On Friday, the Prime Minister and his colleagues announced that they were cracking down on gun violence in the country by enacting a ban on a handful of semi-automatic rifles and their numerous variants. This announcement comes on the heels of a rampage in Nova Scotia that claimed the lives of 22 people, with the implicit assertion being that this new legislation will protect Canadian citizens from similar atrocities in the future.
This is a slapdash attempt at pandering to voters living in urban and suburban settings, many of whom will never handle a firearm. It is cynical political showmanship that will be expensive to carry out and won’t make our communities safer.
Let’s start with how the feds presented their case to the public, calling their actions a “ban on assault weapons”.
Gun advocates have long bemoaned the “assault weapon” catchphrase because it is ultimately meaningless, but sounds frightening to the uninformed. Generally speaking, it refers to semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, many of which are used for hunting. Fully-automatic rifles with magazines that can hold more than five rounds, like those used by military and police around the world, have long been prohibited in Canada. Most of the rifles listed in this new ban are already classified as restricted weapons, meaning that their owners had to go through a much more onerous process of background checks and red tape than the average hunter, and have to submit paperwork to the police any time they want to take them to the range or to a gunsmith.
In addition, this is far from an outright “ban” on semi-autos, like the one that New Zealand’s government swiftly enacted following a terrorist attack in March 2019 that claimed 51 lives. In addition to a government buyback program (estimated to cost hundreds of millions), Canadians that already own these kinds of firearms can opt to keep them as well, a process known as “grandfathering”.
There are also plenty of magazine-fed semi-autos, such as the SKS or Tavor, that function nearly identically to the newly prohibited weapons but are still available for legal purchase. If these types of rifles are such a serious threat to our peace and security, as the feds claim, then why would they only ban a portion of them?
Let’s take a step back and also ask, why now? By making this announcement in the days following a heinous shooting spree that captured the attention of the country, Trudeau and his ministers are fallaciously framing their new legislation as a direct response to this act of violence. This is the most frustrating aspect of the government’s latest bit of political theatre. The Nova Scotia gunman didn’t have a firearms license and obtained several of his weapons illegally from the United States. Even if this “ban” was in force months ago, it wouldn’t have stopped or even impeded the killer from carrying out his murderous aims.
Furthermore, the myopic focus on “assault weapons” distracts from the fact that the overwhelming majority of gun homicides in the country are carried out with handguns, most of which are smuggled in from the US. We share a massive, porous border with the world’s biggest weapons producer, which should be front and centre in any legislation dealing with firearms, but expensive, complex measures to crack down on smugglers don’t make for flashy headlines and thus, are less attractive to those that have to win elections every few years.
This gun ban is a triumph of style over substance. It is an inefficient use of resources in a time of unprecedented economic hardship, that nonetheless will likely score some points with voters who can’t tell the difference between a .22 and a 12-gauge. Tackling the root causes of violence in our society, from misogyny to bigotry to mental illness, is difficult work that’s hard to quantify, but it shouldn’t take a backseat to ineffectual posturing and half-baked legislation.
Canadian victims of gun violence deserve better.
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