Canada Bans Assault Weapons in Wake of Deadly Mass Shooting
OTTAWA – Almost two weeks after the deadliest mass shootings in Canadian history, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday imposed an immediate ban on what he termed “military-style assault weapons.”
“These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the greatest number of people in the shortest possible time,” Trudeau said. “There is no use or place for such weapons in Canada.”
The ban means Canadians will no longer be able to own rifles like the AR-15, the military-style weapon used in several mass shootings in the United States, including the one in Newtown, Connecticut .; Orlando, Fla .; and Parkland, Fla.
With the introduction of the ban, Mr Trudeau is partially fulfilling a promise to control guns that he made in the federal elections last year. He said the government was in the process of banning offensive weapons when its agenda was lifted by the coronavirus pandemic.
In making the announcement, Mr. Trudeau noted multiple gun kills and repeatedly cited the rampage in rural Nova Scotia that killed 23 people, including the shooter.
The gunman’s arsenal included two models banned Friday, said Bill Blair, the country’s public security minister.
The killer did not have a gun license and many of his guns and rifles had been smuggled into Canada from the United States, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, highlighting a difficulty Canada may face in enforcing the new measure. The US federal government has not banned any offensive weapons since an earlier ban expired in 2004.
Mr. Trudeau’s swift response to the murders in Nova Scotia contrasts with that of officials in the United States, where repeated efforts to renew the now-defunct offensive weapon ban have failed.
The Canadian government has drawn up a list of around 1,500 weapon models that fall under the new ban. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 such semi-automatic rifles are now legally in the possession of Canadians.
Mr Trudeau said the government would legislate to buy back the rifles, another part of his election promise, at a later date. Until then, owners have two years to keep their rifles, even though they can no longer use, trade, or sell them except to buyers outside Canada with a permit. Gun shops can return any guns they now have in stock to the manufacturers.
While handguns and automatic weapons are severely restricted in Canada, most rifles and shotguns have been more strictly regulated. The previous Conservative government closed a register of such weapons after a man shot 14 young women and injured 13 others in 1989 at the École Polytechnique engineering school in Montreal.
This database was fraught with technical problems and was deeply unpopular in rural areas. Mr. Trudeau has resisted calls from gun control groups to revive them.
Mr Trudeau said Friday that his proposed legislation will also include a measure that will allow cities to ban handguns within their borders, another of his campaign pledges.
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer reiterated his longstanding opposition to a ban and buyback of military-style weapons, noting that many mass murderers, including Gabriel Wortman in Nova Scotia and other criminals, use illegal firearms from the United States.
“It’s a simple but lazy government to ask the rule-owed people to obey more rules,” Scheer told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also criticized Mr Trudeau for introducing the measure through a cabinet ordinance while Parliament does not meet in normal sessions because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Wendy Cukier, president of the Gun Control Coalition, said that most of the mass shootings in Canada involved legally owned rifles and that there is evidence that the availability of military-style weapons could make such killings more likely.
“Most mass shooters obey the law until they are no longer,” she said.
What motivated the 13.5 hour rampage in Nova Scotia by Mr. Wortman, a prosthesis fitter, is unknown. It all started in the tiny summer church of Portapique when Mr. Wortman attacked his partner and tied her up. She escaped and he started shooting people inside and outside their homes while also setting fire to several buildings, including some of his own property.
After arriving just before midnight on April 18, police found two replica Royal Canadian Mounted Police cruisers that caught fire at Mr. Wortman’s and found a third at his full-time Halifax residence. This led the police to believe that he may have committed suicide and was in one of the burning buildings.
After hiding in the forest all night, Mr. Wortman’s partner informed the police that he was driving a fourth replica police car without a license plate. Investigators later found that he had evaded them by driving through a field on the farm and then hiding in another town, where he resumed his rampage that morning.
He was eventually shot after driving into a gas station while driving one of the victims’ cars.
Ms. Cukier admitted the government needs to keep updating its list to prevent manufacturers from circumventing the ban by modifying current models and reintroducing them as new weapons. Her group, she said, will recommend that future legislation focus more on a system of requiring gun manufacturers to obtain authorization to sell certain guns than on moves to ban the guns.
And while her group generally takes positions contrary to those of the Conservatives, she agreed that more needs to be done about smuggled weapons.
“There are a lot of things that have to happen,” she said. “Most Canadians don’t know how our laws have been undermined.”
Alan Drummond, who has long been pushing for more gun controls by the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, praised Mr. Trudeau and members of his cabinet for making clear statements about the need to ban offensive weapons.
“What impressed me was the absolute clarity and conviction,” he said.