TORONTO - Ontario lashed out at the federal Conservative government Wednesday for quietly extending an amnesty for people who don't register their guns, accusing Ottawa of being "in the holster of the gun lobby."

The government's decision to waive penalties for not complying with the long gun registry, which now gives owners until May 16, 2008 to register their weapons, was enacted without fanfare during Parliament's Easter break.

"The Harper government releases information about the extension of the gun amnesty on Easter weekend, like they were hiding an Easter egg," said Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant.

"This is a government that now needs to deal with the reality that Parliament does not support getting rid of the long gun registry. Rather than subverting the will of Parliament, (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) is abusing a provision under the firearms legislation that allows for the extension of the gun amnesty."

Bryant said the decision to extend the amnesty sends exactly the wrong kind of message, especially after the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech this week that left 33 people dead.

"I don't think it's ever a good time to send a signal that the federal government is in the holster of the gun lobby, but now is certainly not a good time for that to happen," he said.

Bryant said the sad tragedy is that the terrible shootings at Virginia Tech are played out daily on a smaller scale across the United States, with guns used to murder between 38 to 40 Americans every week.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday that he's with the police on the gun registry issue, and believes it helps Canada maintain a very different approach to guns than our American neighbours.

"We have a distinctive gun culture here and I'd like to maintain that distinctiveness," McGuinty said before a Liberal cabinet meeting.

"I've always said that we should have a good, effective gun registry system in place. We have requested of all political parties on Parliament Hill that they adopt tougher sentencing provisions for gun-related crimes, and that's something they can act on immediately."

Harper faced widespread criticism after the Dawson College shootings in Montreal last fall when Quebec Premier Jean Charest urged him to reconsider plans to do away with the gun registry.

The Liberals and New Democrats on Parliament Hill accused the government of trying to kill the gun registry by decree because there is no political support to actually eliminate it.

The Conservatives have repeatedly denounced the registry as expensive and useless legislation that targets hunters instead of criminals.

Bryant said police use the gun registry every day and find it helpful to determine what kind of weapons authorities might find in a home and what size security perimeter they may need for an operation.