Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks has been touting the federal government’s recently proposed changes to the Firearms Act, ideas which have been generally well received by the local hunting community here in the valley.

“Our government has always stood up for law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport-shooters. This legislation will simplify and provide clarity to the firearms regime and reduce administrative burdens for law abiding firearms owners while protecting the safety of Canadians,” said Wilks in a press release, speaking about the proposed amendments to the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code.

The changes — which the federal government is calling the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act — will create a six-month grace period for renewal at the end of the five-year firearm licence period; will streamline the licensing system by eliminating the Possession Only Licence (POL) and converting all existing POLs to Possession and Acquisition Licences (PALs); make classroom participation in firearms safety training mandatory for first-time gun owners; amend the Criminal Code to strengthen prohibitions and the possession of firearms in cases in which a person has been convicted of an offence involving domestic violence; make Authorizations to Transport (firearms) a condition of a licence for routine and lawful activities; and authorize firearms import information sharing when restricted and prohibited firearms are imported into Canada by businesses. The changes will also give the federal government the final decision on what kind of classification any given type of firearm has.

“It (the changes)  will decriminalize a lot of the concerns some people have,” Mr. Wilks told The Valley Echo, pointing out that under the current rules the RCMP has the right to classify firearms, such as when the RCMP re-classified semi-automatic Swiss Arms Classic Green rifle earlier this year, citing concerns the rifles could easily be converted to fully automatic weapons.

“It (the reclassification) caused problems for a number of Canadians across the country who suddenly were in possession of an illegal type of firearm,” he said, adding he hadn’t specifically heard of anybody in the Kootenay region having this trouble, but wouldn’t be surprised to learn somebody did, given the popularity of hunting here.

“Certainly for hunting enthusiasts in the Columbia Valley and for others who own guns, such as target shooters, this amalgamates a lot of rules and puts them into a single envelope. It makes them easier to understand,” said Mr. Wilks, speaking on merging the POLs and PALs.

“Combining those (POLs and PALs) just seemed to make a lot of sense,” he said.

Members of the Columbia Valley Rod and Gun club are generally pretty happy with changes, according to club president Rick Hoar.

“It’s seen as a positive thing by most of us, certainly nobody has said anything negative,” said Mr. Hoar, adding that converting POLs to PALs in particular is a logical, cost-cutting move.

“That makes sense (to merge the two) to us. Why they ever split them I don’t know,” he said.

The B.C. Wildlife Federation (BCWF) gave the amendments similar endorsement.

“Merging the POL and PAL licenses makes sense because POL holders have held their licence for many years and have demonstrated they are responsible citizens,” said BCWF president George Wilson in a BCWF press release.

“The (extended) grace period will be particularly appreciated by our members. Currently, if an individual doesn’t renew his or her firearms license, he or she is committing a criminal act that can be subject to severe penalties. The current law is excessive,” said BCWF Firearms Committee chair Gary Mauser in the release.

The changes were tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, October 7th and MPs will likely start debating them after the Thanksgiving recess.