OTTAWA — The Liberal government says no options have been ruled out to clamp down on guns “designed to hunt people” as it weighs new measures against assault-style rifles and handguns.
The sharply worded statement from the office of Bill Blair, the minister leading the review, comes amid concerns from gun-control advocates that such rifles are becoming more readily available on the legal market.
Firearms groups, meanwhile, fear the government is poised to penalize law-abiding owners in the name of appearing tough on criminals.
At the very least, the Liberals are sharpening their message amid rumours of a possible ban of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle — which that has prompted firearms groups to encourage Canadians to rush out and buy one while they still can.
“Assault-style rifles are military weapons designed to hunt people, and not animals, in the most efficient manner possible that maximizes the body count at minimum effort,” Blair’s office said in a statement to The Canadian Press.
“These weapons are for use in the battlefield, but too often they have been brought into our communities and used to target and kill law enforcement, women, members of the LGBTQ2S community, religious observers and children doing nothing more than attending class.
“There is no option that will be discounted and all possibilities will be considered.”
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The Senate recently approved a federal bill that will expand the scope of background checks on those who want to acquire guns, strengthen record-keeping requirements for sellers and require purchasers to present valid firearms licences.
But the Liberals have long been eyeing additional measures. The process took on new urgency after a shooting last July in Toronto that killed two people, injured 13, led to the gunman’s death and left a neighbourhood deeply shaken.
Two days later, Toronto city council passed a motion calling on the federal government to outlaw the sale of handguns in the city. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau then asked Blair, who was Toronto’s police chief before running for federal office, to do a comprehensive review.
A recently released summary of a federal consultation says Canadians have divergent views on banning handguns and assault-style firearms.
Complicating the already polarized debate is the fact that there is no Criminal Code definition of an assault weapon. The absence has led to some firearms being classified in a way that doesn’t properly reflect the risks they pose, says the group PolySeSouvient, which includes graduates of Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, where 14 women were gunned down in 1989.
Restricted and prohibited firearms must be registered and entail additional safety training. In addition, their use is limited to people such as target shooters and collectors.
PolySeSouvient points to at least eight guns it considers to be military-style semi-automatic rifles that have recently come onto the Canadian market as non-restricted firearms, a classification category that has historically included ordinary hunting rifles and shotguns.
The available models include the M10X International Defense Rifle, whose design is described by its maker as being “inspired from proven Eastern and Western military rifles.”
“There needs to be an overhaul of the classification system in order to ban weapons that are designed to kill people,” said PolySeSouvient co-ordinator Heidi Rathjen.
“The risks associated with these guns far outweigh any benefit that they bring to recreational shooters.”
Nonsense, says Tony Bernardo of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, which has 35,000 members. “Semi-automatic firearms for hunting and target shooting are as common as dirt.”
The Trudeau government is trying to capitalize on the media hysteria over mass shootings in the United States to distract people from other issues, Bernardo said.
Using the term “assault-style” to describe a semi-automatic like the AR-15, a restricted firearm, is akin to calling a Ford Mustang “a Formula One-style automobile,” he said.
“This is a made-up term to try to demonize what is effectively a modern sporting rifle.”