Archives du mot-clé Assault-style firearms

Assault Weapons: Was our 30-year battle for gun control really all for naught?

By Serge St-Arneault

Many of the families of the victims of the December 6, 1989, Polytechnique tragedy in Montreal, have been working for thirty years to eliminate assault weapons from our communities and our streets. This has never been achieved, not even during the brief decade that the long-gun registry was in effect, which was abolished by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in 2012. Since then, many innocent people have been injured or killed by assault weapons legally acquired under Canadian law, like the victims of the Dawson College school shooting. Logically, these weapons should be strictly limited to military personnel.

For sure, we are so far not even close to what is happening in the United States, where gun violence is out of control. Nearly 40,000 Americans were killed by guns in 2017. That’s one murder every fifteen minutes. Unfortunately for Canadians, we are increasingly mimicking the US culture that values gun ownership. Both shootings of a 15-year-old girl in Montreal on February 7th and of a 14-year-old girl in Toronto on February 12th testify to that.

In the last election, the Liberal Party of Canada promised to ban military-style assault weapons. They promised to implement a buy-back program for “all” assault weapons. In May 2020, Prime Minister Trudeau announced a series of Orders in Council that made it no longer legal “to buy, sell, transport, import or use military-grade assault weapons in this country”.

Yet despite polls invariably showing 80% of Canadians support a ban on assault weapons as well as one conducted by Environics Research (on behalf of PolySeSouvient) showing that despite the pandemic, a clear majority still want the Liberal government to buy back all existing ones, we were dismayed to learn through media reports that the forthcoming bill will go in the opposite direction, with the buyback, while mandatory in New Zealand and in Australia, will not be mandatory in Canada.

As long as they remain in circulation, these killing machines represent a major public safety risk.

For example, Corey Hurren, the 46-year-old Manitoba Reservist, avowed QAnon follower, licensed gun owner and avid gun control opponent, had in possession at least one of these weapons, a newly prohibited Norinco M14 rifle, as well as a Lakefield Mossberg shotgun, a Dominion Arms shotgun and a high-capacity magazine when he rammed his truck through the gates of Rideau Hall on July 2, 2020. He wanted to “arrest” Prime Minister Trudeau because of COVID-19 restrictions and the recent assault weapon ban, leaving behind a letter in which he wrote, “he hopes his children would understand his actions”.

We are not so naïve as to imagine that owners of grandfathered assault weapon will henceforth consider them as “souvenirs” from the good old days when they could shoot them. They know full well that a future O’Toole-led Conservative government will repeal the ban — as he has already pledged to do. And when this happens, we will be back at square one.

These killing machines, as well as handguns, will continue to proliferate and the NRA ideology will continue to seep into the bowels of our country.

And it will be the end of our battle that began over thirty years ago.

My sister Annie was assassinated in a classroom with a military-style assault weapon. With the anticipated federal bill, this kind of tragedy can and will happen again. If it is indeed the intent of the Liberals to break the promise that we loudly and publicly applauded and that contributed to their 2019 victory, then we will have been manipulated in order to win them votes. This is nothing less than a betrayal.

Gun victims and their families, past, present and future, will remember this sinister political calculation.


Should Canada ban assault-style firearms?

The Conversation, January 14, 2019

The federal government has asked Bill Blair, the minister of border security and organized crime reduction, to consider whether Canada should ban handguns and “assault-style” rifles.

The media has focused mostly on the possibility of banning handguns. The idea of outlawing assault-style weapons, however, deserves more attention because this proposal could help avoid mass shootings but is extremely controversial among firearm owners.

The federal government’s engagement paper on possible new gun legislation notes that Canada’s current firearms legislation contains no definition of an assault rifle.

The paper instead offers an illustrative description from the United States Department of Justice: “In general, assault weapons are semi-automatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire.”

This definition suggests that the federal government is considering a ban on many semi-automatic rifles — that is, guns that can be fired each time the trigger is pulled. Such guns are distinguishable from manual action firearms that require shooters to use a mechanism to reload guns after each discharge, thus limiting rate of fire, and from fully automatic firearms that continue to fire so long as the trigger is depressed.

Canada has long prohibited the possession of automatic guns.

Some semi-automatic firearms are non-restricted, meaning they can be used for hunting and only require purchasers to obtain a basic possession and acquisition licence.

Other semi-automatic guns are classified as “restricted” weapons. Such guns must be registered and are usually only fired at shooting ranges. Owners must possess a different licence and must have authorization to transport such firearms from one location to another.

Historical context of Canadian gun control

The interest in stricter regulations for semi-automatic firearms, particularly guns based on modified military weapons, reflects historic changes in gun design, marketing and ownership in Canada.

At the beginning of the 19th century, long guns were generally single-shot, muzzle-loaded, smooth-bore weapons that were slow to load, inaccurate beyond approximately 100 metres, and often misfired.

In the mid- to late 19th century, however, breech-loading guns replaced muzzle-loaded weapons. New ammunition and rifled barrels made guns more accurate at long ranges. Manufacturers also developed firearms with magazines that could hold several rounds of ammunition to allow more rapid firing. Typically, these guns used “lever action” or “bolt action” designs to load fresh cartridges into the chamber of the barrel.

When many Canadians think of a hunting rifle, what comes to mind is one of these guns, such as a lever-action Winchester rifle. Generations of Canadians used such guns to hunt deer, moose and other game.

Historic department store catalogues suggest that the popularity of semi-automatic guns among hunters is quite new. Stores like Eaton’s, Simpson’s and Army & Navy sold mostly manual-action firearms.

In 1975, for instance, Eaton’s advertised few semi-automatic rifles. As semi-automatic firearms entered the marketplace in larger numbers, however, some Canadians began to express concern about their availability.

Semi-automatic rifles have been used in many of the most infamous mass murders in Canadian history, including the murder of 14 women in the 1989 Montreal Massacre, the murder of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta in 2005, the murder of three RCMP officers in Moncton in 2014, and the Quebec mosque shooting of 2017.

Perhaps the first fight over the classification of semi-automatic guns in Canada concerned the AR-15, the firearm used in several recent mass shootings in the United States.

AR-15 restricted in Canada

In 1977, Ottawa made the AR-15 a restricted weapon. Prime Minister Joe Clark’s government reversed that decision, although Ottawa again declared it a restricted firearm in the 1990s. In 2016, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer sponsored a parliamentary petition asking that the AR-15 be reclassified as a non-restricted firearm. The AR-15, however, remains in the restricted category.

Canadians must decide how available modern semi-automatic rifles should be.

Many semi-automatic firearms based on military gun designs are now sold in Canada at stores such as Cabela’s. Manufacturers and retailers often call such weapons “modern sporting rifles” to make them sound less threatening.

Several gun groups like the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights argue that all semi-automatics with barrels of a certain length should be non-restricted. They suggest that guns like the AR-15 are restricted simply because of their physical resemblance to military weapons, and have urged politicians to make such guns non-restricted.

In 2016, the Conservative Party considered this change at its national convention, and Maxime Bernier has made this proposal part of his People’s Party platform.

Gun control advocates, meanwhile, question why many semi-automatics, including the Ruger Mini-14 used in the Montreal Massacre, are non-restricted.

The federal government may prove reluctant to prohibit such guns because of opposition from gun groups.

Another option

Another option is possible, however. Ottawa could make all semi-automatic rifles restricted weapons. This would force owners to pass a more rigorous screening process, require the registration of such guns and place limits on how they’re used and transported.

This is not a new idea. In 1977, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police claimed that semi-automatic guns were “basically designed as an instrument of war” and that they had “no sporting use either in the cultural or recreational sense.” The association thus urged Ottawa “to restrict all semi-automatic weapons as a category.”

Ottawa refused to do it. But recent mass shootings in Canada have shown that such guns, if misused, are dangerous to the public and to law enforcement.

Legislators might well keep in mind the words of A.J. Somerset, author of Arms: The Culture and Credo of the Gun. He warns that as long as semi-automatic, assault-style rifles are widely available in Canada, a massacre like the 2016 nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., “is not simply a U.S. nightmare on the news; it’s a shadow falling over us, a possibility we can’t ignore.”