OTTAWA—Canada on Friday banned over 1,500 models of military-style assault firearms, effective immediately, a move that fulfills an election-campaign promise from last year and emerges roughly two weeks after the deadliest shooting rampage in the country’s modern history.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added officials intend to work with other levels of governments with the eventual aim of giving cities the power to ban handguns.
Mr. Trudeau said the immediate ban, which will be implemented through regulatory orders, is required to bring an end to a spate of gun violence in the country, most notably a roughly 14-hour shooting rampage in rural Nova Scotia last month that left 22 dead. Among those killed were a police officer, a nurse, elementary school teacher and a woman in her teens.
Canada’s Public Safety Minister, Bill Blair, said Friday that two of the assault weapons now banned were used by the suspect in the Nova Scotia shooting, Gabriel Wortman, without identifying the specific make. Canadian police have also said they believe Wortman acquired some of his firearms from the U.S.
“These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time,” Mr. Trudeau said at a press conference, alongside Mr. Blair and other officials. “There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada.” Mr. Trudeau also brought up previous episodes of deadly gun violence, such as in 1989 when a gunman killed 14 women at a Montreal engineering school; and a shooting in 2017 at a Quebec City mosque where six men died while praying.
The roughly 1,500 firearms now prohibited were previously designated as either mostly restricted or unrestricted, according to documents released explaining the ban. Under current Canadian laws, individuals are required to hold a license to purchase and possess a firearm and buy ammunition. According to data from Canada’s national police, there were 2.2 million firearms licenses in force. Officials said it was unclear how many of these license holders would be affected, but estimates there are 90,000 firearms allowed under a restricted basis would be affected.
Mr. Trudeau acknowledged the vast majority of gun owners, among them members of rural and remote indigenous communities, use their firearms safely and in accordance with the law. Nevertheless, he said, “you don’t need a AR-15 [a lightweight, semiautomatic rifle] to bring down a deer.”
The most recent Canadian annual criminal-justice data covers 2018, and they indicate that a firearm was used in 243 homicides. Of those, the majority, 143, involved a handgun, while another 56 involved a rifle or shotgun. The data doesn’t indicate how many deaths were associated with a semiautomatic weapon.
Canada’s decision—akin to what New Zealand did last year in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attack—is likely to exacerbate an urban-rural split in Canada over gun control. While the debate might not be as heated or as contentious as in the U.S., gun control remains a divisive issue. People in larger cities and suburbs tend to favor strict controls, while rural residents argue tougher restrictions target law-abiding gun owners who use the weapons for hunting and self-protection.
Canada’s Conservative Party, which when in power resisted stricter gun-control measures, criticized Friday’s announcement, calling it opportunistic. “Justin Trudeau is using the current pandemic and the immediate emotion of the horrific attack in Nova Scotia to push the Liberals’ ideological agenda and make major firearms policy changes. That is wrong,” said Andrew Scheer, the party’s leader. The Conservatives count on rural communities and western Canada as the bedrock of their support.
Mr. Trudeau said the government was considering introducing this ban in late March, but officials needed to pivot and focus on public-health and economic measures as related to the pandemic.
Along with the ban, Canada has introduced a two-year amnesty period to protect Canadians who are in lawful possession of a newly prohibited firearm from criminal liability. Officials said they intend to implement a buyback plan to compensate affected firearm owners, as well as the option to participate in a grandfathering regime. Details for both schemes aren’t yet available, and would likely require approval from Parliament.
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