The term is not a legal classification of guns in Canada but is commonly used to refer to automatic or semi-automatic centrefire weapons capable of firing large amounts of ammunition in a very short time.
Trudeau was asked during a briefing with journalists in Ottawa on Thursday about a report published by the Globe and Mail newspaper that said the government plans to issue a new list of banned high-power firearms including the notorious AR-15 weapon used in recent mass shootings in the U.S.
“We have made a firm commitment to Canadians to ban military assault-style weapons because, in Canada, there’s no room for weapons made to kill large numbers of people,” Trudeau said.
“We were almost ready to announce measures to strengthen gun control when Parliament was suspended because of the pandemic and we will be making announcements in days to come and will give more details on this then.”
Canada has experienced several mass shootings in recent years in which the gunmen used semi-automatic weapons among their cache of firearms.
Most recently, the gunman behind a horrific shooting spree in rural Nova Scotia used two semi-automatic rifles and several semi-automatic handguns.
Nova Scotia RCMP Superintendent Darren Campbell has said one of the weapons “could be described” as a military-style assault rifle.
The gunman in that spree shot 13 people and nine others died in fires, according to RCMP.
In 2017, a gunman also opened fire in a Quebec City mosque killing six and injuring 19.
He fired 48 shots in 90 seconds in that massacre.
One of the guns he used was a semi-automatic rifle with two 30-bullet magazines, which are illegal.
And in 2014, another gunman used a semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun in a shooting spree that killed three RCMP officers and injured two others in Moncton, N.B.
It’s not yet clear whether the specific guns used in those cases would be among those banned.
In Canada, automatic weapons are already prohibited except when grandfather rights apply but a range of semi-automatic firearms can be legally bought, sold and owned.
Among those semi-automatic firearms reportedly set to be banned are the AR-15, Ruger Mini-14, CZ Scorpion, the Swiss Arms Classic Green, the Beretta Cx4 Storm, the Robinson Armament XCR and the Sig Sauer SIG MCX, along with other similar types.
A report by CBC News said 11 firearms in total will be banned.
But A.J. Somerset, a former gunnery instructor with the Canadian Forces and gun policy expert, said he’s concerned the approach the government appears to be taking won’t be the most effective route.
Rather than adding certain types of guns to the list of banned firearms, Somerset says the government should amend the Firearms Act to prohibit guns based on their features — a move he says would prevent new models of guns similar to those banned from entering the market to take their place.
“I don’t think it’s a very effective approach where if you contrast that with what’s been done in for example, in New Zealand. In New Zealand, they said any centrefire semiautomatic firearm with a detachable magazine will be banned,” he said.
“They made a very expansive definition. People might argue it was too expansive, but at least they defined the weapons to be banned in terms of their function rather than the approach that we’re taking, which is to ban specific guns.”
“And all that happens is the market then adapts.”
Following two horrific mosque shootings in Christchurch that left 51 people dead, New Zealand implemented a sweeping nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons and launched a buyback program that saw 56,000 of the weapons turned over to authorities.
That prompted calls for a national gun registry to know what guns might be left in the country.
In Canada, the situation is different.
Firearms here are classified by three types: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited.
The federal cabinet can also ban specific guns by name via orders in council.
Automatic weapons are included in the prohibited category as are some semi-automatic guns, sawed-off rifles or shotguns and small handguns.
Restricted firearms include semi-automatic guns using centrefire ammunition, along with handguns not already covered in the prohibited category.
In the non-restricted category are rifles and shotguns that are neither restricted or prohibited.
Prohibited and restricted firearms are registered but non-restricted firearms are not.
The former Conservative government axed registration requirements for non-restricted firearms when it got rid of the long-gun registry in 2015 and destroyed the data.
But included in the list of guns set to be banned is a mix of categories.
The AR-15, for example, is restricted so the government would know who to target in any potential buy-back scheme. But the Beretta Cx4 Storm is non-restricted, so there’s no registry of owners.
Somerset said that could pose a challenge for the government
“They have no idea really where those are,” he said.
“They don’t actually even know how many there are.”
“So it’ll be difficult for them to actually confiscate those firearms, it’ll be difficult for them to compel people to give them up.“