Government tables bill to limit handguns, pledges to buy back assault-style weapons

Guns-Milenio Stadium-Canada
(Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

New gun control legislation the federal government tabled Monday includes a national freeze on the purchase, sale, importation and transfer of handguns in Canada.

The government also is pledging to start buying back thousands of banned assault-style weapons before the end of the year.

While the proposal falls short of a full ban on handguns, it would effectively limit their number in Canada.

“In other words, we’re capping the market for handguns,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a press conference Monday.

“As we see gun violence continue to rise, it is our duty to keep taking action.”
Trudeau says the gun control bill tabled today includes a national freeze on the sale, importation and transfer of handguns in Canada, making this the government’s most ambitious attempt yet to restrict access to firearms in this country.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino presented the bill, C-21, in the House of Commons Monday.

“The bill we just tabled represents a milestone amidst a long and difficult battle which takes place on our streets every single day,” Mendicino said at the news conference. “It’s a battle which has claimed too many lives, leaving empty chairs at the dinner table, and empty desks in our classrooms.”

The legislation revives some federal measures that didn’t pass before last year’s general election and implements some new proposals made during the campaign.

They include taking away firearms licences from those involved in domestic violence or criminal harassment, increasing criminal penalties for smuggling and trafficking of firearms, and a “red flag” law which would require people deemed a threat to themselves or others to turn in their firearms to law enforcement.

The government previously proposed working with provinces and territories to put restrictions on handguns. Trudeau said his government abandoned that idea after consultations.

“In our discussions with law enforcement, advocates and experts, it became apparent that we needed a different solution,” he said.

“So we decided to take a new route, something that would tackle this issue at a national level.”

A limited number of people would be exempt from the handgun restrictions, including elite sport shooters and those with authorization to carry, such as valuable goods carriers, senior government officials said in a briefing.

The government also said in a news release that it would require magazines for long guns to be changed so they can’t carry more than five rounds. Sales of large-capacity magazines would be banned.

It also would increase the maximum penalty for offences under the law, such as illegally owning, acquiring or manufacturing a firearm, from 10 years imprisonment to 14.

“We recognize that the vast majority of gun owners use them safely, and in accordance with the law,” Trudeau said.

“But other than using firearms for sport shooting and for hunting, there is no reason anyone in Canada should need guns in their everyday lives.”

“We’re always going to be prepared to look at all options, but today was a significant stride in that direction,” said Public Safety Marco Mendicino when asked if the Liberal government would ever introduce a national ban on handguns.

Mendicino confirmed that the government would be proceeding with a mandatory buyback program for the over 1,500 assault-style weapons the government banned two years ago — including the AR-15. He said the details will have to wait for consultations with industry on compensation and likely won’t be available until this summer.

He said that the first weapons would be bought back before the end of this year.

“It’s going to be hard but we are going to get it done,” Mendicino said.

He added that the government is aiming to ban an even larger number of assault-style weapons through an amendment to the bill.

The legislation comes after a number of mass shootings in the United States, including a recent shooting at an elementary school that killed 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas. Trudeau said in response to the massacre that Canadians are “remarkably united” in wanting to reduce gun violence at home.

Prior to the presentation of the bill, the House unanimously voted in favour of a motion expressing its horror at the Uvalde shooting and condolences to the family, friends and communities of the victims.

On Twitter, Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said the legislation does not effectively address gun violence.

“Today’s announcement fails to focus on the root cause of gun violence in our cities: illegal guns smuggled into Canada by criminal gangs,” she said. “The PM has had 7 years to fix this serious issue, yet he continues to chase headlines and bury his head in the sand.”

John Brassard, the Conservative house leader, told CBC’s Power & Politics, the legislation unfairly targets legal gun owners.

“The real problem in this country is not the law-abiding firearms owners, who are heavily regulated, heavily-licensed … the real problem in this country has to do with gangs and criminals who are importing firearms, mostly from the United States, using illegal guns on our streets,” he told host Vassy Kapelos.

Alistair MacGregor, the NDP public safety critic, agreed that handgun smuggling is an issue, but said the problem is complex and will require a number of different measures.

“What the government should be doing now is working with provinces, and working with municipalities, to help those jurisdictions that do want to ban a handgun,” MacGregor said.

The Coalition for Gun Control, a group founded in the wake of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, welcomed the bill.

“This proposed law will strengthen screening processes for gun licences with a particular focus on risk factors associated with domestic violence, but also suicide and hate crimes,” Wendy Cukier, the group’s president and a professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, said in a media statement.

“The game-changer is the proposed national ban on the sale and importation of handguns which will stem the flow of these guns. Legal handguns are a significant source of handguns used in crime and are the guns most often used in mass shootings. Canadians want them banned.”

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante also praised the proposed measures but added she wants to see a full ban on handguns eventually.

“National tools to fight armed and domestic violence are a win for Montreal and cities across the country,” she said in a media statement. “We hope that the step taken today by the Canadian government leads us towards the complete ban of handguns on our territory and out of the reach of young people.”

Tracy Wilson, vice-president of public relations for the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights, criticized the bill and the Trudeau government’s approach to the issue, saying the proposed law puts too much emphasis on regulating legal firearms and not enough on criminals and unlicensed weapons.

“Once again, it’s targeting the entirely wrong demographic,” she said.

“Once again, [Trudeau’s] choosing to go down the path of targeting legal, licensed, RCMP-vetted gun owners, instead of focusing on unlicensed criminals and their illicit firearms.”

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