Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he won’t let resistance from unwilling premiers scuttle the plans of municipalities that want to ban handguns.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Trudeau also defended his government’s intention to allow handgun prohibition on a city-by-city basis rather than enacting a sweeping federal ban.
Some municipal politicians in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, concerned about deadly shootings, have called for measures to control handguns in their cities.
The Trudeau government plans to empower provinces and cities to take steps to manage the storage and use of handguns within their individual jurisdictions, given that they have different needs and concerns.
“We have heard from a number of particularly large cities saying that they want to be able to ban handguns within their city limits,” Trudeau said during the wide-ranging interview in Ottawa this week.
“That is something we are hearing from some very specific places across the country but not everywhere across the country. And we feel that it would be a solid step to move forward and give cities and provinces those tools to do that.”
The group PolySeSouvient, a leading voice for gun control, is pushing for a truly national handgun ban, arguing local ones are generally ineffective, as what it calls the “disastrous patchwork of local and state laws” in the United States demonstrates.
Local bans would also have to overcome “enormous obstacles,” including provincial governments ideologically opposed to gun control and an array of legal and jurisdictional complexities, the group recently warned in a letter to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has already signalled opposition to banning handguns despite support for the idea from Toronto Mayor John Tory.
The federal government’s preference is to hand some powers over firearms to the provinces, which would in turn allow for municipal regulation, Trudeau said.
“In some situations, we may have a province that is unwilling to do that despite the willingness of a city or cities to do that,” he said. “At which point, I have been assured, there are other tools we can use that wouldn’t be as ideal, because it would involve disagreements with the provinces at a time where we want to be collaborative.”
Trudeau declined to elaborate on any alternative measure, “because it’s something we hope to not have to use.”
He stressed that further restrictions represent just one element of the federal strategy on handguns.
The government will push ahead with plans to prevent smuggling of pistols into Canada, collect more information about purchases from retailers, and ensure more secure storage of firearms in shops and homes to deter theft, he said.
The Liberals also see spending on anti-gang programs, community centres and local policing as key to reducing urban violence.
They promise to move quickly on a commitment to outlaw assault-style firearms, including the popular AR-15, saying guns designed to inflict mass casualties have no place in Canada. Owners of legally purchased firearms that fall under the ban will be offered fair-market prices through a buyback program.
The prime minister played down the notion his government’s minority status affords little time to usher in tighter gun control.
“Our primary concern is getting it right,” he said. “But even in a minority situation we’ve seen that there is a very clear consensus from three of the parties in the House — us, the NDP and the Bloc — that moving forward on much stronger gun control is a priority.”