Gauging Dissent

The ink was barely dry on last Friday’s (May 1st) Order in Council (OIC) that reclassified certain firearms as prohibited before avid firearm enthusiasts were leaping into the fray, with some glee, I think, thinking to have caught the government in an egregious error.

shotgun gauge

© Vakabungo / Shutterstock

They claim that this order also prohibited 10 and 12-gauge shotguns, and “How incompetent and useless is that!”

This claim arises because in addition to listing prohibitions in terms of all models, and variants of firearms of some specific types, the OIC also listed certain physical characteristics, specifically:  that firearms with a bore diameter of greater than 20 mm were also prohibited.

Minister Blair, to nip this fear in the bud, promptly responded by publicly emphasizing that, no, these shotguns are in fact NOT prohibited by this order.

You might have thought that would make the firearms people happy, hearing that their fears were unfounded, that they could once again enjoy the sound sleep of the just knowing that their shotguns were safe.  But, no, they seem oddly more determined to prove him wrong than to accept that their shotguns are still good to go.

Now, I’m not a firearms expert by any means, but a few clicks in Google reveals that a 10 gauge shotgun has a nominal bore diameter of 0.775 inches, which is 19.69 mm — just under the wire.  (12 gauge is even smaller.)

“Hold on!,” say the firearms folk, “You’re not a firearms expert, by any means — You haven’t taken account of the choke!,”  then, having removed said choke, they dramatically measure the barrel exit diameter:  “See?  It’s waaay bigger than 20 mm! — Ta-Da!…  Prohibited!”

Googling on, I find that a choke is a feature of many modern shotguns that reduces the effective exit diameter of the barrel to affect the shot pattern.  When removable, it is typically threaded into the end of the barrel.  This means that the opening of the barrel at that point, absent the choke, is larger to accommodate the threading and the choke itself.  While removing the choke and firing the shotgun can be done, it is unsafe and not an appropriate operation of the firearm.

More specifically, regarding chokes and bore diameter:

The chamber of the gun is larger, to accommodate the thickness of the shotshell walls, and a ‘forcing cone’ in front of the chamber reduces the diameter down to the bore diameter…. At the muzzle end of the barrel, the choke can constrict the bore even further, so measuring the bore diameter of a shotgun is not a simple process, as it must be done away from either end.

Firearms (Gauge) / Wikipedia

So the interior diameter at the end of the barrel doesn’t give you the ‘bore’ diameter, choke or no choke.  I know I’m relieved, and then, even better, the Minister, too, seems aware of this, and again came forward to assuage their concerns further:

The regulation introduced on May 1st does not prohibit 10 and 12-gauge shotguns.  The regulation for 10 and 12-gauge is based on their standard size both under 20 mm.

In accordance with acceptable firearms industry standards, the definition for bore diameter explicitly states that is after the chamber, but before the choke in shotguns.  Therefore, if the measurement is taken at any other location, it is not a factor that is being considered under amendment 95 of the Regulations.

— The Hon. Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

“Ridiculous!,” say those avid enthusiasts  “The guy might have been a police officer for forty years, and intimately familiar with firearms and enforcement, and he’s responsible for this file, but, really, what does he know?  He’s lost it!  He doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.”

Now, personally, given that the man responsible for the new classification has publicly and unambiguously clarified that, no, these firearms are not, in fact, prohibited by this order, if I was a firearms enthusiast I’d take that to the bank.

Apparently, real firearms enthusiasts don’t see it that way, being perhaps too wired to find fault to find reason.  Perhaps it’s just my particular Internet bubble, but they seem bound and determined that these shotguns are now prohibited.  Fair enough.  If that’s their preference I’d be happy to defer to them on this point and accept that they be prohibited.

But, the RCMP seem to have a point of view on this as well, and I’ll give them the last word:

The Canadian Firearms Program (CFP) of the RCMP adheres to the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners’ (AFTE) definition for bore diameter measurements.  “The interior dimensions of the barrel forward of the chamber but before the choke.”  (Glossary of the Association of Firearm & Tool Mark Examiners by the AFTE Standardization Committee, 1st Ed. 1980).

This is reflected in the RCMP’s Firearms Reference Table (FRT) which clearly states that “…in shotguns, diameter of the barrel forward of the chamber but before the choke.”

The CFP also recognizes the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) standards regarding firearms and ammunition.  The SAAMI chamber specifications for 10ga and 12ga shotguns do not include chokes therefore indicating that chokes are not part of the bore.

Accordingly, it is the CFP’s view that, in accordance with acceptable firearms industry standards for shotguns, the bore diameter measurement is considered to be at a point after the chamber, but before the choke.

Further, in making classification assessments of firearms which are reflected in the FRT, the CFP relies on recognized industry standard measurements.

With respect to 10ga and 12ga shotguns, the CFP recognizes the SAAMI standard specifications which establish that the nominal (i.e. standard) bore diameter measurements for 10ga and 12ga shotguns are below the 20 mm threshold (19.69 mm for 10ga, 18.42 mm for 12ga).

RCMP: New Prohibition on Certain Firearms


Further Reading

  • Collaborative and comprehensive coast-to-coast=to-coast review over several years regarding a potential ban on handguns and assault-style rifles;
  • Summit on Gun and Gang violence to help advance joint action for prevention, intervention, and enforcement initiatives, and help inform our way forward;
  • $86 million to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) to help prevent firearms and concealed goods from coming into the country illegally, while providing the necessary resources for firearms investigations;
  • Allocated $214 million for the provinces and territories to prevent and reduce gang and gun violence in their communities;
  • Invested $327 million over five years in new funding to reduce gun crime and criminal gang activities.  Supporting community-level prevention and enforcement efforts, advance intelligence on illegal trafficking, and invest in border security — Includes $51.5 million to the CBSA and $34.5 million to the RCMP to combat gun smuggling;
  • Firearms licencing is required to have regard to whether the person seeking a licence has committed any of several listed criminal offences, been treated for mental illness associated with violence, or has a history of behavior that includes violence — This was formerly limited to the previous five year period, but has now been enhanced to allow allow consideration of an applicant’s entire history;
  • Require purchasers of firearms to show a license when they buy a gun, and require all sellers of firearms to confirm with the Registrar of Firearms that the license remains valid before completing the sale;
  • Require firearms vendors to keep records of all firearms inventory and sales to assist police in investigating firearms trafficking and other gun crimes;  and
  • Bolster safeguards related to the transportation of restricted or prohibited firearms.

The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety, recently tabled firearms-control Bill C-21, which proposes:

  1. To combat intimate partner and gender-based violence and self-harm involving firearms  (so-called “Red-flag” and “Yellow-Flag” provisions);
  2. To fight gun smuggling and trafficking;
  3. To help municipalities create safer communities  (municipal bylaws can impose additional storage and transportation restrictions for handguns);
  4. To give young people the opportunities and resources they need to avoid lives of crime  (“guns & gangs” measures);
  5. To protect Canadians from gun violence;  and
  6. To subject owners of firearms prohibited on May 1, 2020 to non-permissive storage requirements, should they choose not to participate in the buy-back program.  (This provision in the bill in fact is a weakening of the original prohibition.)
examples of prohibited firearms

Examples of Newly-Prohibited Firearms

  • There are currently over 100,000 formerly-restricted firearms involving these 1500 now-prohibited models and variants;  This number does not include other newly-prohibited models that were not formerly subject to registration requirements;
  • The newly-prohibited firearms and components cannot in general be used, bought, sold, traded, or imported;
  • Owners must keep their firearms securely stored in accordance with firearms regulations;
  • A Criminal Code amnesty is in place until April 30, 2022, to protect lawful owners from criminal liability and to enable them to comply with the law.  Under the amnesty, the newly-prohibited firearms can only be transferred or transported within Canada for specific purposes;
  • There are exceptions under the amnesty for indigenous peoples exercising aboriginal or treaty rights to hunt, and for those who hunt or trap to sustain themselves or their families;  These exceptions will allow for the continued use of newly-prohibited firearms in limited circumstances until a suitable replacement can be found;  By the end of the amnesty period, ALL firearms owners must comply with the ban;
  • Unless you are an indigenous person exercising treaty rights to hunt, or a sustenance hunter, you can only transfer or transport in accordance with the amnesty, such as to:
    • Have them deactivated by an approved business;
    • Return them to a lawful owner’s residence;
    • Export them lawfully; or
    • Surrender them to police without compensation (but take note that a buy-back program will be available);
  • An individual should NOT deliver a firearm to a police station without first making arrangements with a police officer for a safe and scheduled delivery or pick up;  Individuals should not surrender their firearm while physical distancing requirements are in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The following categories of firearms (or any variants, current or future, included under the principal model) are reclassified as prohibited under the Criminal Code as of May 1, 2020.

FirearmOld ClassificationNew
M16, M4, AR-10, AR-15 rifle*Non-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
Ruger Mini-14 rifleNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
Vz58 rifleNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
M14 rifleNon-restrictedProhibited
Beretta CX4 Storm carbineNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
Robinson Armament XCR rifleNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
CZ Scorpion EVO 3 carbine and pistolNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
SIG Sauer SIG MCX and SIG Sauer SIG MPX carbine and pistol*Non-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
Swiss Arms Classic Green and Seasons Series riflesNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited

* Upper receiver is also prescribed as a prohibited device

In addition to the list prohibited by model, all firearms with one or more of the following physical characteristics are prohibited on the basis that their potential power exceeds safe civilian use:

  • Firearms with a bore 20mm or greater (e.g., grenade launchers)
  • Firearms capable of discharging a projectile with a muzzle energy greater than 10,000 Joules (e.g. sniper rifles)

A list of prohibited firearms is available in Canada Gazette, Part II.

This new prohibition has produced a flurry of complaints from gun owners.  Let’s consider some of them:

1. “It’s undemocratic!”

  1. This Order-in-Council (OIC) process scrupulously followed the law and process democratically established by elected parliaments;  Democratic.
  2. We actually ran on this as one of our platform commitments in the last election;  Democratic.
  3. There was an extensive consultation process spanning several years in which stakeholders both for and against were able freely to participate;  Democratic;  and
  4. When Mr. Harper used the same OIC process (to increase access) prior to the 2015 election — gun owners did NOT decry this use of OICs as somehow undemocratic.  It seems to be seen as “undemocratic” only when they disagree with it.

2. “It’s Unconstitutional”

This claim typically focusses on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,  (though there is no enumerated right to bear, keep, use, or own firearms).  It should in any case be emphasized that the rights that are enumerated there are not independent of each other, and in some degree may need to be circumscribed to give proper effect to others.

Section 1 is of particular significance here, noting that these rights are “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” — That’s the constitutional argument:  to whatever extent these prohibitions might conflict with any other section of the Charter, whether such conflict can be justified as reasonable and in the legitimate public interest.  Yes.

3. “It’s a violation of my rights!”

Wrong country.  In Canada no right to keep and bear arms is recognized in law, and certainly none such is enumerated in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

4. “We should (instead) be going after criminals, and all those guns smuggled across the border!”

As noted, we most certainly are.  And it’s not  “instead of”  but “as well as.”

5. “80% of crimes with guns involve illegal guns.  This prohibition unfairly targets legal gun owners.”

This tends to be a circular argument.  But, let’s take a look at it.  This means that one in every five incidents involves legal guns.  Wouldn’t that be better as, say, one in ten, or one in a hundred, or maybe even zero?  But in any case this percentage alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

Thought experiment:  Let’s imagine there were on average, in some given period, 100 criminal incidents involving guns before the prohibition, and use the 80% number.  That means that 80 of these incidents involved illegal guns, and 20 involved legal guns.

Now let’s bring in the prohibition, and let’s say it eliminates 80% of incidents involving legal guns, and let’s say 10% of the others.  This scenario brings us down to 76 incidents, only 4 of which involve legal guns.

But now we see the rate has soared to 95% of gun-related crimes involving illegal guns, and only 5%, one in twenty, involving legal guns, “proving,” some would say, that gun control doesn’t work.  Lawful gun-owners are outraged:

“See?  All those restrictions and red-tape, all those hoops through which we law-abiding owners must jump, all that wasted money, and we’re not the problem!  We’re only 5%!  Why don’t you go after the criminals instead of unfairly targeting us!”

But we’ve reduced gun-involved crime by 24%.  We’ll get the rest in other ways.

6. “Gun bans won’t stop criminals from having guns!  They don’t obey the law!  This only affects law-abiding people!  Why are law-abiding gun-owners being targeted and punished in this way?”

It’s a strange argument.  In the face of it one wonders why we have laws against, say, bank-robbing? — since criminals won’t obey them, anyway, and therefore such laws only prevent law-abiding citizens from robbing banks?  How dare we target law-abiding citizens in this way!

It’s true, of course, that this law will not stop criminals from breaking it.  That’s not the point.  That’s never the point.

Laws draw a line between what is acceptable in our society, and what is not.  Once that line is drawn we can then hold people accountable for crossing it.

People who cross to the wrong side of that line, are, by definition, criminals.  That’s the point, and we will hold those people to account.

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