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'Poked lion' gun lobby wants feds to kill provincial chief firearms offices

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OTTAWA - A pro-gun advocacy group that has two representatives on a federal firearms advisory panel wants the Conservative government to eliminate all provincial firearms offices, saying they have "poked the lion" once too often.

The Canadian Sports Shooting Association has launched a national petition that asks Ottawa to establish a single "civilian agency" in place of provincial and territorial firearms officers that oversee licensing and other gun regulations.

The group is upset over recent moves by Alberta's chief firearms office requiring that guns on display at the Calgary Gun Show be equipped with trigger locks.

The group's spokesman, Tony Bernardo, has also taken Ontario's chief firearms officer to court over tighter authorization rules for transporting weapons.

And last May, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews issued a letter to all provincial firearms officers ordering them not to collect point-of-sale information from gun sellers — calling it "unauthorized data collection."

"These games that CFOs are playing are nothing more than a temper tantrum in reply to scrapping the gun registry," Bernardo said in a news release this week.

"Their silly rules have nothing to do with public safety. But they have poked the lion too often."

Bernardo and Steve Torino, the president of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, sit on the 12-member panel that advises Toews on gun laws.

Two other association directors were among three panellists recently removed from the advisory group and replaced by police officers.

Under the federal Firearms Act, provinces can appoint chief firearms officers and apply to Ottawa for reimbursement of the costs of administering the Act. The administrative arrangement helps take the burden off the RCMP.

A spokeswoman for Toews did not respond directly when asked if the government is considering whether to end the provincial enforcement offices.

"We expect that chief firearms officers and their officials will enforce the law appropriately," Julie Carmichael said in an email.

The shooting association petition is supported by Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant, whose rural, eastern Ontario riding includes a large constituency of hunters and farmers.

The firearms advisory panel is heavily weighted with gun enthusiasts and has come under public criticism for some of its recommendations to further relax firearms laws.

The Conservatives scrapped the long gun registry last spring and destroyed all the collected data — with the exception of Quebec's, which is protected by a court order. Ending the registry will save Ottawa about $2 million annually, according to internal government documents — notwithstanding wildly inflated claims that it had cost taxpayers $2 billion since 1996.

The petition comes at a politically delicate moment for the governing Conservatives, who have counted gun owners as a rock solid support base — and source of donations — since their Reform party days in the early 1990s.

In December Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly rebuked the advisory panel after it recommended loosening the rules on some prohibited weapons and doubling license renewals to 10 years instead of five.

Gerry Gamble, one of the Canadian Sport Shooting Association directors who was booted from the panel this month, has lashed out at the government for turning its back on the firearms lobby.

"Gun owners are trapped," Gamble said in an interview. "They only have one party that is even remotely sympathetic to them, and that's the Conservatives."

But Gamble added that, "to be honest, it often strikes me that they're just doing enough to keep gun owners onside without rattling anybody's cage."

Conservative MP Rick Dykstra recently told his local newspaper, the St. Catharines Standard, that Gamble was removed because the Canadian Shooting Sports Association was over-represented on the panel.

"The decision was made to bring a different ... perspective to the issue, in terms of advice," the newspaper quoted Dykstra as saying.

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