Twenty years ago, the Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC) was introduced in conjunction with new firearms legislation. A product of the best firearms training expertise from across Canada, the course teaches responsible use of non-restricted firearms such as ordinary rifles, shotguns or combination guns. In about eight hours of classroom instruction, it covers safe practices for firearms handling, transportation and storage.
Under Canada’s Firearms Act, anyone who wants to apply for a non-restricted firearms licence may take the course and must pass the CFSC written and practical tests. Since 1999, over one million Canadians have taken the course. Most have rifles or shotguns, which they use for hunting, sport shooting or wildlife control.
Those who wish to acquire restricted firearms must also pass the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course (CRFSC) tests. In both cases there is an option to challenge and pass the tests without taking the course.
“There’s a lot of keen interest in the course here in Ontario, and it keeps increasing,” says Dave Wall, executive manager of the Firearms Safety Education Service of Ontario.
The CFSC is popular even among those who didn’t think they needed it. According to Wall, older people with no formal training, who have been using guns for 30 or 40 years, will come out with, “Wow, I never thought about that!”
Instructors Meet High Standards
Wall’s association oversees about 400 Ontario instructors who must take annual training to maintain their skills and knowledge at a very high level, and teach a minimum number of courses during the year. In addition, they receive regular workshops, quality audits, a code of ethics, and policy manuals to ensure they offer the best instruction possible.
The CFSC instructors are not only well qualified. They are also enthusiastic, committed, and very good at motivating their students.
“Safe storage is a big issue in firearms safety,” says George Gallinger, a firearms safety instructor for the Red Sky Métis Firearm Training Centre in Thunder Bay, Ontario. “One man taking the course had inherited some firearms and was keeping them in a closet. After the first day of training he went home and checked the guns. He had assumed they were not loaded but, to his horror, they all had ammunition in them. And he had grandkids in the house.”
It would be an understatement to say Gallinger is dedicated. He travels thousands of kilometres each year to provide training in communities only accessible by plane - or, in a few cases, by winter roads.
Accessibility of Training
Newfoundland and Labrador has the lowest population density and one of the highest rates of firearm ownership in Canada. St. John’s and the Avalon Peninsula are home to more than half the province’s population of just over half a million. The rest of the population is spread across 400,000 square kilometres.
Chris Baldwin, Manager of Conservation Services in the government’s Wildlife Division, is responsible for the province’s firearms training program. He says that when the federal government introduced the CFSC in 1994, developing a delivery network to cover the whole province was a high priority.
“The partnerships came naturally,” recounts Baldwin. “The College of the North Atlantic became a new partner, and the province brought the CFSC into one fold with existing hunter education and volunteer instructors. This improved the overall capacity for delivery.” The college has campuses in 17 communities across the province.
More than 80,000 Newfoundland and Labrador residents have now successfully completed the required firearms safety training. About 2,500 to 3,000 people take the course annually – impressive numbers, given the small, widespread population of the province.
More Training, Fewer Injuries
In 2002, the Alberta Hunter Education Instructors Association took over responsibility for the CFSC in Alberta. At the time, the association thought 10,000 exams would be a busy year, but in 2012 the figures were closing in on 30,000. The association has over 500 active instructors, enabling it to service all areas of the province.
Glen McKay is a Firearms Education Coordinator with the association. He notes the average age of Albertans taking the course has increased, and there are increasing numbers of women taking both the CFSC and hunter education.
“We still get a lot of first-time students in the 25-35 and 12-17 age groups,” McKay says, “but in 2012 we saw a big jump in middle-aged people who are returning to the sport. These older students have commented on the value of the information given in class.”
Has the training translated into fewer accidents involving firearms? “What once were considered shooting ‘accidents’ have proven to be preventable, as more and more gun owners have taken safety training,” says Jack Smith, president of the Canada Safety Council.
According to the Alberta Centre of Injury Control and Research (ACICR), over the three-year period from 2006 to 2008 a total of six people died from unintentional shooting incidents in the province. The ACICR statistics for 2010 show there were no unintentional shooting fatalities that year. However, in 2010 “accidents” represented two-thirds of all firearm-related Alberta emergency room visits (187). From 2007 through 2010, the rates of firearms-related emergency department visits decreased each year by almost 15 percent. This downward trend in injuries has paralleled increasing participation in firearms safety training.
Safety in the Screening Process
Everyone who possesses or acquires a firearm in Canada must be licensed to do so, and firearms licenses must be renewed every five years. Not only must CFSC requirements be met; the application for a new or renewed licence also asks about personal history. Applicants are screened for criminal records. As well they must answer questions that relate directly to their marital status and mental health, and provide personal references.
The RCMP Canadian Firearms Program (CFP) maintains a computer database of information on all current firearms licence holders. If a licensed individual is the subject of a Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) incident report, the CPIC automatically sends a report to the CFP for further review and investigation.
Provincial Chief Firearms Officers have the authority, under the Firearms Act, to issue or revoke a firearms licence, or to refuse an application for a licence, based on their assessment of the individual’s risk to public safety.