Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to ban the type of rifle used in the École Polytechnique shooting as part of the government’s planned crackdown on “military-style assault rifles.”
In remarks to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the massacre, Mr. Trudeau told the House of Commons, “we will strengthen gun laws and ban the type of weapon used at École Polytechnique. These weapons, designed to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time, have no place in our communities, in our streets, in our country.”
On Dec. 6, 1989, a lone gunman walked into an engineering classroom at Montreal’s École Polytechnique and declared his hatred for feminists before killing 14 women using a Ruger Mini-14 rifle and a hunting knife.
The semi-automatic rifle held 30-round magazines and fired .223 Remington ammo originally designed for military combat. In the days after the shooting, a group of survivors began advocating for a ban on all semi-automatic rifles, which fire one round with every pull of the trigger without having to manually chamber a new round.
Throughout the 1990s, the survivors’ push gained traction with Ottawa. Governments passed new gun laws that limited rifle magazines to five rounds, created a long-gun registry and placed onerous restrictions and prohibitions on models of firearms “not reasonably used in hunting.”
But the Mini-14 largely circumvented those efforts. Many enthusiasts consider the rifle ideal for hunting small game. With its polished wooden stock, the standard Mini-14 also looks more like a traditional hunting rifle than a modern black rifle, such as the AR-15.
“There are tens of thousands, and maybe hundreds of thousands, of Mini-14s in Canada," said Sheldon Clare, president of the National Firearms Association. “They are an extremely popular hunting firearm. They are extremely well-suited to teaching younger shooters how to shoot and very useful for predator control.”
Mr. Clare said the ban criminalizes law-abiding gun-owners rather than dealing with the root causes of violence.
Despite promises to ban the model from previous Liberal governments, the Mini-14 has remained a non-restricted gun.
But perceptions of semi-automatics have shifted of late. After an AR-15 was used in New Zealand’s mosque shootings in March, the government there passed a ban on most semi-automatic rifles, including the Mini-14. In Canada, concerns over gun violence have been rising, as homicides using a gun vaulted from 155 in 2014 to 249 last year.
Although handguns account for the bulk of that increase, the federal Liberals pledged to ban and buy back all firearms described as “military-style assault rifles” in civilian hands during the election campaign. Until Friday, however, it had yet to say whether the Mini-14 would be included.
“Trudeau’s comments reinforce our optimism with respect to banning assault weapons and the Ruger Mini-14 in particular,” said Heidi Rathjen, who was at École Polytechnique the day of the shooting and co-ordinates the gun-control advocacy group Poly Remembers. “We hope the government will move quickly and also consider banning handguns.”
Many models of military-style assault rifles – an ambiguous term often referring to magazine-fed semi-automatic rifles – fall under the technical definition of a long gun, so the government has been unable to track exact numbers since the Harper government scrapped the long-gun registry in 2012.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has pegged the figure at close to 250,000 with an average retail price of $1,500 each, pushing the total cost of a buyback program to between $400-million and $600-million.
Mr. Clare said he anticipates mass dissent should the ban become law.
“There is going to be a groundswell of outrage and resistance to this,” he said. “People are just not going to go along.”