Liberals should respect their promise to ban assault weapons

NOW magazinenewsOp-ed: Liberals should keep their promise to ban offensive weapons

Tracing the government back to its campaign promise for a total ban on assault weapons would be a big win for Canada’s gun lobby

Still from the documentary Up In Arms: How the Gun Lobby is Changing Canada.

During the last general election, the Liberal government promised to ban all military-style semi-automatic assault weapons such as the AR-15. The government also promised to repurchase all legally purchased offensive weapons currently in circulation.

However, when the Liberal government tried to ban around 1,500 existing models, it appeared to be pulling back on its election promise. Government officials have indicated that a program may be created to allow current owners to keep their banned weapons – even though their use, transport and sale would be prohibited.

For those of us who have struggled to ban offensive weapons in Canada for decades, a buyback program that includes an offer on grandfather’s current weapons would be a huge disappointment.

In fact, thousands of guns that were grandfathered in the 1990s are still in circulation today. Without a mandatory buyback program, tens of thousands of military-style semi-automatic weapons will remain in private hands for generations, and so will the associated risks to public safety.

A new poll conducted by Environics Research on behalf of PolyRemembers shows that the majority of Canadians (61 percent) would like the Liberal government to buy back all existing offensive weapons.

The measure is supported by a majority in both urban (62 percent) and rural areas (55 percent). Almost half of people who live in households with guns possession (46 percent) also support a mandatory buyback program.

Last fall, relatives and survivors of many of the victims of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre supported the Liberals precisely because of their strong position in banning offensive weapons, as Australia and New Zealand did. When it comes to public safety, there is a huge difference between a total ban and an incomplete ban.

The promise to remove existing guns, undoing, would be a huge win for the gun lobby.

First, it will be much easier for a subsequent government to lift the ban, as a significant number of offensive weapons will remain in the hands of their current owners.

In fact, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole has already promised to cancel the move. The gun lobby urges its members to “keep your guns” and “be patient”.

Second, the large-scale catering of a ban on offensive weapons is an incentive for their current owners to keep them and to support the most radical gun rights organizations that continue to defend the interests of manufacturers, collectors and “tactical” shooters of offensive weapons, all of whom benefit from military style or him use weapons.

These lobby groups will continue to be well funded and energized and will continue to seek to normalize private ownership of military-style weapons and related American NRA ideology.

After all, allowing continued possession of offensive weapons will pretty much guarantee that this debate will never end. The Liberals continue to be criticized for not doing their job when they got the chance, and the Conservatives continue to be backed by an extremist pro-gun base that forces any new leader to take a position that is for them most Canadians is uncomfortable.

It is in the public interest to settle this debate once and for all. This can only be achieved with a complete and definitive ban on assault weapons in Canada.

While the Trudeau administration has made concrete progress on offensive weapons, the mandatory buyback program promised to Canadians should not be reversed.

As the Justice Minister himself said recently, weapons designed for the battlefield have no place on our streets or in our communities. We are completely in agreement. Now we expect the government to be consistent and really protect the public from these weapons of war.

Nathalie Provost is a Polytechnique graduate and survivor of the Montreal massacre in 1989. Heidi Rathjen is a Polytechnique graduate and coordinator of PolyRembers.


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