Thursday, October 4, 2012

Legal Firearms Ownership and It's Risks

The long gun registry has been in the news a lot in the last few years.  We’ve heard bits of firearms law, and in some cases we’ve seen how firearms owners are perceived by police.  Lots of information is now easily available for anyone to read. The problem is, not a lot of people are seeing it.  I didn’t realize quite how bad it was until very recently.  My husband has to renew his firearms license and his friend was confused about a few very basic things.  His friend couldn’t believe I had to sign my husband’s application or it wouldn’t be processed, and a huge conversation ensued.

For anyone who’s never seen a Possession and Acquisition form (app or renewal), the spouse of the gun owner must sign it, in essence giving the gun owner permission to continue owning his firearms.  A couple of things bother me about this.  First, it makes the spouse an agent of the Federal Government.  Second, after the gun owner goes through a course or two, has owned guns for so many years, has had previous police checks and has just gone through another, it simply takes the lack of a spouse’s signature to deny a PAL renewal.  The gun owner loses his collection and may never be able to get it back.  The sad thing is, this could happen because the spouse is angry and for no other reason.  The stupid thing about me having to sign his PAL renewal is that I too have a PAL.  Nowhere on the renewal form does it ask that.  *I’m so pleased.*

Another topic that came up was warrantless searches.  Of course, the person on the other side of the debate, the person that does not own guns immediately said police searching one’s home without a warrant goes against due process.  Yes, in most cases it does - unless it’s under the Firearms Act.  There are other cases where police conduct warrantless searches, but it seems the Firearms Act is a good excuse as any.  Just ask Jesse Sansone.  His daughter simply drew a figure holding what appeared to be a gun on a white board, and he was arrested and strip searched.  His family was taken and separated from each other.  No one but the teacher saw the drawing and heard his daughter say he shoots bad guys and monsters.  The school and family services still feels they did nothing wrong, even when no gun was ever found. Correction, I’m wrong; a toy gun was found.  The police have apologized for what they did to him and his family, but that doesn’t undo what the trauma they caused.

There are also a number of people that get charged under the firearms act for various reasons who are law abiding citizens, have never had a criminal record, but catch the attention of police for some reason.  The people below are a tiny few whose rights are taken from them simply because they own guns.

Ian Thomson is a man from Port Colbourne, Ontario.  He’d been having problems with some specific neighbours but there wasn’t much he could do about it since the closest police were about 30 minutes away.  There were mostly yelling and bits of vandalism of his property until one unfortunate night.  Some men decided to firebomb his home as he slept.  Mr. Thomson defended himself accordingly.  He flew out of bed, ran to his safe, got a revolver and ammunition and went outside.  He let off a few shots but deliberately didn’t hit anyone.  His intention was not to harm anyone but to scare them off his property.  It worked so well he was arrested for defending himself and his home.  Mr. Thomson even provided the police with evidence that these men were throwing molotov cocktails at his home.  That didn’t seem to matter.  They even heard one of the men yell “Are you ready to die?”  Initially, Mr. Thomson was charged with dangerous use of a firearm and pointing a firearm but eventually these charges had been dropped.  He’s still fighting the other charges, two counts of unsafe storage of a firearm.  Part of the problem, though, is that safe storage laws are written such that interpretation can be different between jurisdictions, lawyers, cops, me and my husband.  The fun part is that they were deliberately written in such a way that charges were easy to make, because no matter what a law abiding citizen did, they were wrong.  There is one good thing that stems from law abiding citizens ending up in court for ridiculous reasons: the laws become easier to follow for all of us.

Lawrence Manzer is another one who got charged because of a self defense incident.  He is another law abiding person with no charges to his name - at least until he decided to use his firearm to protect himself.  The best part is, it was unloaded.

There had been vandalism problems in his neighbourhood and one night he got a phone call from his neighbour, Brian Fox, saying he’s spotted prowlers nearby.  Mr. Manzer got out of bed, grabbed his shotgun, and headed outside when he heard yelling between the prowlers and Mr. Fox.  Mr. Manzer stayed on his porch with the unloaded gun, because Mr. Fox got the teenagers sitting on the ground by himself.  Police were called and charged the teens with underaged drinking.  The next week, the police came back to the neighbourhood and arrested the two men that stopped the teens from vandalizing their property.  Mr. Fox was charged with assault (charges later dropped) and Mr. Manzer was charged with possession of a weapon dangerous to public peace.  It took quite awhile but the trial against Mr. Manzer ended in a mistrial.  Paperwork was not filed properly and the courts decided not to retry him as it would have been a public relations nightmare.  This, to me, still does not bode well for law abiding firearms owners.  The decision to retry Mr. Manzer seems more like a coin toss than common sense.  He was simply protecting himself and his friend (with an unloaded shotgun.)  He’s not a menace to society.

In British Columbia, James Buck’s home was searched, and his firearms seized because of a non-issue of a domestic dispute that happened years before.  Apparently his wife was drunk and accused him of threatening her but she dropped the charges... because she was drunk and angry.  Then one day, RCMP arrived at his house with a warrant, arrested him, seized his guns and he ended up in court.  Mr. Buck pled guilty but thankfully he appeared before a smart judge.  

The judge basically said:

  • the police didn’t provide anything that proved Mr. Buck to be a threat to public safety,
  • is said to be inaccurate, incomplete and misleading,
  • if the police did their job, they’d have known they arrested him for a non-issue,
  • the police should have checked previous court records, they’d know the case had been dropped (“sloppy at best and deceitful at worst.”)

And it goes on!  The judge was not being nice to the police, about how Mr. Buck’s rights were being stomped on, and how the police were making up their own rules.  This is one of the few times I can say the courts worked quickly and in the best interest of the law abiding firearms owner.

There are many other examples of law abiding gun owners get trampled on by our court system and the police.  I would figure that the police and courts would want to go after real criminals, not made up ones.  The scary thing is, in a lot of cases, the charges are far reaching just to take their guns away.  Now this is of great concern because there are collectors with thousands of dollars worth of guns in their collections.  If the government seizes our property, there isn’t much we can do to get them back.  I’ve heard people argue that this is okay.  It seems as long as gun owners are the target, all is fair.   But what if the government starts going after someone’s house or car just because they don’t like their opinion?  I’m sure they can make up some charge to seize that property too.

I’m generalizing here, I did have some really good experiences with some RCMP officers regarding firearms issues.  My husband’s father was a truly avid gun collector.  He passed away a couple of years ago, and through one thing or another, the RCMP in Morinville stored the guns for us.  They told us they’d keep them for as long as we needed (until we got all the paperwork in order and all that jazz) and they were not hostile about this issue at all.  A few months later when we were finally ready to pick the firearms up, they helped us lock them up, put them in boxes, sort them out, pack them up AND they learned some stuff about the guns they were unfamiliar with.  It was great fun!  When we returned with a few firearms for destruction, that was kinda fun too.  My husband actually brought a handgun frame to the station, double locked, in a locked case.  They took pictures of that one before the locks came off.  (That was - believe it or not - a legal requirement to have it double-locked.  The law dictates that a restricted firearm - by which definition means the frame - must be transported double-locked.  The firearm itself was missing the barrel, the receiver and the firing mechanism, yet it still had to be double locked.)

There are risks to owning firearms legally, it’s just become a matter of managing them.  In most cases, firearms owners just don’t let people know they’ve got them.  In my case, I keep them well out of sight.  There seemed to be a time where we were not even permitted to speak against the firearms act, that seems to have changed.  We’re at least allowed to have opinions as long as we follow the law.  I’m hoping as time goes on, people will realize that vilifying law abiding firearms owners is the wrong way to deal with this situation.  I don’t mind most of the current laws, I just don’t like the ones that make it almost impossible to breathe.  We are not a dangerous bunch. Honest.