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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with government officials and gun-control advocates, speaks at a news conference about firearm-control legislation that was tabled on Monday in the House of Commons.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the tabling of Bill C-21, a firearms-control legislation that would freeze the import, sale and transfer of handguns.

“This is a concrete and real national measure that will go a long way towards keeping Canadians safe,” Trudeau said. “Other than using firearms for sport shooting and for hunting, there is no reason anyone in Canada should need guns in their everyday lives.”

The new bill is arriving at a time of heightened attention to gun violence, after mass shootings this month in the U.S. in Uvalde, Tex., and Buffalo. However, Canada’s charged debate over gun control has spanned years, with gun-related crimes on the rise. On Friday, Statistics Canada reported that violent crime involving firearms had increased from 2013 to 2019, following several years of decline. In 2020, there were 29 victims of firearm-related violent crimes for every 100,000 people in Canada, up from 19 victims in 2013, based on police reports.

Here’s everything that is known about Bill C-21 so far.

What’s new in the firearms-control legislation, Bill C-21?

The new legislation would amend the Firearms Act to freeze the buying, selling, importing and trading of handguns nationwide. The measures stop short of banning handguns outright, allowing existing owners to keep their handguns.

Bill C-21 would also allow for the automatic removal of gun licences from people who have committed domestic violence or engaged in criminal harassment, such as stalking. And it would create a new “red flag” law that would allow courts to require that people considered a danger to themselves or others surrender their firearms to police.

Under the new legislation, chief firearms officers – the provincial authority responsible for firearms licenses and authorizations – would be prevented from approving the transfer of a handgun to individuals. Businesses could continue to sell to other businesses, such as movie companies and museums, as well as to exempted people. Exempted individuals would include those who transport valuable goods and elite sport shooters who compete or coach in handgun events recognized by the International Olympic or Paralympic committees.

In addition to the legislation, the Liberals also say they will require long-gun magazines to be permanently altered so they can never hold more than five rounds, as well as ban the sale and transfer of large-capacity magazines under the Criminal Code.

The new bill expands on the previous Bill C-21, which failed to pass before the last federal election, and addresses some of the concerns raised by gun-control advocates.

What are the current gun laws in Canada?

Firearms are federally regulated in Canada, as outlined in the 1977 Criminal Law Amendment Act. Meanwhile, gun control in Canada is governed by the Criminal Code, as well as the 1995 Firearms Act.

A firearms licence – called a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) – is required to possess and use firearms in Canada. The licence indicates which class of firearms and ammunition a person can own and transport. The licence must be renewed every five years.

Handguns are either restricted or prohibited, with specifics for these firearms listed by the RCMP. The number of registered handguns in Canada increased by 71 per cent between 2010 and 2020, reaching approximately 1.1 million, according to federal statistics.

Automatic weapons have been banned for civilians in Canada since 1991 and for the most part, it is only legal for the police and military to possess them. In the wake of the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia, the federal government announced a ban on over 1,500 models of “military-grade assault-style weapons.”

Which guns are included and which guns are excluded in Bill C-21?

Handguns included in Bill C-21 are any handguns that meet the definition as outlined in the Firearms act.

The law introduced Monday fulfills the Liberals’ 2021 election pledge to require owners of banned military-style rifles to either sell the firearms back to the government for destruction or have them rendered inoperable at federal expense.

The new laws would also ban some toys that look like real guns, such as airsoft rifles. Last week Toronto police shot and killed a man carrying a pellet gun.

Canada banned the sale and use of some 1,500 models of assault weapons, like the AR-15 rifle, two years ago in the wake of the mass shooting in Portapique, N.S., – a move some firearms owners say they are contesting in court.

The government promised Monday to make sure such firearms are automatically prohibited when they enter the market in future. “We will continue working to ensure any new weapons that fit the definition of assault-style weapon are captured.”

There is, however, no legal definition of a “military-style assault weapon.” Trudeau said the government would seek to come up with one that could not be easily circumvented by gun-makers.

What will the assault-rifle buyback program look like?

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told a news conference on Monday that the government is also committed to introducing a mandatory buyback program for assault-style weapons. He said the details would be announced after consultations with the industry.

The Liberal Party pledged during the 2019 election campaign to introduce a buyback program for “all military-style assault rifles legally purchased in Canada,” only to design a voluntary – not mandatory – buyback program, revealed when C-21 was tabled in early 2021. The legislation died on the order paper when the federal election was called last August.

The original buyback plan won praise from gun-control advocates, but Conservative MPs and others opposed to the idea have suggested it targets legitimate gun owners rather than preventing illegal firearms from falling into the wrong hands.

When will the new legislation come into effect?

At Monday’s news conference, Mr. Mendicino said the government has tabled changes to the Firearms Act to bring the handgun prohibitions into force as soon as possible. A statement issued with the new bill’s announcement said the regulations will come into force in fall 2022.

Both the Minister and the Prime Minister said they hoped opposition parties would help expedite the legislation’s passage.

Why is this bill being tabled now?

Mr. Mendicino said in early March the government planned to bring in “very pro-active” gun legislation soon after the previous bill expired with last summer’s general election call. In their 2021 election platform, the Liberals also stated that “American-style gun violence is rising” in Canada.

However, the new bill arrives amid intense debate about gun safety on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border following two recent mass shooting events: an elementary school shooting that killed 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Tex., last week and earlier this month, the killing of 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket.

Mr. Trudeau said Monday that people need to feel free to go to a store, birthday party or picnic without worrying about gun violence, but unfortunately the problem has deepened in Canada over the years. He also referenced the problems in the U.S., saying, “We need only look south of the border to know that if we do not take action firmly and rapidly, it gets worse and worse and more difficult to counter.”

What are the critics of Bill C-21 saying?

The federal Conservatives expressed reservations about the legislation. Raquel Dancho, the party’s public safety critic, said in a statement that gun crime increases every year, despite existing restrictions. In a Twitter post, she also mentioned that the legislation doesn’t focus on the “root cause” of gun violence in Canadian cities, which she attributed to illegal guns smuggled into Canada by criminal gangs.

Some mayors said they were hoping for more action on handguns, including Toronto Mayor John Tory and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

A.J. Somerset, a hunter and former soldier from Windsor, Ont., who is also the author of a book about North America’s gun culture, said gun control is valuable and does work, but that the government’s proposed measures won’t necessarily stop the violence plaguing several cities.

Ottawa could better solve the problem of gang violence by providing more funding and services aimed at alleviating poverty in cities, Mr. Somerset said, adding that the federal government could also legalize some drugs to reduce violence associated with the illicit market.

Several women’s groups also recently implored the government to do away with the “red flag” provision, included in the bill that didn’t pass last year. According to the Canadian Press, the groups say it downloads responsibility for gun-law enforcement from authorities onto others, including possible targets of violence.

More reading:

Ottawa to halt handgun sales, imports, but stops short of total ban

Ottawa set to introduce new firearms legislation that could revive mandatory assault-rifle buyback program

Opinion: Canada has a real gun violence problem, but it’s (mostly) not the one the Liberals want to talk about

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