Addressing Gun Violence

As the Prime Minister announced this past Friday (May 1st), by Order in Council (OIC) effective immediately the federal cabinet has reclassified as prohibited certain firearms in some 1500 models and variants.

examples of prohibited firearms

Examples of Newly-Prohibited Firearms

This is how the process established in current law for classifying firearms works.  We are not making new law here, but simply applying the existing law as previously determined by parliament.

I believe that the final authority for classification decisions should be with the cabinet.  It is essential that these important decisions are made by people who are directly accountable to Canadians.
— Conservative MP, and
     then-Cabinet-Minister Erin O’Toole

Indeed, Mr. Harper used OICs similarly just prior to the 2015 election, except that in that case it was to increase access, not to reduce it.

We have focused at this time on modern semi-automatic firearms with large magazine capacity that are commonly available in Canada.

This is not intended to restrict the legitimate activities of hunting and sport shooting, which do not require ‘military-style’ assault rifles.  While some people do use such firearms for hunting and sport shooting, they are designed for the battlefield and have no place in our communities.

These firearms can no longer be bought, sold, given, traded, bequeathed, or imported.  They can no longer be owned or possessed, subject to a two year amnesty period to allow law-abiding firearms owners to comply with the new classification, and until the buy-back program and its funding is passed into law by parliament and made available to them.

This follows an extensive series of engagements over the past several years from coast to coast to coast, including in-person roundtables, and feedback solicited through online questionnaires and written submissions from stakeholders.

In this process, I myself met with local firearms enthusiasts, and conveyed to the Minister by letter their points of view and concerns.  I also arranged a Skype meeting with the Minister and a number of representatives from the Port Coquitlam Hunting and Fishing Club.

The Minister himself has indeed been hands-on in this process.  As a police officer of nearly 40 years carrying a gun every day on the job, and including a decade as Chief of a major police department, Minister Blair is intimately aware of the problems involved, as well as the problems involved in solving them.

Prohibiting these firearms immediately freezes the market in Canada for the most prevalent assault-style firearms that are not suitable for hunting or sports shooting purposes.  These dangerous firearms are designed for the battlefield, not for communities, but have been used tragically to target women, students, and worshippers because they are efficient in maximizing fatalities.

Today’s initiative is the first step in a broader firearms strategy that will address illegal activities, violence, and self-harm.

Our government is also committed to protecting public safety, while ensuring hunters, farmers, and law-abiding recreational firearms owners are also treated respectfully and fairly.

— The Hon. Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

This was a promise made to Canadians during the election.  We are following through.

We well understand that no one measure will solve the entire problem of gun violence.  As said, this new measure is but one facet in our broader firearms initiatives, some of which were introduced in the previous parliament.  And, over the past several budgets we have committed a great deal of money to increasing CBSA’s ability to interdict illegal firearms importations, as well as funding and restoring police resources in “Guns and Gangs” initiatives, for example.

Further measures, such as the noted buy-back program, and including handgun restrictions and red-flag provisions for licencing, for example, will require new legislation.  We will bring such legislation forward as planned, as well as incorporating support in the budget, for parliamentary oversight and approval once parliament is able once again to resume.

It should also be noted that in this minority parliament this will require the support of at least one recognized opposition party.

Because of gun violence, people are dying, families are grieving, and communities are suffering.  It must end.  Assault-style firearms designed for military use have no place in Canada.  By removing them from our streets, we will limit the devastating effects of gun-related violence and help make our country safer.

— The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Further Reading

  • Collaborative and comprehensive coast-to-coast=to-coast review over several years regarding a potential ban on handguns and assault-style rifles;
  • Summit on Gun and Gang violence to help advance joint action for prevention, intervention, and enforcement initiatives, and help inform our way forward;
  • $86 million to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) to help prevent firearms and concealed goods from coming into the country illegally, while providing the necessary resources for firearms investigations;
  • Allocated $214 million for the provinces and territories to prevent and reduce gang and gun violence in their communities;
  • Invested $327 million over five years in new funding to reduce gun crime and criminal gang activities.  Supporting community-level prevention and enforcement efforts, advance intelligence on illegal trafficking, and invest in border security — Includes $51.5 million to the CBSA and $34.5 million to the RCMP to combat gun smuggling;
  • Firearms licencing is required to have regard to whether the person seeking a licence has committed any of several listed criminal offences, been treated for mental illness associated with violence, or has a history of behavior that includes violence — This was formerly limited to the previous five year period, but has now been enhanced to allow allow consideration of an applicant’s entire history;
  • Require purchasers of firearms to show a license when they buy a gun, and require all sellers of firearms to confirm with the Registrar of Firearms that the license remains valid before completing the sale;
  • Require firearms vendors to keep records of all firearms inventory and sales to assist police in investigating firearms trafficking and other gun crimes;  and
  • Bolster safeguards related to the transportation of restricted or prohibited firearms.

The Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety, recently tabled firearms-control Bill C-21, which proposes:

  1. To combat intimate partner and gender-based violence and self-harm involving firearms  (so-called “Red-flag” and “Yellow-Flag” provisions);
  2. To fight gun smuggling and trafficking;
  3. To help municipalities create safer communities  (municipal bylaws can impose additional storage and transportation restrictions for handguns);
  4. To give young people the opportunities and resources they need to avoid lives of crime  (“guns & gangs” measures);
  5. To protect Canadians from gun violence;  and
  6. To subject owners of firearms prohibited on May 1, 2020 to non-permissive storage requirements, should they choose not to participate in the buy-back program.  (This provision in the bill in fact is a weakening of the original prohibition.)
examples of prohibited firearms

Examples of Newly-Prohibited Firearms

  • There are currently over 100,000 formerly-restricted firearms involving these 1500 now-prohibited models and variants;  This number does not include other newly-prohibited models that were not formerly subject to registration requirements;
  • The newly-prohibited firearms and components cannot in general be used, bought, sold, traded, or imported;
  • Owners must keep their firearms securely stored in accordance with firearms regulations;
  • A Criminal Code amnesty is in place until April 30, 2022, to protect lawful owners from criminal liability and to enable them to comply with the law.  Under the amnesty, the newly-prohibited firearms can only be transferred or transported within Canada for specific purposes;
  • There are exceptions under the amnesty for indigenous peoples exercising aboriginal or treaty rights to hunt, and for those who hunt or trap to sustain themselves or their families;  These exceptions will allow for the continued use of newly-prohibited firearms in limited circumstances until a suitable replacement can be found;  By the end of the amnesty period, ALL firearms owners must comply with the ban;
  • Unless you are an indigenous person exercising treaty rights to hunt, or a sustenance hunter, you can only transfer or transport in accordance with the amnesty, such as to:
    • Have them deactivated by an approved business;
    • Return them to a lawful owner’s residence;
    • Export them lawfully; or
    • Surrender them to police without compensation (but take note that a buy-back program will be available);
  • An individual should NOT deliver a firearm to a police station without first making arrangements with a police officer for a safe and scheduled delivery or pick up;  Individuals should not surrender their firearm while physical distancing requirements are in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The following categories of firearms (or any variants, current or future, included under the principal model) are reclassified as prohibited under the Criminal Code as of May 1, 2020.

FirearmOld ClassificationNew
M16, M4, AR-10, AR-15 rifle*Non-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
Ruger Mini-14 rifleNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
Vz58 rifleNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
M14 rifleNon-restrictedProhibited
Beretta CX4 Storm carbineNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
Robinson Armament XCR rifleNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
CZ Scorpion EVO 3 carbine and pistolNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
SIG Sauer SIG MCX and SIG Sauer SIG MPX carbine and pistol*Non-restricted /RestrictedProhibited
Swiss Arms Classic Green and Seasons Series riflesNon-restricted /RestrictedProhibited

* Upper receiver is also prescribed as a prohibited device

In addition to the list prohibited by model, all firearms with one or more of the following physical characteristics are prohibited on the basis that their potential power exceeds safe civilian use:

  • Firearms with a bore 20mm or greater (e.g., grenade launchers)
  • Firearms capable of discharging a projectile with a muzzle energy greater than 10,000 Joules (e.g. sniper rifles)

A list of prohibited firearms is available in Canada Gazette, Part II.

This new prohibition has produced a flurry of complaints from gun owners.  Let’s consider some of them:

1. “It’s undemocratic!”

  1. This Order-in-Council (OIC) process scrupulously followed the law and process democratically established by elected parliaments;  Democratic.
  2. We actually ran on this as one of our platform commitments in the last election;  Democratic.
  3. There was an extensive consultation process spanning several years in which stakeholders both for and against were able freely to participate;  Democratic;  and
  4. When Mr. Harper used the same OIC process (to increase access) prior to the 2015 election — gun owners did NOT decry this use of OICs as somehow undemocratic.  It seems to be seen as “undemocratic” only when they disagree with it.

2. “It’s Unconstitutional”

This claim typically focusses on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,  (though there is no enumerated right to bear, keep, use, or own firearms).  It should in any case be emphasized that the rights that are enumerated there are not independent of each other, and in some degree may need to be circumscribed to give proper effect to others.

Section 1 is of particular significance here, noting that these rights are “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” — That’s the constitutional argument:  to whatever extent these prohibitions might conflict with any other section of the Charter, whether such conflict can be justified as reasonable and in the legitimate public interest.  Yes.

3. “It’s a violation of my rights!”

Wrong country.  In Canada no right to keep and bear arms is recognized in law, and certainly none such is enumerated in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

4. “We should (instead) be going after criminals, and all those guns smuggled across the border!”

As noted, we most certainly are.  And it’s not  “instead of”  but “as well as.”

5. “80% of crimes with guns involve illegal guns.  This prohibition unfairly targets legal gun owners.”

This tends to be a circular argument.  But, let’s take a look at it.  This means that one in every five incidents involves legal guns.  Wouldn’t that be better as, say, one in ten, or one in a hundred, or maybe even zero?  But in any case this percentage alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

Thought experiment:  Let’s imagine there were on average, in some given period, 100 criminal incidents involving guns before the prohibition, and use the 80% number.  That means that 80 of these incidents involved illegal guns, and 20 involved legal guns.

Now let’s bring in the prohibition, and let’s say it eliminates 80% of incidents involving legal guns, and let’s say 10% of the others.  This scenario brings us down to 76 incidents, only 4 of which involve legal guns.

But now we see the rate has soared to 95% of gun-related crimes involving illegal guns, and only 5%, one in twenty, involving legal guns, “proving,” some would say, that gun control doesn’t work.  Lawful gun-owners are outraged:

“See?  All those restrictions and red-tape, all those hoops through which we law-abiding owners must jump, all that wasted money, and we’re not the problem!  We’re only 5%!  Why don’t you go after the criminals instead of unfairly targeting us!”

But we’ve reduced gun-involved crime by 24%.  We’ll get the rest in other ways.

6. “Gun bans won’t stop criminals from having guns!  They don’t obey the law!  This only affects law-abiding people!  Why are law-abiding gun-owners being targeted and punished in this way?”

It’s a strange argument.  In the face of it one wonders why we have laws against, say, bank-robbing? — since criminals won’t obey them, anyway, and therefore such laws only prevent law-abiding citizens from robbing banks?  How dare we target law-abiding citizens in this way!

It’s true, of course, that this law will not stop criminals from breaking it.  That’s not the point.  That’s never the point.

Laws draw a line between what is acceptable in our society, and what is not.  Once that line is drawn we can then hold people accountable for crossing it.

People who cross to the wrong side of that line, are, by definition, criminals.  That’s the point, and we will hold those people to account.

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