Close loopholes in ban on assault-style firearms, gun-control advocates urge MPs

Seized firearms are displayed during an RCMP and Crime Stoppers news conference at RCMP headquarters in Surrey, B.C., on May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Advocates who led the push to ban an array of assault-style firearms are telling federal lawmakers that government regulations prohibiting these guns are being circumvented by Canadian manufacturers.

In a letter sent this week, gun-control group PolySeSouvient urges MPs to support amending the definition of prohibited firearm in the Criminal Code to include all current and future guns that fall into the category.

The Liberal government banned some 1,500 models and variants of firearms, including the AR-15 and Ruger Mini-14, through an order-in-council in May 2020 on the grounds they have no place in hunting or sport shooting.

A planned buyback program would require owners to either sell these firearms to the government or have them rendered inoperable at federal expense.

PolySeSouvient says that without a clear Criminal Code definition of assault-style firearms, Canada will be stuck with the kind of failed approach that led to the proliferation of tens of thousands of such guns in private hands following bans in the 1990s.

The group includes students and graduates of Montreal's Ecole polytechnique, where a gunman killed 14 women in 1989.

The letter is signed by group spokesperson Nathalie Provost, who was shot during the rampage, Suzanne Laplante-Edward, whose daughter was killed, and Heidi Rathjen, a graduate of the school and co-ordinator of PolySeSouvient.

It says that earlier this year the RCMP granted a non-restricted classification to the Lockhart Tactical Raven 9, a semi-automatic carbine manufactured in Canada. Other recently introduced semi-automatics unaffected by the ban include the Sterling Arms R18 Mk.2, the Crusader 9 and the RS-Q2 Osprey.

As non-restricted guns, they are also not registered outside of Quebec, and are subject to less stringent storage requirements, PolySeSouvient notes.

In 2020 the government said the models and variants being banned had semi-automatic action with sustained rapid-fire capability, and were "present in large volumes in the Canadian market."

PolySeSouvient wonders whether the fact newly introduced models aren't present in large numbers, at least initially, explains why they are allowed.

The RCMP had no immediate comment on why the firearms flagged in the letter fall outside the federal ban.

The Liberals have previously floated the idea of legislation that would create an evergreen framework for classification of firearms to ensure federal intentions on banned guns are respected.

"Unfortunately, we have yet to hear of a similar measure being considered by the current government," PolySeSouvient's letter says.

"We are therefore calling on members of Parliament to support amending the definition of 'prohibited firearm' in the Criminal Code to include all current and future assault-style weapons."

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in March he would soon bring in "very proactive" gun legislation following the expiration of an earlier effort, known as Bill C-21, at last summer's general election call.

A bill is expected this spring, though some key elements have not been finalized.

Asked about apparent circumventions of the assault-style firearms ban, Mendicino said after a cabinet meeting Thursday that consultations were ongoing.

"With regards to how we can further strengthen restrictions around deadly firearms like AR-15s, we continue to engage with communities, we continue to engage with a variety of partners in this space."

In addition to the mandatory buyback of banned guns, the Liberals have promised a crackdown on high-capacity firearm magazines, new efforts to combat gun smuggling, and support to any province or territory that wants to ban handguns.

While PolySeSouvient applauds a Liberal promise to ban modifiable magazines, it says this will not be enough to ensure magazines are limited to five rounds for rifles and shotguns and 10 for handguns.

As a result, the new letter to MPs urges the elimination of all exemptions and loopholes that undercut the these limits. "Ideally, the limit would be five for all firearms. The law should also require a gun licence to purchase magazines, just as it does for ammunition."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2022.

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