The federal government made waves last year when it amended the Criminal Code through an order in council to prohibit assault-style firearms.
Further amendments to several other acts regarding firearm licensing and the proposed buy-back program for banned firearms are also proposed in Bill C-21, which is currently undergoing second reading in the House of Commons.
Part of Bill C-21 would allow municipalities to create their own bylaws restricting handgun use, storage and transport.
As part of the Aug. 4 committee of the whole meeting, Pincher Creek council members talked about the implications of municipal authorities getting involved with a federal issue.
While giving larger urban centres control over handgun legislation made sense to council members, there were concerns that a blanket approach to municipal gun safety would create confusion and liability issues for residents and municipal officials.
“There’s a lot of people in the community that are concerned about this new federal legislation,” said Coun. Mark Barber. “There’s a lot of challenges with this, and I was thinking it might be fitting for someone to come in and talk to us about the legislation.”
Coun. Lorne Jackson said part of the issue is the chance neighbouring municipalities could have differing handgun laws, putting responsible gun owners at risk for legal punishments.
“Instead of going after the people that are actually committing the crimes with firearms, they’re going after responsible owners because they know where their firearms are,” he said, adding that less than three per cent of crimes involving firearms are committed with registered guns.
Coun. Jackson also pointed to a letter the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass sent to the federal government expressing worries rural municipalities do not have the resources or expertise to enforce something that is in federal jurisdiction.
“Our partners over in Crowsnest Pass have concerns as well, and in my mind I think we should be in step with them,” Coun. Jackson said.
The Alberta government passed amendments to the Municipal Government Act that prevent municipalities from passing a firearm bylaw without authorization from the lieutenant-governor.
Though seemingly circumventing the federal legislation, the provincial amendments raise questions about which law will have precedence since the federal government has authority over firearms but the provinces have authority over municipalities.
Keeping gun legislation solely within federal jurisdiction would be the most appropriate option, said chief administrative officer Laurie Wilgosh.
“Many municipal governments of our size don’t have the capacity to enforce and shouldn’t have to look after federal jurisdiction,” she said. “It shouldn’t even be contemplated to push this on municipal governments.”
Though the proposed federal legislation does not mandate municipalities to create handgun bylaws, Mayor Don Anderberg said the wording of the amendments could better state how the option was intended to help larger city jurisdictions.
“I don’t understand where they’re going with this new legislation,” the mayor said, adding that downloading gun control authority could create legal liabilities to municipalities.
While disagreeing with the federal government asking municipalities to become involved in gun control, Coun. Scott Korbett said the issue might be getting blown out of proportion.
“I think we may be making a bigger deal out of this than we are charged to,” he said. “I’ve had more phone calls about deer and garbage collection and recycling than I have on gun control. That’s completely out of our wheelhouse.”
Coun. Korbett added that he wasn’t comfortable making any sort of decision unless council could receive public input on the matter; he also recommended council members meet with Foothills MP John Barlow to ensure they understand the proposed amendments properly.
Council ended up directing administration to schedule a time to meet with Mr. Barlow for clarification on how the proposed federal amendments could affect municipalities.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze