Thirteen days after the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a nationwide ban on military-style assault weapons Friday.
“These weapons were designed for one purpose, and one purpose only: To kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa Friday. “There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada.”
The new policy immediately bans the use, purchase, sale, transportation, and import of 1,500 models of assault weapons, like the AR-15, the military-style semiautomatic rifle that has been used in many mass shootings in the US — including the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Trudeau said at the conference, “You don’t need an AR-15 to bring down a deer.”
Trudeau’s announcement comes after a gunman in Nova Scotia murdered 22 people on April 18 and 19 over 12 hours. The shooter used semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic handguns in his attack, as well as acts of arson.
“Their families deserve more than thoughts and prayers,” Trudeau said in explaining the rationale behind the ban. “Canadians deserve more than thoughts and prayers.”
The announcement has been criticized by Trudeau’s political opponents, who argue it will do little to stop people from obtaining assault weapons illicitly.
Currently in Canada, people who wish to purchase firearms must provide character references, undergo background checks, and pass a series of tests. Only then can they receive a firearms license. But the Nova Scotia gunman didn’t have a firearms license — one of his weapons appears to be from Canada, but police believe several of them came from the US.
“Taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals who obtain their guns illegally,” Andrew Scheer, the leader of the Conservative Party, said in a statement. “The reality is, the vast majority of gun crimes are committed with illegally obtained firearms.”
Gun control advocates say this is not true, however, with Wendy Cukier, the president of the Coalition for Gun Control, telling the New York Times that the majority of Canada’s mass shootings involved weapons that had been obtained legally.
And that is a point Trudeau’s Liberal Party has made for some time — in fact, the prime minister ran in part on a gun control platform during 2019’s federal elections, arguing doing so would help reduce violence in cities in particular. The ban announced Friday marks the partial fulfillment of that pledge, and forthcoming legislation aims to fulfill other promises, including a plan that would allow cities to adopt tougher gun control measures than those mandated by the federal government.
Briefly, how Canada’s assault weapons ban will work
Some details of the ban are still being drafted, but briefly, it will work like this: Under the new rules, owners of banned guns will have a two-year amnesty period during which they can surrender their weapons or sell them to buyers outside Canada if they acquire a permit.
At the end of the amnesty periods, gun owners will either be able to turn their guns in through a buyback program — which compensates people for the guns they surrender — or might be eligible to keep them under a grandfathering process. More information about both programs will be available once legislation codifying the ban is unveiled.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has said future legislation will also include policies intended to flag individuals considered too dangerous to own guns, and a framework to ensure gun manufacturers don’t circumvent bans by creating new versions of prohibited models.
It’s unclear how many guns in Canada have been banned, but according to Politico, at least 72,000 people who own over 100,000 banned firearms will be affected.