5. The Politics of Panic - A History of Canadian Firearms Control


In 1892, the Conservative government of Prime Minister John Abbot introduced Canada's first "Criminal Code" (Hansard, 1969, p.4714).

Part VI of the Criminal Code, entitled Unlawful Use and Possession of Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons-Sale of Liquors contained the country's first set of "gun control" laws.

It specified penalties for selling pistols or air guns to persons under sixteen and for not maintaining a record of sale of a pistol or air gun (Criminal Code, 1892, Sect. 105).

Anyone possessing any offensive weapons for purposes "...dangerous to the public peace" was subject to a five year jail term (Criminal Code, 1892, Sec. 102).

Section 105 required a "certificate of exemption", issued by a justice of the peace, for the carrying of handguns anywhere outside a person's dwelling house, shop or warehouse. This certificate was required if the individual carrying handguns "lacked reasonable cause to fear an assault" on their person, family or property.

Section 105 allowed the Governor-In-Council to suspend the issuance of certificated in any part of Canada where it was considered " expedient" or "in the public interest".

The 1892 Criminal Code made it an offense for anyone, without written authorization from the Lieutenant-Governor or an appointed commisionner, to possess or sell any firearm or cartridge ammunition other than a "smooth-bore shot-gun" in designated areas of the Northwest Territories.

The obvious intent of this statute was to keep modern firearms and ammunition away from those native Canadians and Metis who had recently participated in the rebellion and whose grievances remained unresolved (Herstein, et al., 1970, pp. 268-272).

Buried within the new Criminal Code, these "gun controls" were given only a cursory review and were approved without comment (Hansard, 1892, p. 4344).

On 23 June, 1896, the Conservatives, now led by Charles Tupper, were defeated by the Liberals under Wilfred Laurier.