Automatics for the people

In Features /

By Tracey Tong

There is a famous saying in the United States: “You can have my gun when you pry it from by cold dead hands.” In Canada — where our hands are slightly colder to begin with — it’s a little harder to get guns in the first place.

Nevertheless, many Canadians want lethal weapons around the house. Even if you’ve never considered actually having the tools necessary to blow someone’s head off, or to take down big game on the run, it’s instructive to know how people get their guns.

Welcome to the wonderful world of weapons. Sam Saverino, the manager of Al Flaherty’s Outdoor Store on Dufferin Street, says his store sells shotguns and rifles for hunting, but no hand guns. And like all legal arms dealers in Canada, he needs to see identification and a firearms acquisition licence before he seeks someone a gun.

To keep the guns safely out of reach from lunatics, the store has an alarm system and a gun room where all the firearms are locked up. Several trips to area gun shops for photos of guns proved fruitless; until a permit is shown, most guns don’t see at the light of day. “We keep them all on keylock,” says Saverino, his voice as assuring as his promise. “We’ve had three or four robberies (in which firearms were stolen), but the last one was about eight years ago.” That’s why Flaherty’s registers every gun it sells on a computer system, to the police have a record of unsold weapons.

To buy your first gun you must be 18. “Few first-time gun purchasers are retirees; most people over 55 come to the gun shops to upgrade or to trade their guns for newer models,” Saverino says.

Frank Roy, a 20-year-old computer engineering student at Ryerson, is intimately acquainted with guns and the rules that surround their use. At home in Timmins, Ont., he and his father are avid gun collectors and outdoorsmen. They own 52 guns to hunt “bear, moose, fox, rabbit and hare.” Each year, they get a group of five or six people who apply for a permit to win the right to hunt a doe or buck.

The kind of gun you use depends on the type of animal you choose to hunt. If you want to hunt fox for fur, you don’t want to blast a gigantic hole in it. “Hunting is being with nature. You can’t reproduce the feeling of leaves in autumn.” As he talks of home, Roy relaxes in a chair with a look in his eye that suggests he’s rather be out in the wild than trapped indoors talking to a reporter.

“We get our guns from stores or from people who own them already,” he says. “You know what you want from reading books and gun magazines and digests.” Mainstream mags include Guns ’n’ Ammo (a monthly magazine), and The Shooter’s Bible, which comes out once a year and lists every gun available along with such particulars as power, range and other features.

To buy guns you have to do three things — identify what kind of gun you want, apply for a licence to purchase and register the gun after you buy it.

According to the law there are three classes of guns: non-restricted rifles and shotguns; restricted handguns; and prohibited firearms, which are fully automatic machine guns and guns converted from fully automatic to semi-automatic. Other prohibited weapons include certain martial arts implements, switchblades and stun guns.

The federal Firearms Act states that all owners will need to licence to possess a firearm by Jan. 1, 2001. Only one-third of the estimated three million gun owners in Canada have an acquisition licence. There are four levels of firearm licences (FL) – five, if you include minors’ permits. The lowest level of FL is for possession only (you don’t plan to use it on anything) of ordinary non-restricted long guns. This is intended for people who already own and do not intend to get any more guns in the future. No courses or exams are needed in order to get this level of FL; just get the form from a post office, send it in and $10 later, you’re licensed.

If you want to make like Davy Crockett and actually use your rifles to hunt, or just practice shooting stuff, you must pass the Non-Restricted Canadian Firearms Safety Exam to get the second level of FL, which will be available this month.

Handguns more your style? You have to pass both the Restricted Canadian Firearms Safety Exam and the Non-Restricted Canadian Firearms Safety Exam before getting one.

Gun enthusiasts can take the CFS classes and exams, which are usually held at the Travelodge Hotel in Scarborough. The complete CFS package (manual and exam included) is $150. If you want to learn to use a handgun as well, the package is $250. The exam is made up of a 50-question multiple-choice written part and a 20-minute practical session, where you prove to the examiners that you know enough about handling guns not to kill or maim yourself when you pick one up. Because nobody, even those in possession of deadly weapons, can be perfect, you only need to get 80 per cent on both parts to pass.

Legislators believe that if owners know that the firearm is registered to their name, they’re more likely to be responsible, and try harder to prevent theft or accidents. Owners who haven’t registered can be charged under the criminal code for failure to register, and spend five to 10 years in the slammer.

Many people are willing to jump through hoops and buy into the government logic because, for them, life without guns would be no fun at all. “Some people think guns are illegal and bad, but this kind of thing is tradition up north, when you live half an hour from the bush,” says Roy. “I’ve known them all my life. I have a picture of me at the age of three holding a gun. My dad, he got his first gun when he was seven.”

When asked why he defends firearms, Roy insist that “there should be no defence needed. You get a licence, then you get a gun. It’s the same procedure with a car, only more people have cars. It’s not the guns that are dangerous, it’s the owners.”

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