Gun control campaigners are praising Justin Trudeau’s promise to ban “assault-style weapons” in the aftermath of the horrific Nova Scotia shooting rampage.
But gun owners’ rights advocates say Trudeau is using a heinous crime and shocking tragedy to ram through reforms that aren’t needed and won’t work anyway.
Welcome to Canada’s interminable gun-control debate, now reignited by the country’s worst-ever mass shooting.
READ MORE: Video appears to show Nova Scotia shooting suspect stop, change clothes amid killing spree
The death count from the Nova Scotia attacks now stands at 22 victims, not including the gunman. Police are still investigating how the shooter unleashed a wave of rural terror while driving a fake RCMP vehicle and wearing a real police uniform.
Trudeau said the carnage is proof of the need for stricter gun control in Canada.
“The tragedy in Nova Scotia simply reinforces and underlines how important it is for us to continue to move forward on strengthening gun control,” Trudeau said, repeating an earlier pledge to “ban assault-style weapons.”
Wendy Cukier, president of the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control, said Trudeau is on the right track.
“When you have stronger gun laws, these sorts of horrific incidents happen far less frequently,” she told me, adding advocates have been pushing for an assault weapon ban since the 1989 shootings at Ecole Polytechnique.
“There’s been support in Canada for a ban on military assault weapons since the Montreal massacre,” she said.
But what exactly is an “assault-style weapon”? And how do you achieve a ban? That’s where things get trickier.
“The definition of ‘assault weapon’ varies from country to country,” Cukier said.
“But there are certain characteristics, for example, of a firearm that accepts a large capacity magazine, has a pistol grip and a shorter barrel.”
Gun-rights advocates, however, say large-capacity magazines are already banned in Canada, where legal centrefire rifles are restricted under the Criminal Code to a maximum of five bullets in a magazine.
As for the pistol grip — a feature on controversial weapons like the AR-15 rifle, a legal-though-restricted weapon in Canada — Cukier said there’s a reason the moulded hand grip should be banned.
“The pistol grip allows you to stabilize the weapon so you can effectively spray fire as opposed to a hunting rifle, which typically will sit on the shoulder,” she said.
Gun-rights advocates seethe over these criticisms, arguing legal, semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 still require a separate trigger pull for each shot, and cannot “spray” bullets like fully automatic military weapons, already banned in Canada.
They are also sick of the attacks on the AR-15, which Trudeau is almost certain to ban if his reforms go through.
“The AR-15 is no different than any other centerfire, semi-automatic rifle,” said Rod Giltaca, president of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights.
“Classifying firearms based on pistol grips or handguards or colour is completely absurd.”
Giltaca said Trudeau’s public focus on an undefined assault-weapon ban appears to be a political tactic that ignores more pressing questions.
Those questions include: How did the shooter get his hands on a real police uniform and such a convincing replica police car? Why were Nova Scotians not warned about the active shooter using the province’s Alert Ready cellphone system during 12 hours of mayhem? Why did U.S. citizens receive a direct e-mailed warning from the American consulate in Halifax, while the only Canadian warning came over the RCMP’s Twitter feed?
And how would an assault-weapon ban have made any difference when it appears the Nova Scotia shooter was already prohibited from owning any weapons, legal or otherwise?
“It’s all political,” Giltaca said. “It’s an opportunity for the anti-gunners to say, ‘This is all about guns,’ when it was not remotely about guns.
“The most effective weapon this person had was the fact that he was wearing an RCMP uniform, driving a police cruiser and pulling people over and killing them.
“No law in this country could have stopped a madman with this level of determination and resources.”
Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews.