Gun store owner Melanie Markling isn’t convinced the federal government’s plan to freeze the buying, selling or transferring of hand guns will make Canada safer, but in the short term there’s no doubt it’s been good for business.
Just days after the government’s announcement on May 30, Northern Elite Firearms in Prince Albert had completely sold out of pistols. Markling, the store’s co-owner, said she’s never seen this level of sales volume before, and she attributes it directly to Bill C-21.
“As soon as (the announcement) happened, it was pure mayhem,” Markling said. “The phones did not stop ringing. The online orders did not stop.”
A look inside Northern Elite Firearms shows case after case and row after row of guns, but the cases that used to hold pistols are conspicuously empty. If the bill passes and Canadians can no longer buy or sell the weapons, this could be the last chance for someone to get one.
“We actually had to turn the phones off because we can’t keep up with demand for handguns right now,” Markling said. “It’s unbelievable, and it’s unprecedented.”
Bill C-21 includes a wide array of new restrictions Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino touted as some of the country’s strongest in the last 40 years. It includes taking away firearms licencing for residents involved in criminal harassment or domestic violence, increasing penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking, and creating a new “red flag law” that would allow the courts to force individuals to surrender their firearms if they are considered a danger to themselves or others.
However, it’s the first new measure generating the most controversy, and increasing the number of sales. By implementing a national freeze on handguns, the government would make it illegal to bring newly acquired handguns into Canada, or to buy, sell or transfer handguns within the country.
“We never anticipated this coming,” Markling said. “We completely sold out of our handgun inventory. There’s none to be found.
“The system to transfer a gun right now is so backlogged, I don’t know when that’s going to resolve itself.”
Mendicino said it became clear during his time as Minister of Public Safety that gun violence was a scourge that needed to be tackled. He called Bill C-21 a “milestone amidst a long and difficult battle” that has already claimed too many lives.
“There is nothing that we can do to bring back (victims of gun violence),” Mendicino said during a press conference in Surrey, B.C. days after introducing the new legislation. “But, with Bill C-21 we can do everything in our power to prevent the next tragedy. It represents a comprehensive suite of measures that will have a significant impact.”
The number of registered handguns in Canada has been growing. It jumped by 71 per cent between 2010 and 2020, according to government data.
Meanwhile, the amount of firearm related violent crime remains small. On May 27, Statistics Canada released data on firearm related violence from 2009 to 2020. Those numbers showed only 2.8 per cent of all violent crime reported to police involved any type of firearm. That number was unchanged compared to 2019, however the percentage of homicides committed with firearms actually increased from 26 per cent in 2013 to 37 per cent in 2020.
Violent crime involving handguns is overwhelmingly an urban issue, with police reporting shotguns and rifles as the most common weapon used when crimes are committed in rural areas. Between 2009 and 2020, handguns were listed as the “most serious weapon present” by police in 59 per cent of firearm-related violent crimes.
When asked about the large number of stores running out of handguns, like Northern Elite Firearms, Mendicino said he wasn’t surprised.
“We absolutely are alive to that concern and that’s precisely why we did two things when we tabled the legislation,” Mendicino said during a press conference on June 1. “One, the bill itself, which contains the provision of the national handgun freeze, and secondly, at the same time, I tabled amendments to the regulations under the Firearms Act, which allow us to bring those effects of the national freeze even sooner than the legislation will pass. The only thing we need is for Parliament to get down to work.”
Back in Prince Albert, Markling said she’s not convinced the handgun freeze will reduce or limit violent crime. She said the people purchasing guns from her store have to go through a lengthy and expensive process to get their firearms. She’s more worried about the people who aren’t already following those laws.
“It’s not the people buying these guns who are causing the problems,” she said. “The guns that are causing the problems are from people who do not have licences, guns that are being smuggled in, and people who just have dark motives. The laws that they’re trying to change, trying to enforce, no, that’s not going to help anything.”