonable access to information about a law if a government wishes compliance with the law.

As I stated in a column I wrote back in 1998, whether intentional or not, the gun registration system has been designed for failure from the start. The issuance of these flimsy registration certificates without any explanation as to how they should be used is only the next step down a long and costly road to failure.


Don's previous articles on this subject: Gun Registration Designed for Failure, The Boondoggle Continues and The Firearms Dance.
For subsequent articles Don has written on this subject, please go to Why Gun Registration has Failed and Everybody's Talking.


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Check-out Don's adventure novels:

Grizzly One
The Search
for Grizzly One
Dog Runner
Dog Runner