New handgun restrictions expected in federal firearm-control bill today

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New measures to curb handguns are expected to be a central feature of federal legislation tabled this afternoon, the Liberal government’s latest — and likely boldest — suite of proposed actions to control access to firearms in Canada.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino will present the bill after the daily question period before joining Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and supportive voices, including some city mayors, from across the country for a press conference at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier hotel.

The legislation will revive some federal measures that did not pass before last year’s general election and flesh out new proposals made during the subsequent campaign.

They include a mandatory buyback of guns the government considers assault-style firearms, a crackdown on high-capacity firearm magazines and efforts to combat gun smuggling.

The Liberals also promised to work with provinces and territories that want to ban handguns outright.

Though a national ban is not anticipated in the bill, the government could take steps in that direction by phasing out handgun ownership with a cap on the number of firearm licences, outlawing the importation and manufacture of new handguns, or enacting tougher storage rules.

Prominent gun-control advocacy group PolySeSouvient has criticized the government’s approach of leaving a handgun ban up to individual provinces, saying it would create an ineffective patchwork of rules in Canada.

Trudeau defended the approach last week, citing “a range of opinions and views across the country.”

Speaking about the Robb Elementary School shooting that killed 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, Trudeau said Canadians are “remarkably united” in wanting to reduce gun violence” at home.

“That unity is what we’re going to move forward with as we take new steps in the coming weeks on gun control,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Saskatchewan last Tuesday.

An “assault-style” firearm ban — the government’s flagship gun-control promise to date — involves moving forward on a mandatory buyback of models the government outlawed in May 2020.

The plan has won praise from gun-control advocates, but Conservative MPs and others opposed to the plan have suggested it targets legitimate gun owners rather than preventing illegal firearms from falling into the wrong hands.

The buyback will cover some 1,500 models of firearms the government banned through order-in-council on the basis they have no place in hunting or sport shooting.

But some similar models remain legal, and gun-control advocates say Canadian manufacturers have managed to circumvent the rules by introducing new firearms.

PolySeSouvient has urged the government to change the firearm classification system to eliminate loopholes and capture all current and future guns that fall into the category.

Several women’s groups have also implored the government to do away with a provision in the previous iteration of the bill that called for potential victims to seek a court order to deprive a stalker or abuser of their guns.

The National Association of Women and the Law and several other groups warned in a letter to Mendicino this month the so-called red flag provision downloads responsibility for gun-law enforcement from authorities onto others, including possible targets of violence.

“There is no support for downloading or eroding the responsibility of law enforcement and other government officials to implement gun laws,” the letter said.

“Citizens or other organizations, much less potential victims, should not be expected to put themselves at risk by going to court to request action that should be immediate and within the direct responsibility of police.”

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