The Florida high school shooting February 14 that left 17 people dead led to renewed and persistent calls for stricter gun laws south of the border.
Typically when events trigger discussions about gun violence in the United States, the merits of Canada’s gun control legislation are discussed.
This prompted The Spotlight to ask the simple question: Just what does it take to buy a gun legally in the true north strong and free?
The short answer is that you need a license. Getting one includes taking a gun safety course, passing two tests and a background check that asks questions like have you lost a job in the last two years and whose bed have your boots been under.
Ron Young, owner of Princeton’s Outdoor Supply, is a licensed gun seller and Canadian Fire Arms Safety Course Instructor.
“I have to keep up on the gun laws and try to pass that knowledge onto students who are taking the course.”
Young conducts at least half-a-dozen courses in Princeton throughout the year, generally with six people per class who are seeking a license to purchase and possess non-restricted guns – rifles and shotguns.
After eight hours in the classroom students must score a minimum of 80 per cent on a 50-question written test, and achieve at least the same mark during a hands-on practical examination.
“It means you have to show me you can handle that firearm properly.”
The course has only been a mandatory part of the process for two years.
“I take that course seriously,” said Young. Before the new law “you could basically come in off the street and challenge the test if you had any common sense.”
A Spotlight employee – who has never actually held a gun or looked at the course workbook – managed just 80 per cent of the test’s 33 true or false questions such as: “a road sign is an acceptable target” and “bullets will not ricochet off water.”
After the test is completed and passed, Young also helps a student fill out an application for the gun license and that probes pretty deeply into a potential gun owner’s private life.
In addition to questions about criminal history an applicant must reveal, for example, if he or she has suffered from depression or threatened suicide in the past five years, or experienced a divorce, separation, breakdown of a significant relationship, job loss or bankruptcy in the previous two years.
While those admissions don’t necessarily preclude someone from getting a license, said Young, they do require the applicant to provide explanations and all the information provided is cross-referenced through federal databases.
Under line 17 a) an applicant must also identify any “spouse, common-law or partner” and under line 17 b) fess up to having “a conjugal relationship other than with the person you may have referred to in question 17 a).
Anyone named as intimate partner must provide a signature on the application, or that person will be notified by the Chief Firearms Officer.
You must be 18 to apply for a license, and provide a photo and names of guarantors. Licenses must be renewed every five years.
Applicants must possess a license for unrestricted guns before taking a second course and test qualifying them to apply for a license to purchase a restricted weapon.
According to Young it takes between six and eight weeks for the government to process a license application and the smallest error or failure to disclose information can mean an even longer delay.
By way of comparison to the Florida school shooting, US news outlets reported the accused purchased guns legally, passing an “instant background check” submitted online by a gun seller that takes only a few minutes to complete.
Non-federally licensed gun sellers in Florida are not required to perform background checks.
Given the complexity of US gun legislation Young declined to give his opinion on its over all effectiveness.
While he believes that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” he also feels “what we are doing here seems to be working.”