Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pledging to continue to push for stricter gun laws in the wake of the mass shooting in Nova Scotia that killed at least 23 people, the deadliest mass shooting in the country's modern history.
“I can say that we were on the verge of introducing legislation to ban assault-style weapons across this country,” Trudeau told reporters during his daily coronavirus briefing on Monday — a briefing that instead largely focused on the weekend shooting. “It was interrupted when the pandemic caused parliament to be suspended, but we have every intention of moving forward on that measure, and potentially other measures, when parliament returns."
While police in Nova Scotia still haven't released information about what kind of weapons were used in the attack there over the weekend, other new details have emerged.
Investigators now believe that the rampage started with a domestic violence incident at a home in Portapique, according to CNN. Police believe that the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, was looking for a former significant other. He killed two people there before terrorizing the region, using a replica police vehicle and what looked like a Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform to pull over random drivers and execute them on the spot.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police released a statement revising the death toll up to 23 from 18.
During last year's federal elections, Trudeau campaigned on tightening Canada's gun laws by banning all military-style weapons and helping cities issue their own handgun bans. In their party platform, Trudeau's Liberal Party wrote that military-style assault rifles "are designed to inflict mass casualties and have no place in Canada."
"Canadians are tired of excuses and know that 'thoughts and prayers' don’t make our communities any safer," it added.
With Canadians now grappling with the deadliest mass shooting in the country's modern history, the question is whether they will follow the path of nations like New Zealand, which quickly tightened laws following the 2019 Mosque shootings, and Australia, which swiftly passed new gun control legislation in the wake of a 1996 shooting that killed 35 in Tasmania. Whether Canada takes swift action also depends in part on when parliament can return given the current threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Small Arms Survey, a project of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, estimates that Canada has the fifth-highest gun ownership rate in the world.
In Canada, gun owners must have a license and most guns have to be registered. To receive a license, a gun owner must pass an extensive background check and complete gun safety training. Additionally, handguns cannot be carried outside of the home and guns must be stored unloaded in a locked container.
In an open letter to Bill Blair, the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, a group of gun control advocates urged action now.
"We understand that prior to the pandemic your government had been preparing to act on election promises to restrict access to firearms," they wrote. 'While we appreciate the capacity for substantive policy change is difficult at this moment – and acknowledge your government’s efforts to respond to the gravity of the COVID-19 crisis and resulting consequences – we implore you to take one decisive, achievable action right now: ban the new sale of military style assault weapons."
[Related: Here’s What Actually Reduces Gun Violence]
On Monday, Blair announced a slew of new actions that the government is considering aimed at tightening gun storage rules, reducing the number of smuggled guns that come across the border, and keeping guns out of the hands of individuals who present a significant risk to themselves or the people around them.
Rod Giltaca, head of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, said it's too soon to start debating what, if any, new laws need to be pass to response to the attack in Nova Scotia.
“Just shy of 24 hours past the tragedy in Nova Scotia, the gun-control lobby is leveraging this community’s suffering for their own political gain,” he told the Washington Post. “No law in this country could have stopped a madman with this level of determination and resources.”
One man is worried that his grandparents are among those who were killed in the rampage, but are not among the initial victims police identified.
Justin Zahl believes that his grandparents' two-story log cabin was set ablaze by the gunman. The 22-year-old told the Associated Press that he thinks that his grandparents' bodies are in the ruins.
“They were angels,” Zahl added. “He was the smartest man I knew and could hold a conversation with anyone.”
During his Monday address, Trudeau was asked if he was willing to loosen the country's coronavirus lockdown to allow mourners to properly grieve their loved ones. Trudeau responded that he understood how painful it is for families not to be able to have a proper send-off for their loved ones, but he pointed out that thousands of Canadians had died from COVID-19 in recent weeks and they weren't given special permission to mourn.
"This is something that we are dealing with right now that is heartbreak on top of other heartbreaks," he said. "I know that everyone will be looking for ways to demonstrate their solidarity without putting further at-risk communities, first responders, our health professionals, and our seniors."
Officials in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador have traced the majority of coronavirus cases there back to a single funeral held in mid-March.
Instead of gathering in public places, Trudeau suggested that Canadians looking to support the families should attend a virtual vigil that is being planned for Friday.