A week after a gunman opened fire on an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two adults, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has moved to freeze handgun sales in his country.
Trudeau announced new legislation Monday that would stop Canadians from being able to buy, sell, import, or transfer handguns.
“One Canadian killed by gun violence is one too many,” Trudeau said in a press release.
“I’ve seen all too well the tragic cost that gun violence has in our communities across the country. Today, we’re proposing some of the strongest measures in Canadian history to keep guns out of our communities and build a safer future for everyone.”
The proposed law would not stop current handgun owners from being able to use their guns at a shooting range, nor does it force them to give up their firearms. It follows Trudeau’s 2020 ban on 1,500 makes and models of “assault style” guns including AR-15 rifles, the type of weapon used by the Uvalde shooter and many other mass shooters.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to VICE World News’ questions by press time, including whether or not the legislation was rolled out due to the recent U.S. shootings. The legislation includes some measures tabled before the September 2021 election that were not passed.
Right-wing figures in the U.S. are responding to Trudeau’s gun control measures by calling him a “dictator.”
“‘We only want to ban AR-15s’ claim the American libs celebrating Trudeau for banning handguns,” tweeted Donald Trump Jr.
The new legislation, Bill C-21, also calls for increased criminal penalties for gun trafficking and smuggling. It says it will automatically revoke firearms licenses from people “involved in acts of domestic violence or criminal harassment, such as stalking.” The bill will also create a new red flag law allowing courts to suspend the license and revoke the firearms of someone considered a danger to themselves or others.
Experts say there’s no data to show that the handgun freeze will reduce gun violence in Canada.
According to the government's press release, handguns were the most serious weapon present in the majority of firearm-related violent crimes (59 percent) between 2009 and 2020.
But A.J Somerset, author of Arms: the Culture & Credo, said there’s no national data showing that the handguns used in crimes in Canada were legally-sourced domestically. According to CityNews, 85 percent of handguns seized by Toronto police in 2020 were traced back to the U.S. But Somerset said police have not said what proportion of crime guns overall are long guns. Meanwhile, most mass shootings in Canada have involved legally-owned long guns, though the man responsible for the worst mass shooting in Canadian history did not have a firearms licence and smuggled some of his guns across the border.
“There’s a real problem with the data here,” Somerset said. “We're never comparing apples to apples.”
Somerset said he thinks the “freeze” only makes sense if the government is planning a full handgun ban in the future. As of 2020, there were approximately 1.1 million registered handguns in Canada.
“By leaving those guns out in the world, all of the ills that they are proposing to address—things like stolen guns making their way to gangs—those are still risks because those guns are still in private hands all around Canada,” he said.
Jooyoung Lee, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto who studies gun violence, said he thinks the handgun freeze will have “a very limited impact on gun violence.”
Lee said research shows a pattern of crime guns here being smuggled in from the U.S., where guns are “just so plentiful.” He said the legislation won’t do much to abate gun smuggling, nor does it address societal issues that lead people to turn to a life of crime.
“One of the ongoing pieces of legislation that the left likes to propose is abolition of firearms or prohibiting access to firearms. These kinds of discussions happen without attending to what are known as root causes or structural conditions that funnel at risk people into acquiring a firearm and using it to commit violence.”
Lee said he’d like to see more resources spent on community-based programs to help mentor young people at risk, and on addressing basic human needs, including housing and helping people find employment.
Lee said he found the red flag provision for revoking guns from someone involved in domestic violence promising, but it depends how it’s executed.
Canada already has red flag laws, which allow someone to file a report to a Chief Firearms Officer if they think a gun owner poses a risk to themselves or others.
According to Somerset, the government is proposing that people will now be able to apply directly to a provincial judge if they think someone is a danger, and that judge can suspend that person’s gun licence and revoke their guns for 30 days.
However, he said the bill still places a burden on people to know how to make such an application in court.
“If this is viewed as being a way of protecting people who are at risk, women in abusive relationships, for example, I think it’s asking a lot of those people to figure out...how to go to the courthouse, how to make this application, how to make sure that application gets heard quickly.”
While the new rules may not make a dent in gun violence in Canada, Somerset said it may simply fulfill a vision that many people want: a Canada without handguns.
“There is a genuine desire among some people to have handgun-free Canada. And that's really what this is about.”
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