New Gun Ban Won’t Make Canadians Safer

New Gun Ban Won’t Make Canadians Safer
Hunting rifles on display in a glass case at a firearms store in downtown Vancouver in a file photo. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)
Gary Mauser

In the wake of multiple killings in Nova Scotia recently, the federal government announced an immediate ban of over 1,500 models of so-called “military-style assault weapons.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the measure was “to combat gun violence and help keep us safe.”

That’s not what it does. The ban only targets legitimate owners. No guns will be taken from criminals.

Under the rubric of “assault weapons,” the ban ensnares a large number of guns that are rarely used in homicides. Statistics Canada reports that in the past 10 years, just 7 percent of murders involved long guns of any type and virtually no “military-style” firearms. Nor will this ban protect women. According to Statistics Canada, firearms of any kind are rarely involved in spousal violence.

As Ontario Premier Doug Ford said, Ottawa should target gun smugglers and gang bangers instead. Gang violence is the most prominent threat to public safety in Canada. According to Statistics Canada data, half of firearm homicides in 2018 were gang-related. Police report that between 70 percent and 90 percent of guns used in violent crimes are smuggled. It makes no sense to focus on licensed firearms owners. Hunters and sport shooters are rarely involved in criminal violence. According to Statistics Canada, just 2 percent of accused murderers had a valid firearms licence.

Many of the guns included in the new measure appear to have been banned for cosmetic reasons. Illogically, other firearms that function identically or use the same calibre are not included in the ban. Even bolt-action hunting rifles were caught in the net. Common shotguns, including those used in Olympic sport shooting may have been prohibited. Firearms already prohibited are banned again. Crew-served military armament such as missile launchers, howitzers, and anti-tank weapons, some dating back to the Second World War, are inexplicably banned for good measure. These prohibitions will create serious problems for Canadian museums but not for thugs or gangsters.

A large number of popular semi-automatic rifles are now prohibited, such as the Ruger Mini-14. These rifles are used for hunting as well as target shooting and pest control. Semi-automatics are not to be confused with full-automatics, which have been prohibited for decades. By saying “military-style,” the aim is to confuse normal guns with military firearms. Semi-automatics fire one shot with each pull of the trigger just like other firearms, such as bolt-action rifles, while full-automatics fire many shots with each trigger press. Between 35–40 percent of all guns owned by Canadian civilians are semi-automatic.

The ban is immediate. Hundreds of thousands of formerly law-abiding licensed firearms owners who own any of the banned firearms are now criminals. Of course, the government has graciously issued a two-year amnesty to all newly created criminals. The affected firearms can only be transported to be deactivated, exported, or surrendered to police. Legislation is pending as the ban was implemented by order-in-council. Plans to compensate owners for surrendering the newly outlawed guns under a so-called “buy back” still must be drawn up. Eventual legislation may include “grandfathering,” that is, present owners may be allowed to keep their guns—but only locked in a safe—until they die.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair justified banning these firearms by claiming they were not suitable for hunting. That claim was immediately betrayed by Justice Minister David Lametti who announced that Indigenous peoples were exempt from the ban so they could continue to use any of the prohibited weapons they had been using for hunting. In truth, non-Indigenous Canadians regularly use these guns for sustenance hunting.

Blair may not understand what he was prohibiting. Firearms experts were quick to note that the ban captures a large number of common 10-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns because they have a bore diameter of 20 mm or greater. When confronted with this, the minister tweeted that these shotguns are not prohibited. Do ministerial tweets trump the letter of the law? The RCMP accepts Blair’s tweet. Until this confusion is resolved, American exporters have been warned that shipments of shotguns to Canada might be held up at the border.

The new gun ban won’t make us safer. The costs associated with this ban and confiscation is estimated to exceed $1 billion, not including the potential for business closures and job losses. The ban penalizes millions of law-abiding firearms owners, both hunters and sport shooters, all without increasing public safety.

Millions of Canadians enjoy target sports and own these types of firearms, including Olympic athletes. It serves no good public safety purpose to deliberately alienate one of the most law-abiding segments of our community.

Gary A. Mauser is a professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. His report “Do Triggers Pull Fingers? A Look at the Criminal Misuse of Guns in Canada” was recently published by the Mackenzie Institute.