The Government of Canada is investigating the possibility of introducing controls on so-called “imitation firearms”, unregulated low-velocity firearms including a broad range of articles including things like paintball guns, pellet guns, and even non-functioning replicas.

Preceded by instances where Canadian police have been put in tough situations – including some fatal interactions – Ontario Coroners, the Department of Justice, Public Safety Canada, various medical/police groups and others have been discussing national controls for these articles.

CBC reports that Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s internal briefing notes on the subject were detailed:

“Low-velocity firearms, replica firearms, or any toy gun that resembles a firearm can pose a risk to the public because they are often mistaken by police as real firearms and can be used to commit crimes and intimidate members of the public,”

“Such firearm lookalikes are a serious concern for law enforcement. Possession of these guns has resulted in fatal shootings by police in a number of incidents across Canada.”

“Toy guns that look similar to real guns can also pose a risk to the individuals possessing them.”

CBC News has claimed they gained access to the notes from Justice Canada, with related documents dating from January 2018 under the Access to Information Act.

There have been suggestions that increased controls on these imitations would result in lower stakes for police attempting to deal with the public, where they need to assume any visible firearm is treated as if real until it can be determined later. The increased controls would also presumably purport to keep real-looking weaponry away from people who have mental-health challenges, as has been lobbied for perennially in Canada by groups such as the Canadian Medical Association.

In our home city of Regina, this issue comes up every so often. Only a few weeks ago, an individual got called in for having a handgun at Winston-Knoll Collegiate. While the firearm turned out to be fake, the charges the person caught were real. This kind of incident can quickly result in a “high-risk stop” (or “felony stop” for our American readers). These can happen both in and out of traffic. These are interactions where police often aim their weapons at/near a suspect and demand immediate compliance. If someone in the wrong state of mind decides to point what they have at officers, they are sometimes met with real bullets in kind.

Even in Regina today, the Regina Police Service just arrested another individual (this happens a lot lately) who had been reported as in-public and having a handgun. From the release:

A twenty-one year old male has been charged following a weapons related investigation in Regina on Saturday June 2, 2018.

On Saturday, June 2, 2018, at approximately 12:44 p.m., police were dispatched to the 2300 block of 12th Avenue for a report of a weapons offence involving a firearm. A witness reported seeing a male wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt, grey sweat pants, a black leather jacket and a black hat put a handgun in the waist band of his pants. Police attended to the area and identified a male matching the description. Police challenged the male and placed him under arrest without out incident. Police located a black plastic toy handgun near the male.

Twenty-one year old [REDACTED] of Regina is charged with:

  • Carry concealed weapon [90 CC];
  • Fail to comply with undertaking [CC 145(3)]
[REDACTED] will appear in Provincial Court on Monday June 4, 2018.

This type of activity causes a large amount of police resources to be deployed and ratchets up the severity of the incident. Those deployments cost huge tax dollars, and act as time-vampires for police who could be focusing on other serious crimes. In the L-P article cited below, a detective with the Regina Police estimated (a year ago) that 25-30% of the guns they seize are air guns.

Not previously mentioned much in this write-up are the hundreds of Americans who lose their lives in police-related encounters each year. A lot of these are going to have been incidents where somebody having mental health issues (or other similar circumstances) had them waving a toy weapon around when police showed up. With poorer mental health supports combined with the creeping militarization of police in America – this will get worse there before they get better.

As the Trudeau government’s most recent gun legislation (Bill C-71) has yet to enter force, it should be noted that the newest iteration does not contain any relevant regulation for these uncontrolled devices – it’s worth trying to decipher the subcategories involved here. You could talk about actual firearms (Non-Restricted firearms, Restricted firearms, Prohibited firearms). Moving down under the metric equivalent of 500 feet-per-second for air guns (the “5.7-joule rule”), you could mean “replica firearms”, or “imitation firearms” (which actually encompass the former).

What is a real gun, what is an imitation firearm, and what is a replica firearm?

The Criminal Code does outlaw the import of replica firearms (guns designed to look like the real thing but with no way to fire), but they are legal to possess.

Imitation firearms – which include replica firearms, as well as pellet guns, airsoft guns, paintball markers, and gun carved from wood – are legal to possess. You would still get charged for using one of those “toy guns” to commit any other offense. Victims – and police – are not delegated any sort of responsibility to delineate between a fake gun and a real gun, but the consequences could be dire out in public for use of any such device.

Further recommended reading is the well-written Regina Leader-Post 2016 piece by Mark Melynchuk @ The Imitation Game: Canada’s Laws Around Air Guns Put Police In A Tough Place. 

If you have questions about how to interpret any firearms regulations that are currently in force, your best bet is to call the RCMP’s Canadian Firearms Program at 1-800-731-4000 for their advice and interpretations. They are typically open business hours during the week, and have a website at http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cfp-pcaf/index-eng.htm you can visit 24/7.

For regulations that are not yet in force (currently being debated), your best bet is to offer feedback to your own representative Member. You can find your MP by name, postal code or constituency by heading to OurCommons.ca.

RGSL complies with all directives from the CFO, RCMP, and government/support agencies in order to help keep Saskatchewan safe!

RGSL runs Non-Restricted and Restricted gun license safety courses in Regina and Saskatoon. Check out the list of upcoming classes here.