Q:A recent murder case in my hometown involved a young man charged with shooting to death a young woman using a long gun and ammunition he had earlier stolen from a parked vehicle. The gun owner, who newspaper reports described as a rancher, was not charged. What does the law say about keeping firearms and ammunition in motor vehicles?
A:The decision not to charge this person likely depended upon a review of the particular facts of this case. It may be that his storage of the gun and ammunition was reasonable.
With or without Canada’s firearms registry, there are laws in place dealing with the use, storage and handling of firearms.
A serious charge is the use of any firearm in the commission of another offence. Armed robbery is an example, but this law can extend to other offences.
Under Section 85 of the Criminal Code, if a person uses a firearm to commit an offence, attempt to commit an offence or while running away from doing so, that person is guilty of an additional offence.
If it’s the first offence, the maximum term of imprisonment is 14 years and the minimum is one year. If it is a subsequent offence, the minimum jumps to three years and the maximum stays at 14.
Also, such a sentence is on top of any other jail time.
More common is a charge under Section 86. If you carelessly use, carry, handle, ship, transport or store a firearm (or ammunition), it is an offence, unless you have a lawful excuse or can show you took reasonable precautions for the safety of other persons.
If it is a serious situation, the crown can prosecute this as an indictable (more serious) offence and it carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail (for a first offence) and five years for a subsequent offence.
If it is less serious, the crown prosecutes by way of summary conviction, with maximum punishment set at six months in jail or $5,000 fine.
Hunters may be charged if they do not take proper care. Even if you improperly store your firearm or ammunition in your own home, and it is discovered, you may be charged.
The cases suggest that this offence requires the crown to prove conduct showing a “marked departure” from the standard of care of a reasonably prudent person, in the same circumstances.
Note also there is a separate offence (Section 87) for pointing a firearm at someone, with a five year maximum jail sentence. This is distinct from careless handling. It doesn’t matter if the firearm is loaded or not.
Section 90 of our Criminal Code makes it an offence to carry a weapon in a concealed manner unless the person is authorized under the federal Firearms Act. Maximum jail time is five years. This section includes the person and his vehicle.
Finally, there are charges of possessing a weapon or ammunition for a purpose dangerous to the public peace or for the purpose of committing an offence.
In these instances, the punishment can run up to 10 years. The main part of this charge is the purpose for which the person has the weapon. Just using or storing a weapon in a dangerous way is not enough for this charge.
There can be serious consequences for improper possession or use of a weapon. Be careful and treat it with the respect and responsibility it deserves.
Rick Danyliuk is a lawyer with McDougall Gauley LLP in Saskatoon. Contact: thelaw @ producer.com.