COLUMN: Carry a gun, go to jail
A Surrey judge may be opening the door to a more U.S.-style approach to guns in Canada, and that definitely goes against the prevailing sentiment of most Canadians.
Provincial Court Judge James Bahen ruled on Jan. 3 that the federal three-year minimum sentence for possession of a loaded, restricted weapon may be unconstitutional. This particular mandatory minimum sentence law is aimed squarely at gang members and others who have developed the bad habit of taking their loaded and illegal handguns with them, wherever they go.
Remember back to 2009, when gangster murders were occurring all over the Lower Mainland, including Surrey. The federal government promised at that time to get tough with those who carry loaded guns around as a matter of course. This is something that the vast majority of law-abiding Canadians support. The mandatory sentences have been in place for four years, and actually predate the gangsters’ 2009 reign of terror.
In the United States, the second amendment to the constitution grants Americans “the right to bear arms,” and this has led to the widespread possession of guns. Many of them are handguns, and most are kept loaded at all times. When I worked at the border years ago, we regularly dealt with Americans who were making their first trip to Canada, and had loaded guns with them in their cars or semi-trailer trucks.
In Canada, handguns have been considered “restricted” weapons since the 1930s. It’s not illegal to own them, nor should it be, but those who own them must have permits to do so, and provide good reasons for owning such guns. In addition, no gun is legally allowed to be transported while loaded, with a few exceptions, such as for police officers.
The preponderance of handguns used in crimes in Surrey and other Lower Mainland communities is a relatively recent phenomenon. The guns which are used are almost all smuggled in illegally from the U.S., often in trade for drugs.
One of the few tools that we as a society have to try and push back against this trend is mandatory minimum sentences. Thus if someone such as Glenn Sheck, who was arrested with a loaded 9 mm Glock handgun in a Louis Vuitton bag, while sitting in a Surrey restaurant, receives such a sentence, the word filters out. For some people, this acts as a deterrent.
Some of those who make a habit of carrying loaded guns around with them may start to think twice. While many such people consider themselves above the law, there are others who do pay attention to such details.
A three-year minimum sentence for carrying a loaded handgun around is not excessive, nor is it “cruel and unusual punishment,” as Sheck’s lawyers argued. In Canada, hardly anyone serves the full term of their sentence, and many are out of jail after serving just one-third of their sentences. So a three-year sentence may end up being one year in jail at the most.
We don’t want Canada becoming a society like the U.S., and mandatory minimum sentences would help prevent that.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.