Advocates of Gun Rights and Gun Control React to New Firearms Bill

February 16, 2021 Updated: February 17, 2021

The federal government proposed new gun control legislation Tuesday that would introduce the long-anticipated buy-back program for recently barred firearms.

Bill C-21, which comes nine months after the Liberal government announced a ban on the use, sale, and importation of “assault-style” weapons, will also allow municipalities to ban handguns, and increases criminal penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking.

Reacting to the new bill, the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights (CCFR) says the new rules will do little to curb the types of offences it purports to address, and has accused the government of politicizing the contentious gun control issue. 

“Reasonable Canadians should ask themselves if they think that anything in this bill will stop the shootings in downtown Toronto or Vancouver or the violence or property crime we see in rural communities,” CCFR said in a statement. 

“In our opinion, this bill is simply electioneering. The real problem is that licensed gun owners are the fodder used to mobilize the Liberal party’s base.”

Gun control advocacy group Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns (CDPG) called the new legislation “a comprehensive bill that, if enacted, will save lives.” But they said the buy-back program for assault-style weapons should be compulsory instead of voluntary, and would also like to see an outright ban on handguns. 

“This is imperfect legislation but a very Canadian approach to addressing a complex issue,” said Dr. Philip Berger, Senior Advisor to CDPG and an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto. 

The newly tabled legislation will amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act to introduce a fleet of new gun control measures including allowing municipalities to ban handguns through bylaws restricting their possession, storage and transportation.

The Liberal government said Tuesday the measures would be backed up with serious penalties to enforce these bylaws—including jail time for people who violate municipal rules. Under the plan, firearms licence holders would have to comply with handgun storage and transport restrictions in municipalities that pass bylaws.

Such bylaws could forbid keeping handguns at home, meaning they would have to be stored at a licensed business, or they might go further by outlawing handguns anywhere in a municipality.

The bill also proposes a voluntary buyback of the roughly 1,500 types of recently banned “assault-style” firearms. 

Though details of the program are forthcoming, owners will have the option of keeping the weapons as long as they abide by strict conditions, including secure storage, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said at a press conference on Feb. 16. Under the rules, these guns could not be legally used, transported, sold, transferred, or bequeathed by individuals in Canada. 

The new bill also introduces new “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws that would allow people, such as concerned friends or relatives, to apply to the courts for the immediate removal of a person’s firearms, or to ask a chief firearms officer to suspend and review an individual’s licence to own firearms.

The CCFR says the red flag provision could be problematic because “anyone at all can petition a judge to issue a firearm prohibition order” without hearing the gun owner’s “side of the story,” while searches can be conducted without a warrant—a change he says affects the 2.2 million licensed gun owners in Canada. 

Blair said that these laws are meant to be used in cases of domestic violence and concerns about mental health.

The bill also targets gun smuggling and trafficking by increasing criminal penalties and boosting the capacity of the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency to combat the illegal importation of firearms.

Tighter restrictions on imports of ammunition are also included in the bill, which target the prohibition of imports, exports, sales and transfers of replica firearms. In addition, it introduces new offences for altering the cartridge magazine component of a firearm and depicting violence in firearms advertising.

Ahead of the announcement Tuesday, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he doubts the program will curb gun violence. 

“I think Mr. Trudeau misleads people when he tries to suggest that buying things back from hunters and other Canadians who are law-abiding is somehow going to solve the problem of shooting and criminal gang activity in the big cities,” he said.

“It’s ignoring the real problem and it’s dividing Canadians.”

With files from The Canadian Press