The Conservatives are giving hundreds of thousands of long gun owners in Canada a reprieve -- exempting them from having to register their firearms for another year, CTV News has learned.

The Harper government, which has long been trying to abolish the federal gun registry, says long gun owners now have until May 2008 to register their weapons.

The move is being applauded by firearms advocates who have opposed the registry for years.

"I think it says that the government has realized that the firearms control system is a big failure -- and they're buying time to make a major change in firearms control that makes sense," David Tomlinson, national president of the National Firearms Association, told CTV News.

The Tories introduced the regulation change quietly over the Easter weekend. Instead of issuing a press release or official statement, the government published its Amending Order in the April 7 issue of the Canada Gazette -- the government's "official newspaper."

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day was unavailable for an interview on the issue. His officials pointed CTV News to the posting on the Canada Gazette website, refusing to comment on why the order wasn't made more public.

The Firearms Act brought in by the Liberals more than a decade ago is still the law of the land. The Tory move essentially buys the government some time, allowing it to ignore the long gun registry for another year, and possibly through another election.

Day brought in regulatory changes in May, 2006 that included a one-year amnesty for any rifle and shotgun owners facing prosecution for failing to register their weapons.

Under the present Amnesty Order 2006, previously licensed owners of non-restricted firearms have until May 16, 2007 to register their weapons -- "unless it is extended by the Amending Order," reads the statement on the Canada Gazette website.


Families of victims of gun crime, who support the long gun registry, are calling the amended order a bad move that will make the registry two years out of date -- and essentially useless to police.

"It think that it's totally and absolutely ridiculous," Audette Sheppard, a gun control advocate whose son Justin was shot to death in Toronto in 2001, told CTV News.

"I think they're extending it in part because they couldn't get the legislation through the House of Commons."

Shepard says the Tory move will lessen the controls of long guns and the shotguns in Canada.

"It truly demonstrates a total disregard for the Parliamentary process, because if you can't change a law through the proper channels, it's inappropriate to use an amnesty to undermine the will of Parliament," she said. "These people just don't get it, and they may not get it unless they become intimately affected by the results of what guns can do."

Government critics say the Tories are trying to sneak a major change through Parliament without having to pass a new law.

"It says the Conservatives are trying to do by stealth what they can't do out in the open -- which is kill the long gun registry," said Liberal Justice Critic Marlene Jennings.

"But by doing it by stealth, they are attempting to ensure that the vast majority of Canadians won't know what they're doing, and so they get away with it."

The controversial gun registry has long been decried by more than hunters and farmers. Target shooters have long complained about the system as well.

Flora Kupsch, owner of the Wild West Shooting Centre in Edmonton's West Edmonton Mall, said she has long stopped trying to decipher federal laws pertaining to long guns.

"I'm very confused. I don't know what's going on now these days with the gun registry. You can't keep up," Kupsch told CTV News.

To that end, the Canada Gazette posting says "renewed public communications" are needed on the issue because long gun owners are "confused" -- and have "failed to understand" the new legislation.

CTV News first learned in February 2006 of the Conservative government's plans to gut the gun registry by granting an amnesty to rifle and shotgun owners.

Created in 1995, the gun registry soared in costs for a host of reasons. A 2002 report by the auditor-general found it had cost the feds $1 billion.

Harper's office reportedly want quick action on the file because it's a key campaign promise.

But scrapping the registry altogether would require legislation -- not just regulatory amendments. New Democrats and Liberals are split on the issue, but strong majorities in both caucuses want to keep the registry, while the Bloc Quebecois is virtually unanimous in rejecting its abolition.

With an exclusive report by CTV parliamentary correspondent Graham Richardson in Ottawa