Liberals move forward with ban on assault rifles

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OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the minority federal Liberal government announced a ban on assault and military pattern rifles on Friday, May 1, making the announcement in the wake of the tragic mass shooting in Nova Scotia that saw 22 people dead. Although the ban impacts more than 1,500 patterns of rifles and their variants it does not require parliamentary approval, moving ahead simply by being published in the Canada Gazette. Prime Minister Trudeau also promised in his Sunday briefing to go even further by introducing municipally-ordered handgun bans and tightened border security through new legislation to be introduced in Parliament.

“These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest about of time,” said the prime minister in making the announcement. “There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada.”

The news doesn’t sit at all well with local sports equipment retailers who are struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic restrictions.

“To me it is just a pile of horseshit,” shared Up Top Sports Shop owner Blaine Williamson, pulling few punches when contacted about the ban on Monday. Mr. Williamson said that he was still “digesting” the information, having looked over the list of banned rifles over the weekend and couldn’t comment on how the ban will impact his business yet, but said he felt certain from what he had seen that it would likely result in even more bankruptcies in the country than were already in the works.

Mr. Williamson said that his short assessment of the list of banned rifles revealed some startling facts. “This isn’t just semi-automatic rifles and it’s a lot more than just the 1,500 on that list,” he said. “It includes all the variants. There are 22s on that list, bolt action rifles, single shot, it’s crazy.”

Mr. Williamson also questioned the timing of the ban.

“Right in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. “That’s politicians for you, never let a good tragedy go to waste.”

The long-time sports equipment retailer noted that the ban will not go unchallenged and that the National Firearms Association is already aiming its sights on legal action. “(The federal gun ban) violates international trade agreements,” he points out. “There are a lot of these guns that are legally imported into the country but retailers, they can’t just send them back. Who is going to pay for all of this? There are going to be a lot of bankruptcies from all of this, and for what? Who does this satisfy?”

Mr. Williamson said he believes that the ban only targets law-abiding gun owners and that it will not meet the needs of urban dwellers concerned about gun crime in their cities.

“They are still shooting up Toronto,” he said. “This ban isn’t going to do anything about that.”

The prime minister did not outline a timeline for the new legislation to be put before Parliament, suggesting it would only be “when Parliament allows.” He acknowledged that his government has “more work to do” when it comes to guns in Canada, going on to cite legislation on the border, gun storage and handguns.

“We know there is more to do on strengthening gun control in this country which is why we’re going to be moving forward when Parliament allows it with stronger measures around borders, stronger measures around safe storage,” Prime Minister Trudeau said. “Measures around handguns to permit municipalities to ban handguns within their city limits.”

As for his take on the proposed legislation to allow municipalities to ban handguns, Mr. Williamson did not hold back his scorn. “They are passing the buck to the cities to do something they don’t have the (parts) to do,” he said. “This will basically tell people they have to pick up and move. What is the point of that? It isn’t going to solve anything—criminals are not going to abide by them anyway.”

“We are happy to see the government move forward with the promises they made during the election,” said NDP public safety critic Matthew Dubé during a media scrum broadcast on CPAC. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh had called on the government in August to implement immediate powers for municipalities to ban handguns within their boundaries. Mr. Dubé said the NDP also has questions on cost and implementation of the legislation, but now they have something concrete from the government coming up that can be worked on in committee.

Meanwhile, gun control advocates such as Heidi Rathjen, a survivor of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre and co-coordinator of PolyRemembers (a gun-control advocacy group comprising students and graduates of Université de Montréal engineering program) express mixed feelings toward the announcement—particularly the grandfathering of existing weapons and the absence of a promised mandatory buyback program.

“That means tens of thousands more weapons will remain in the hands of current owners,” she told the media. “Friday’s ban includes a two-year amnesty period for current owners, while making the general use and trade of assault weapons illegal. But it doesn’t forbid owning them.”

“For many families, including Indigenous people, firearms are part of traditions passed down through generations,” said Prime Minister Trudeau, asserting that the ban is not aimed at hunters. “The vast majority of gun owners use them safely and in accordance with the law, whether it be for work, sport shooting or collecting or for hunting. But you don’t need an AR-15 to bring down a deer.”