Nine days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to ban assault-style weapons in the wake of the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history, he made good on that promise.
“These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time. There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada,” Trudeau said on Friday. “Effective immediately, it is no longer permitted to buy, sell, transport, import, or use military-grade assault weapons in this country.”
Trudeau was able to institute the ban of 1,500 makes and models of “military-style” weapons without Parliament’s approval. Under the order, owners of current assault-style weapons will receive a two-year amnesty period. Justice Minister David Lametti said people who still possess the banned guns after April 2022 could face criminal penalties.
Trudeau also announced that his cabinet will work with Parliament to put into place a buyback program to provide current owners of the now-banned weapons with "fair compensation" for their losses. The government estimates that enforcing the ban could involve removing over 100,000 weapons from circulation. The buyback program could potentially cost Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
There is currently no precise definition of “assault weapons” in Canadian law, but Trudeau’s government has described them as “semi-automatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire.” On Friday, Trudeau said that while he understood that most of the country’s gun owners were law-abiding citizens, “you don’t need an AR-15 to bring down a deer.”
The day before announcing the ban, Trudeau spoke of a “large consensus” among Canadians about the need to curtail ownership of the weapons. On the same day Trudeau announced the new ban, the Angus Reid Institute, a nonprofit public opinion research organization, released the results of its poll that showed nearly 80% of Canadians favored an assault weapons ban.
The institute noted that a similar poll last year found nearly identical support. Still it appears to have taken another mass shooting to spur lawmakers into action, despite Trudeau’s Liberal Party’s promises dating back to 2015. While Trudeau’s announcement drew criticism from the Conservative Party and some of the country’s gun owners, others complained that the new ban doesn’t go far enough, noting that it is weaker than the proposals laid out in the Liberal Party’s 2019 campaign platform.
Earlier in the week, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced that the gunman in the Nova Scotia rampage that killed at least 22 people was carrying several semiautomatic handguns and two semiautomatic rifles during his killing spree. When asked if any of those weapons could be described as “military-style assault rifle,” police Superintendent Darren Campbell said just one of the weapons could be described as such.
While the new assault-style weapons ban may not have necessarily stopped the gunman in Nova Scotia, Trudeau cited Canada’s long history of mass shootings as the reason behind the move.
"These tragedies reverberate still,” Trudeau said. “They shape our identity, they stain our conscience, they make adults out of children and the heartbreaking truth is they're happening more often than they once did.”
"Their families deserve more than thoughts and prayers. Canadians deserve more than thoughts and prayers," he added.
The new ban will include the gun used in the École Polytechnique shooting, which had been the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history until the rampage in Nova Scotia. The ban will also encompass weapons that were used in mass shootings elsewhere, including those used in the Sandy Hook, New Zealand, Las Vegas, and Orlando mass shootings.
“As of today, the market for assault weapons in Canada is closed," Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said on Friday. “Enough is enough — banning these firearms will save Canadian lives."
However, the effectiveness of any Canadian weapons ban may well be undermined by policies across its southern border in the United States, the world leader in gun ownership rates per capita. Royal Canadian Mounted Police believe that many of the Nova Scotia gunman’s weapons were obtained in the US.
The shooting in Nova Scotia occurred on April 19. An earlier headline misstated the date.