Go ahead and mention firearm restrictions or registries to any hunter in the world and you will draw immediate debate. I vividly remember the day when I heard the first proposal to develop a gun registry in Canada; it made my blood boil.
There was an instant uproar across Canada as hunters, recreational shooters, athletes, landowners and wildlife managers immediately started a lobby to stop any attempts to register long arms in our country. We already had a restricted firearms registry, but nobody wanted to include standard-use shotguns and rifles under the watchful eye of Big Brother.
As any traveling hunter already knows, the collaborative efforts of the hunting and shooting community were not successful in avoiding a registration system north of the 60th parallel. We may not believe in its objectives, but we have learned to live with it.
That doesn't mean the attempts to get rid of it have stopped. In fact, many feel that with the right political atmosphere, someday the registry could go the way of the dinosaur. With the new majority conservative government elected early this year in Canada, gun owners speculate that the registry could be abolished soon.
We have now lived with the system for 16 years, and those wanting to buy and use firearms know it is relatively easy to maneuver through and use.
In terms of using the Canadian firearm registry and working within other parts of the law, it is even easier for visitors to Canada to get through firearms regulations in order to use their own rifles and shotguns when visiting from the home of the brave and land of the free. If you plan to visit one of the Canadian provinces for a hunting adventure or shooting competition, all you have to do is go to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Canadian Firearms Program website. Everything you need to know is available from the Visitors/Non Residents page with a couple clicks of your mouse.
The Fact Sheet provides relevant details, and the link to the forms allows you to print off a Non-Resident Firearms Declaration Form. The instructions are simple: "The Non-Resident Firearms Declaration (Form CAFC909EF), and its continuation sheet (Form CAFC910EF) must be presented in triplicate, unsigned, to a customs officer at your first point of entry into Canada." Up to three firearms may be listed on the declaration so that you can bring several of your favorites. The declaration spells out what a legal hunting firearm is, as handguns and other restricted guns are not allowed. However, almost all sporting models of shotguns used by waterfowl hunters anywhere are allowed.
You will be asked to sign the declaration in front of a Customs Officer to give you authorization to possess and use your firearms while in Canada. One of the copies will be kept with you at all times. The bearer of the firearm(s) listed on the declaration or the attached continuation sheet must produce the paperwork on demand. You must also produce this document to buy or receive ammunition while in Canada. It may sound like an onerous task, but in reality it is simple. I have dozens of friends who have visited Canada with firearms and it only takes a matter of minutes to complete the paperwork and pay the fee.
Established in 1995, the Canadian gun registry, formally called the Canadian Firearms Registry, was the cornerstone of a specific political party's policy on gun control. It has stayed a hot issue for years, but more for financial reasons than social or safety issues. Soaring costs and administrative mismanagement — along with differences of opinion on gun control — have combined to make the gun registry a national debate since it started. The gun registry issue tends to split between Western and rural opponents and Eastern and urban supporters. It was originally thought to cost about $2 million to implement, but the true costs skyrocketed to over $1 billion, which is considered ludicrous by all opponents.
In recent years the registry was streamlined under the control of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), although some think putting it under police control hides the true cost of maintaining the registry. Its effectiveness as a crime prevention or control tool is seriously questioned.
Other components to the firearms legislation were actually looked at as a good thing by everyone, including gun owners. Education and safe storage requirements are something that almost anyone can live with, but the actual registry and its value for controlling crime are still up for major debate. Visitors should know that you have to lock up guns separately from ammunition when they are not in your immediate possession.
The interesting thing about the entire "gun control" debate is that Canadians don't feel their system is nearly as restrictive as those of the United States. That's right — our neighbors to the south have very strict firearm laws for any Canadians wanting to bring a firearm into the country.
Paperwork must be filled out with an application, recommended at least 60 days before entry, to bring firearms from Canada into a state. The traveling Canuck must also produce a hunting license for the season they intend to hunt to show legitimate need for the firearm. If firearms are being used for competition, a letter of invitation to the event must be provided. Information is downloadable from the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) web site, but finding the right one isn't nearly as easy as it is for American hunters visiting the Canadian Firearms Program site.
As North Americans we share the waterfowl flyways and some incredible hunting opportunities. The birds don't know the boundaries and navigate between the two countries without concern. Fortunately, the hunting fraternity that exists in both countries offers the opportunity to share unique relationships and hunting in many forms. The bureaucracy may be getting heavier to deal with, but for an avid waterfowl hunter, it is a minor inconvenience.
Canada's gun registry is often looked at as an opportunity-robbing political farce that limits hunters from traveling to this great country to hunt. Most sportsmen from either side of the border don't like the registry, but it is easy to work within and does not actually take away opportunity. Being able to bring your favorite smoothbore on an adventure of a lifetime can be crucial to the memories and enjoyment. Being prepared allows you to slip across the 60th parallel almost as quickly as some of our fine-feathered friends do.
For more information on bringing firearms into Canada, visit the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program. For more information on bringing firearms into the United States, visit the ATF.
Brad Fenson is a wildlife habitat specialist from Edmonton, Alberta.