Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his government’s ban on “military-style” assault rifles on Friday, fulfilling an election promise in the wake of a mass shooting in Nova Scotia two weeks ago that killed 22 people.
The government implemented the ban immediately, and without the need for legislation in Parliament, by reclassifying about 1,500 firearm models as prohibited. A program that will buy back banned firearms from current owners is also in the works.
In the meantime, a two-year amnesty is now in effect for Canadians who own the banned firearms and government officials said gun owners will also have the option to be “grandfathered” in with weapons they currently own, although no details were available for that program yet.
During the amnesty period, gun owners can transport the firearm to be deactivated at an approved business or police officer, or to legally export the gun. They can also return the firearm home if it wasn’t at the owner’s residence when the ban was announced.
At his daily news conference on Friday, Trudeau listed the recent history of mass shootings in Canada, including last week’s rampage in Nova Scotia, as his motivation for the ban.
“Their families deserve more than thoughts and prayers. Canadians deserve more than thoughts and prayers,” said Trudeau, who said he was banning “military-style assault weapons.”
“These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest amount of people in the shortest amount of time,” said Trudeau.
Although it was used incessantly by government officials, the phrase “military-style” caused some confusion. The government did not say that it was banning all semi-automatic weapons and automatic weapons are already banned in Canada.
The order in council that enacted the ban describes military-style firearms as weapons that “have semi-automatic action with sustained rapid-fire capability… are of modern design, and are present in large volumes in the Canadian market.”
Banning weapons with “modern design” is an arbitrary and useless distinction, similar to banning Gore-Tex to make hikers wear wool jackets, said Alison de Groot, the managing director at the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association.
Although businesses are still doing the math, de Groot said the government’s move will strand somewhere between $200 to $300 million worth of pre-paid merchandise in stores, at a time when small businesses are already getting hammered by the COVID-19 crisis.
De Groot said her association told the government that businesses dealing in these firearms would need about 12 to 18 months of warning before measures like these come into effect. Instead, they found out about the new rules on Friday, when they were announced publicly.
“The breadth of it was unbelievable to us,” said de Groot. “So for our business owners, here’s the situation: we just got hit in the head with a baseball bat.”
De Groot said that when you take into account all the different variants of the models banned by the government, it amounts to more than 100,000 different types of firearm.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused the prime minister of using the COVID-19 pandemic and the immediate emotion of the horrific murders in Nova Scotia to push the Liberals’ ideological agenda and make major firearms policy changes.
“Taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals who obtain their guns illegally,” Scheer said in a statement.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney slammed the gun ban in a Friday afternoon statement, accusing the government of going after law-abiding gun owners and doing nothing to tackle illegal gun violence.
“Today’s order does little to target criminals,” said Kenney. “Instead, Ottawa is singling out law-abiding gun Canadians who purchased their property legally.”
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he also expected to bring forward a “red flag” law in the future, which would allow police or loved ones to request the temporary removal of firearms from someone who is believed to be a danger to themselves or others.