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'Are we going to handcuff legal gun-owners, who have their guns legally and have been trained to maintain and store their guns legally, but woefully ignore illegal trafficking from the United States?' said Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, seen here at the RCMP Pacific Region Training Centre in Chilliwack, B.C., on Nov. 15, 2019.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The fledgling police union representing 20,000 Mounties is denouncing Ottawa’s plan to ban certain semi-automatic rifles, arguing enforcing the law will tie up depleted police resources while ignoring the criminal use of illegal firearms.

In its first position paper, released on Monday, the National Police Federation said Ottawa’s prohibition of what it calls assault-style rifles focuses on criminalizing law-abiding gun-owners while ignoring the main catalysts of rising gun crime: gang violence and cross-border firearms trafficking.

The publication adds to mounting criticism of the Liberal gun control plan and signals the union’s intention to flex its newfound political muscle.

“Are we going to handcuff legal gun-owners, who have their guns legally and have been trained to maintain and store their guns legally, but woefully ignore illegal trafficking from the United States?” said Brian Sauvé, elected as union’s first president one year ago. “Or is it a better use of Canadian resources and taxpayer dollars to actually fund border integrity programs or weapons enforcement programs or our partners at the [Canada Border Services Agency]?”

Ottawa’s municipal handgun ban is a proud continuation of its gun control theatre

Such criticisms of the Liberal plan to ban and buy back certain semi-automatic rifles are familiar, but they generally come from Conservative politicians and pro-gun groups, not front-line law enforcement who have mourned colleagues felled by high-powered rifles.

Six years ago, a gunman with a semi-automatic rifle killed three RCMP officers in Moncton. A subsequent review detailed how officers were outgunned as they responded to the heavily armed shooter.

Canadian police chiefs have been among the main proponents of an assault-rifle ban in the past. As far back as 1977, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police urged the government of the day to restrict all semi-automatic firearms, referring to them as instruments of war. The current president of the group, Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer, said the Liberal ban “finds balance” and “ensures the safety of our members.”

A spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the rifle ban won’t deplete RCMP resources. “The police have not been tasked with anything related to the prohibition and the proposed buy back will not involve law enforcement,” said Mary-Liz Power in an e-mailed statement.

The RCMP union disagrees, stating in the paper that the ban “diverts extremely important personnel, resources and funding away from addressing the more immediate and growing threat of criminal use of illegal firearms.”

Instead, the group wants Ottawa to dedicate funding to the RCMP Border Integrity Program to investigate and dismantle gun-smuggling rings, and the Canadian Firearms Program, which it says lacks the resources “to provide effective gun crime tracing and enforcement units.”

Mr. Sauvé pointed out that the number of RCMP officers deployed to Windsor, Ont., has dropped to 17 from 35 in recent years.

“If we’re pulling away resources from one of the busiest land crossings in Canada, are we ignoring illicit firearms crossing into the country?” he said.

Ottawa has pledged funds for other approaches to gun violence as well, including $327-million to address social conditions that give rise to violence, $51.5-million toward firearms detections at the Canada Border Services Agency and $34.5-million to the RCMP for illicit firearms investigations.

The RCMP on Monday said they were aware of the position paper, but refrained from commenting on the contents.

The paper highlights the role of illegal handguns – rather than legal rifles – in rising national gun violence. In 2019, handguns were involved in 60 per cent of the country’s 261 firearms homicides, according to Statistics Canada. A Globe and Mail analysis last year found that popular magazine-fed semi-automatic rifles, such as the AR-15, make up just 0.66 per cent of entries in an RCMP database that catalogues firearms evidence collected from homicides and attempted homicides.

On May 1, the Liberals banned the AR-15 and hundreds of other magazine-fed semi-automatic rifle models and granted owners a two-year amnesty period, during which they will be able to sell their firearms to the government. Rather than enact a national handgun ban, the federal government will grant municipalities authority to adopt local prohibitions.

The position paper on gun violence is the first in a series of announcements designed to situate the NFP in the national policy conversation. Mr. Sauvé said the organization will release further reports focusing on body-worn cameras, First Nations policing and contract policing.

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