The Canadian government has banned 1,500 assault-style weapons effective immediately.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement Friday, noting it is now illegal to buy, sell, transport, import, or use “military-grade assault weapons” in Canada, including AR-15 rifles, which have been used in mass shootings like Sandy Hook and Parkland and the Ruger Mini-14s, used in the 1989 École Polytechnique shooting.
“These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time,” Trudeau said.
He listed a number of mass shootings in Canada, including the recent Nova Scotia rampage that left 22 people dead.
Guns in Canada are classified under three categories: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited. The new regulations will reclassify many semi-automatic rifles as prohibited.
Trudeau said there is a two-year amnesty period for owners of newly prohibited weapons and that a buyback program will be legislated. Gun owners will be able to export the prohibited weapons if they have an appropriate permit. Owners will also be allowed to keep their banned weapons through a grandfathering program—they just won’t be able to use them.
Gun owners shouldn’t attempt to surrender banned guns to police during this COVID-19-related physical distancing period, Trudeau said.
After Trudeau’s announcement, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair addressed law-abiding Canadian gun owners, saying that the new regulations won’t interfere with “lawful” activity.
While he said assault-style weapons may have some recreational value, “these powerful weapons become deadly weapons when they fall into the right hands,” he said.
Blair said the government also plans to introduce “red-flag laws” to make it easier for law enforcement to confiscate guns from people who are suicidal, involved in domestic violence, or “advocating hate” against religious minorities and women. He said the laws would also prevent people in those categories from accessing guns by taking away their licence.
Blair didn’t explain how the red flag program would work and what authorities would require to be able to take away someone’s guns, nor how long the confiscation would last.
Blair previously told the Globe and Mail, red flag laws would allow cops, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and friends and relatives to petition courts to remove someone’s guns.
Currently, if someone tells a doctor they’re thinking of hurting themselves or others but they don’t have a plan in place, the doctor can’t flag that information to police. Investigations through complaints made to the Chief Firearms Office can be lengthy before any action is taken. Blair said red flag laws would expedite that process, potentially leading to the immediate confiscation of guns.
“There’s pretty severe potential for abuse of a law like that,” because someone could report a gun owner based on a personal vendetta, said London, Ontario-based gun expert A.J. Somerset, author of Arms: the Culture & Credo of the Gun.
He also noted red flag laws only work if people actually report, but that red flags are often missed until something terrible happens.
The term “assault weapon” is contentious in the firearms community, with many gun proponents arguing that it’s meaningless without being clearly defined. Somerset told VICE the best definition is a semi-automatic centerfire rifle with an attachable magazine and a pistol grip.
Somerset said the new policy could leave loopholes because the government isn’t banning a whole category of guns with certain characteristics, but rather going after specific makes and models. That means that some guns that have similar characteristics to the banned weapons may remain on the market.
Trudeau said he also plans on allowing municipalities to ban handguns.
VICE previously reported on why municipal handgun bans may not work because cities don’t have borders and checkpoints.
Somerset said that a city could potentially ban a person from storing their guns within its boundaries, but it cannot stop a person from owning a legal gun.
He said he doesn’t think municipal handgun bans will do much to address handguns used by gangs, and will end up putting more pressure on local cops to enforce the rules.
“The municipal handgun ban is the most useless measure they’ve proposed,” said Somerset.
Trudeau and Blair were also asked why they are targeting law-abiding gun owners when the Nova Scotia shooter used guns obtained illegally.
Blair responded that two of the long guns the shooter used are on the list of banned weapons, and that all guns used in crimes start out as legal guns.
The government has not been clear on how many guns used in crimes are obtained legally vs. illegally.
Both the Quebec Mosque shooter and Moncton shooter had legal guns.
Under the new rules, the banned families of weapons are: AR-15, AR-10, M4, M16 rifles; Ruger Mini-14 rifles; VZ58 semi-automatic rifles; M14 rifles; Beretta CX4 Storm carbine; Robinson Armament XCR rifle; CZ Scorpion EVO 3 carbine and pistol; Sig Sauer SIG MCX and Sig Sauer SIG MPX carbine and pistol; Swiss Arms Classic Green and Seasons Series rifles. Grenade launchers and sniper rifles are also prohibited.
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