UPDATE 2:45 PM: The original story has been updated to include commentary from the premier and Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
by Stephen Dafoe
On Friday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the ban of over 1,500 models and varients of what he calls “assault-style,” firearms including nine categories of firearms and two types identified by characteristic. The announcement also prohibits some firearms components.
For non-firearms owners, the terminology can be confusing. An assault rifle is a rifle that has selective-fire capability allowing the weapon to fire in bursts or automatic mode. These firearms, long prohibited under Canadian law already because of select-fire ability, are not the same as the “assault-syle” firearms banned Friday.
Just what is an “assault-style” firearm varies somewhat; however, for government purposes, it is typically defined as a semi-automatic rifle that can accept detachable magazines and modifications. None of the newly banned firearms have the select-fire capability, the defining characteristic of an assault rifle.
Under Friday’s ban, which affects many previously legal models used for hunting and sport shooting, the identified firearms and components are illegal to be used, sold, or imported.
The federal government says the new measures will remove dangerous firearms designed for military use from communities, ensuring that Canadians no longer suffer from gun violence.
“Because of gun violence, people are dying, families are grieving, and communities are suffering,” Trudeau said Friday. “It must end. Assault-style firearms designed for military use have no place in Canada. By removing them from our streets, we will limit the devastating effects of gun-related violence and help make our country safer.”
Until a federal buyback program is in place, owners of the now prohibited firearms must continue to store them safely. Friday’s announcement includes a two-year transition period to protect those who own the now-prohibited firearms from criminal liability.
The government says Indigenous firearms owners, exercising Aboriginal or treaty rights to hunt, and for those who hunt or trap to sustain themselves or their families, are exempt until a suitable replacement can be found. However, at the end of the amnesty period, Apr 30, 2022, all firearms owners must comply with the ban.
Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau of using the current pandemic and the immediate emotion of the Nova Scotia attack to push what he calls the Liberals’ “ideological agenda” to make significant firearms changes.
“The Trudeau Liberals have made it clear throughout this crisis that they do not respect the democratic role of Parliament,” Scheer said. “That cannot continue. If the Prime Minister has the strength of his convictions, he should wait until the health crisis has passed and introduce legislation in the House of Commons so that it can be debated, and Canadians’ voices can be heard.”
Scheer said Canadians are rightly upset by the horrific attack in Nova Scotia and want answers as to why a province-wide alert was not immediately issued during the attack.
“As the RCMP has made clear, the [Nova Scotia] shooter did not have a firearms licence, so all of his guns were illegal,” Scheer said. “Taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals who obtain their guns illegally.”
Scheer went on to say illegally obtained firearms are used in the vast majority of gun crimes.
“Nothing the Trudeau Liberals announced today addresses this problem,” Scheer said.
Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer issued a joint statement Friday afternoon on the Liberal announcement.
“The Government of Alberta is concerned about all crime, including the illegal use of firearms. Today’s order by Ottawa does little to target criminals. Instead, Ottawa is singling out law-abiding Canadians who purchased their property legally, have owned these items safely for years, and who have committed no crimes,” Kenney said in the release.
The Premier went on to say the overwhelming majority of firearms used criminally in Canada are smuggled in illegally from the United States.
“Instead of addressing this, Ottawa will instead spend vast sums of money to criminalize law-abiding Canadians. That money would be far better used to pursue the smugglers and drug gangs that plague our society,” Kenney said.
Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said violent criminals who use guns are often released with surprisingly soft sentences.
“Rather than focus on law-abiding Canadians, we’d call on Parliament to bring back tough, mandatory sentences for the criminals who flagrantly endanger Canadians with their use of illegal guns,” Schweitzer said.
The Premier said his government is actively considering appointing Alberta’s own chief firearms officer (CFO) to replace the CFO appointed by Ottawa in response to the federal announcmeent.
Local hunter and target shooter David LeBel called Friday’s announcement the most misleading Order In Council he had ever heard. LeBel said he feels the definition of assault weapons has been changed by the government to help persuade the uninformed.
“Many of the talking points are already written into law,” LeBel said, adding that for decades, real assault weapons have been prohibited, as well as high capacity magazines. “Many of the firearms on the list are legitimate hunting rifles, or in some cases, pest rifles. Firearms, so weak that they cannot be used to hunt an 80-pound antelope because of their lack of lethal force, are now prohibited. I’m talking gopher guns.”
LeBel encourages Canadians to go through Statistics Canada to see that firearms in the hands of legal gun owners do not cause death.
“This Order In Council is a blatant abuse of power to virtue signal on behalf of the party in an expensive move that will do absolutely nothing to deter fatalities in Canada,” LeBel said. “For many Canadians from East to West, this is the line in the sand.”
There are currently more than 100,000 restricted firearms among models now prohibited. That figure does not include other newly-prohibited models that were not subject to registration requirements.
A full list of now banned firearms can be found at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6880974-Canada-Gazette-May-1-2020-Part-II.html