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Canada to freeze handgun ownership

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Photo by Blair Gable / Reuters
Photo by Blair Gable / Reuters

In the wake of another mass shooting in the United States, the all-too-familiar gun control debates have begun. It's the same debate that has followed nearly every mass shooting in the last two decades: liberals call for stricter gun laws, and conservatives counter with their reasons for protecting the freedom of gun ownership, usually backed by the strong arm of the NRA.

This month, however, a new player entered the ring. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a proposed bill to the national legislature that will further strengthen the country's already strict gun control laws.

"We're introducing legislation to implement a national freeze on handgun ownership," Trudeau announced in a press conference on May 30. "What this means is that it will no longer be possible to buy, sell, transfer, or import handguns anywhere in Canada. In other words, we're capping the market on handguns," he explained.

While the law has only been proposed so far, political scientists predict it will pass through Parliament easily, as Canada does not have the same polarization the US is familiar with. It has more of a three-party political system.

The Canadian Liberal Party supports the bill, while the Canadian Conservative Party opposes it. This may not sound too far off from the American political system, but in 1961 the New Democratic Party was established. Experts are predicting a swift passage of the bill with the latter party's help.

What will the new law do?
The new proposed law will put a national freeze on the sale and importation of all firearms. The law will also place a national cap on the number of guns allowed in the country. Once the law goes into effect, buying, selling, transferring, or importing handguns will be illegal in Canada.

The new legislation will also increase fines on gun smugglers and traffickers. Now, anyone charged with possession of an illegal weapon will face extensive fines and criminal penalties. The law will also allow law enforcement to go after illegal gun smugglers.

The new legislation will also ban certain toys that resemble real guns, limit magazine capacities to just five rounds, and prohibit the ownership of any weapon capable of holding more than five rounds at a time.

The government is offering a buyback program for current owners of guns that do not comply with the new law. It is also offering free modifications for those who wish to keep their firearms that currently hold large magazine rounds.

The ban also prohibits anyone with a history of domestic violence or a restraining order from purchasing a gun.

The law will allow exceptions for some Canadians, including Olympic athletes who shoot for their sport and security guards.

Opposition from gun owners
"It is a total ban in everything but the name," said Canadian gun law expert Solomon Friedman. "It seems to me like gun control made by Twitter. In the wake of an awful and unspeakable tragedy in the United States — which of course has its own gun culture, has its issues concerning violence that simply do not exist in Canada — we have some shoddy legislation."

Despite complaints from Canadian gun owners who feel the new legislation is wrongfully targeting them, Canadian Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino said, "Bill C21 doesn't target law-abiding gun owners. It targets handgun violence, organized crime. We're raising maximum sentences against illegal smugglers. We're giving police new wiretap powers to stop it in the first place and investing in more resources for [the Canadian Bar Association] and [the Royal Canadian Mounted Police], so they have the technology to do that."

"I have enormous respect for law-abiding gun owners, and have engaged with them and have visited some of my colleagues' writing to talk with them," Mendicino continued. "But the fact of the matter remains that Statistics Canada reports that gun violence is on the rise. Handgun violence specifically is on the rise. Gender-based and domestic violence in connection with guns is on the rise.

"And another thing that Bill C21 does is it introduces red-flag protocols that allow anyone to go to a court to say seize the gun or suspend the license precisely to protect that, but additionally with the protection of the person's identity [sic].

"There is a lot of good here. Canadians support this legislation, because we've been listening to them and will continue to work with them to pass this law."

Trudeau echoed Mendicino in his press conference, saying, "Those who currently own and operate handguns safely and store them safely are not targeted at all by this legislation. We are simply saying that we are freezing the market, and in the future, it will not be possible to buy, sell, transfer, or import guns to Canada."

Canada's existing gun control laws
Canada's existing gun laws are already some of the strictest in the world. In 2020 the country banned nearly 1,500 models of assault weapons, including the AR-15, after a mass shooting in Portapique, Nova Scotia, left 22 dead. The weapon used in the shooting was illegally obtained by smugglers from the United States.

Until the new laws are officially passed, the Canadian federal government will monitor all new handguns purchased. Because the freeze will not go into effect until the legislation can be passed through Parliament, some Canadians expect to see an increase in legal gun sales and licensing in the coming weeks, as people rush to beat the freeze.

Despite pushback from some Canadian gun owners and arms dealers, the country is mostly on board with the increased regulations and banning of handguns. Unlike Americans, Canadians see gun ownership not as a right but as a privilege, one that can and should be checked and regulated.

"As a government, as a society, we have a responsibility to act to prevent more tragedies. Canadians certainly don't need assault-style weapons that were designed to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time. Gun violence is quite a complex problem, but at the end of the day, the math is quite simple: the fewer the guns in our communities, the safer everyone will be," Trudeau said in his message to the Canadian people.

"We need less gun violence. We cannot let the gun debate become so polarized that nothing gets done. We cannot let that happen in our country."