When the Canadian government brought in a tough new gun control law last year, it was intended to fight crime in the South. But the law also affects Crees and some trappers say it’s going to make their lives a lot more complicated.
Under the new law, anyone getting a new Firearms Acquisition Certiticate or renewing an old FAC after Jan. 1,1994 has to pass a seven-hour firearms safety course, which costs $50. But the course still isn’t available in Cree communities. That means many Crees had no way of purchasing weapons for last spring’s goose break. Already, 90 people are on the waiting list to take the course in Waswanipi alone.
The Cree Trappers’ Association is making arrangements with the Federation Quebecoise de la faune to administer the course to Crees. Two instructors will be trained from each community Nov. 26-28. Anyone with a valid FAC can still purchase guns without taking the course. But when the FAC expires, a new one won’t be issued until they pass the safety course. Anyone who sells or lends a gun to someone without an FAC faces criminal charges if they sell a firearm to anyone without an FAC.
Another change is that for the first time, gun owners will beheld legally liable if they have not stored their gun or ammunition properly, especially if it is used in an offense. Firearms must now be stored with a trigger lock in a locked room, shed or safe. Ammunition must also be locked away, but in a different area.
“This is a big new thing,” says Rick Cuciurean, CTA special projects coordinator. “If I own a gun and my brother-in-law gets drunk and shoots himself with my gun, I would be liable. Prior to this law, I would not be liable.”
Another change is that centre-fire ammunition dips holding more than 10 rounds are now illegal. All such clips should be destroyed or turned in to the police, says Rick. Several assault weapons, not common among Crees, are now also illegal.
“A lot of guys figure it’s a pain in the ass, but some people are saying it’s not all that bad,” says Rick. “There’s an attempted suicide every two weeks. If the gun is sitting there in the corner of the living room and there’s a bullet in the chamber, it’s just an invitation for trouble. If there’s a trigger lock and someone is drunk, they might not do it. They might sober up and think about it.”
Whatever the law’s benefits, Waswanipi CTA officer Paul Dixon says it is going to cause a lot of problems too. Paul, who is going to be one of Waswanipi’s two firearms safety instructors, worried about being turned into a judge deciding who can and can’t own a gun.
Paul was also concerned that Ottawa wants to go further and require all hunting rifles and shotguns to be registered. A House of Com m ons committee is currently discussing phasing in mandatory registration over a five-year period. Now, only handguns need to be registered.
Most Cree households have at least half a dozen guns and often not all are registered, said Paul. Some guns have been passed down through the generations and are very old. Registration papers often don’t exist any more. Said Paul, “To an Indian, registration is nothing—you’d use it to start a fire with.”
Paul added that some Crees may not want a white person or a police officer handling their older weapons, much less taking them away. Many guns have deep sentimental value to their owners.
“Why are we affected by what’s happening in the South?” he asked. “We Crees couldn’t grasp the thought of humans pointing a gun at another person. We would never think of using it for another reason. It’s for food. We’re a hunting society.”