The Liberal government is prohibiting hundreds of “military-grade assault rifles“ – including two of the firearms used in last month’s mass shooting in Nova Scotia – partly fulfilling a long-standing pledge to ban a style of gun that has become associated with mass shootings worldwide.
But rather than instituting a promised program that would require owners to surrender their guns in exchange for government compensation to remove them from civilian circulation, the government said on Friday the program will be voluntary. Current owners will be allowed to keep their guns beyond a two-year amnesty period.
Groups on both sides of the rancorous gun debate expressed dismay over the new measures.
“A partial buyback would be just one more disappointment in our 30-year battle for gun control,” said Nathalie Provost, who was struck four times in the 1989 École Polytechnique shooting and is a spokeswoman for the gun-control advocacy group Poly Remembers. “This could mean that tens of thousands of assault weapons will remain in the hands of their current owners, for generations.”
Gun enthusiasts, meanwhile, are “enraged and infuriated" and promising legal challenges, said Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau evoked several Canadian mass shootings – including last month’s tragedy in Nova Scotia – as he announced the measures on Friday morning. “The vast majority of gun owners use them safely, responsibly and in accordance with the law – whether it be for work, for sport-shooting, for collecting or for hunting,” he said. “But you do not need an AR-15 to bring down a deer.”
Effective immediately, Ottawa will ban the use and sale of the AR-15 and about 1,500 other models and variants of military-style rifles, a move he said would close “the market for military-grade assault weapons in Canada.”
Senior officials who spoke on background at a technical briefing said at least 105,000 restricted firearms held by 72,000 owners will come under the ban. The total number is likely much higher. Many newly banned models are currently classified as non-restricted long-guns. The government has not been able to track their numbers since the long-gun registry was scrapped in 2014.
Details of the ban shocked firearms businesses, which suddenly have millions of dollars in unsellable inventory.
“It’s much more sweeping than we expected,” said Alison De Groot, managing director of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association. “Based on the list, we estimate there is about $200-million to $300-million in inventory in the supply chain right now that cannot be sold.”
The ban specifies nine broad rifle models, including the AR-15 family of rifles used in Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and many other notorious mass shootings, the Ruger Mini-14 used at École Polytechnique, and the M14 used to slay three RCMP officers in Moncton.
In addition, the government will ban .50-calibre rifles, a category made up largely of high-powered sniper weapons, and firearms with calibres of more than 20 millimetres.
Full details on the affected guns have been published in the Canada Gazette.
Each of the nine models come in different iterations from an array of manufacturers. Officials said the AR-15 family alone comes in more than 900 styles.
The officials said the models were chosen based on three criteria: semi-automatic action capable of sustained rapid fire, modern design and popularity in the Canadian market.
The specified firearms can no longer be legally imported, bought or used as of Friday. But gun owners will be able to hold onto them for two years. After the amnesty, owners can keep their firearms under strict no-use rules or sell them to the government.
The bans will be accomplished through regulations, with no legislative changes needed until the government introduces the buyback program.
The Opposition said the program should have been put to Parliament. Mr. Trudeau is using "the immediate emotion of the horrific attack in Nova Scotia to push the Liberals’ ideological agenda and make major firearms policy,” Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer said in a statement. “That is wrong.”
The attack in Nova Scotia was Canada’s deadliest mass shooting.
Investigators have yet to confirm details of the shooter’s firearms, saying only that he had several handguns and two rifles, one the RCMP said could be described as a military-style assault rifle.
During Friday’s announcement, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said two of the gunman’s weapons are covered under the ban, but did not specify the models.
The gunman was unlicensed in Canada, meaning any firearm in his possession was illegal.
“It’s grotesquely unfair to be blamed for a tragedy that we had nothing to do with,” said Mr. Bernardo. “We are lawful sports shooters and hunters. These guns are used every day for recreating in Canada."