Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is vowing to ban and buy back up to 250,000 military-style assault rifles if his party forms government again, a pledge that falls short of the national handgun ban that many victims of gun violence have been advocating for since last summer.
Under the party’s gun-control plan released on Friday, a Liberal government would work with the provinces and territories to allow municipal handgun bans, suspend gun licences for people suspected of posing a danger to their families, toughen gun-storage laws and crack down on straw buyers who purchase guns legally before diverting them to illegal markets.
Mr. Trudeau made the announcement in Toronto, just hours after one person was killed and another injured in two separate shootings in the city. Toronto has endured a spike in gunfire over the past five years, with Toronto Police recording 311 shootings so far this year, a 137-per-cent increase from this time in 2014.
Calls for a handgun ban have been growing since a shooter killed two people and injured 13 others along Toronto’s Danforth Avenue last July.
Days after the Danforth shooting, Mr. Trudeau stood near the spot where one of the victims, 18-year-old Reese Fallon, died by handgun fire and vowed to study a national handgun ban. Families affected by the violence endorsed the idea, even forming an advocacy group, Danforth Families for Safe Communities, to keep pressure on governments.
“We are disappointed they didn’t go after both categories of weapons that shouldn’t be in the hands of private citizens," said Ken Price, whose daughter is still recovering from a handgun shot to the hip. “But at least the issue has been acknowledged and gun policy is going in the right general direction.”
It’s unclear how a municipal ban would be implemented in Toronto, even with federal intervention. Mayor John Tory has been pressing Ottawa for the authority to ban handguns, but Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said he would oppose such a measure.
“We’re puzzled as to how municipal bans would work,” said Mr. Price, who added that the group wants action on several fronts aside from gun control, including resources to crack down on guns smuggled from the United States and programs to address social and economic inequities that lead to gun violence.
“The person in our case was a troubled individual with a history of not fitting in,” he said of the Danforth shooter. “That festered into a mind full of hate and a willingness to act. We have to pay attention to that.”
Last year, Mr. Trudeau tapped his Organized Crime Reduction Minister, Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, to study new gun-control measures in the wake of the shooting. On Friday, Mr. Blair told reporters assault-style rifles represent a grave threat to Canadians, citing the 2017 shooting of Muslims at a Quebec City mosque and the 2014 shooting of police officers in Moncton.
Mr. Blair said rifle-owners have told him a buyback program would be “fair,” but Tony Bernard, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, predicted many gun-owners would refuse to comply. “They are proposing to take stuff away from people who have not committed crimes based on the flimsiest of reasons,” he said.
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. But Mr. Blair 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.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante welcomed the measures aimed at assault weapons but noted the city has long called for a handgun ban as well. “We favourably welcome all propositions that move toward that goal,” said a statement sent by her office.
Heidi Rathjen, co-ordinator for PolySeSouvient, a pro-gun control group founded by friends and families of victims of the shooting at Montreal’s École Polytechnique 30 years ago, said the plan to download handgun restrictions is disappointing.
She predicted most cities will have no interest in taking on the gun lobby to propose bans that will have limited effectiveness.
“All we have to do is look south of the border to see the disaster of a patchwork of local and state laws,” Ms. Rathjen said. “It’s pretty unrealistic to expect municipalities to engage in these acrimonious, protracted, unpleasant battles with the gun lobby when a federal government that ran on getting handguns off our streets, was elected to a majority on that promise, and opted not to.”
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