May 08, 2020
With the vast inefficiency of government in general, making anything happen quickly is a nearly unheard of phenomenon. But it can still occur occasionally, as the latest gun ban in Canada proved to Canadian gun owners, who saw themselves go from law-abiding citizens to criminals in a matter of minutes.
Before we dig into the recent law change and new ban, it’s important to have a basic understanding of Canada’s laws concerning firearms, which differ drastically from those in the United States. In a nutshell, Canadians have no constitutional right to firearm ownership. The way the law is written, nobody is allowed to have a firearm unless he or she has government permission. Consequently, all guns are banned unless you have that permission, which comes in the form of a Firearm Possession and Acquisition License. [EDITOR’S NOTE: For more details on Canadian gun ownership please read Who Will Save Canadian Gun Rights?]
In the Blink of an Eye
Nicolas Johnson of TheGunBlog.ca, Canada’s number one gun-rights media site, has been involved in the fight against punitive gun bans for many years. As such, Johnson knows more about the current dire situation than most Canadians.
“What the government did last Friday was overnight, instantly, published a list of gun models that tens of thousands of people own and said that these guns are now prohibited by law,” Johnson said. “If you own one of these, effective immediately you are a criminal. They published the list … essentially any modern semi-auto mag-fed rifle or carbine.”
While Canadians interested in gun rights knew a ban was coming, the sweeping nature of the ban, along with how quickly it came about, shocked even those close to the situation.
“The really scary thing is the immediacy,” Johnson said. “It was an immediate, sweeping and sudden assault on federally licensed firearm owners who had been, forever, going above and beyond the law. We all suddenly became criminals and were told that they’re taking our guns away.”
And no, Johnson isn’t overreacting when he says gun owners were made instant criminals. The ban did immediately outlaw ownership and possession of many firearms.
“They’re calling this an ‘amnesty,” he said. “So I’m right now a criminal under amnesty because I own AR-15s. And the government is giving me an ‘amnesty’ until April 30, 2022. They’re not going to press charges against me until then, and by then I have to come into compliance.
“That means, either turn my gun into the police or tell them I plan to keep it. But if I keep it, under what they call ‘grandfathering,’ I cannot use, buy, sell, travel with or take it out of my home. It will be a safe queen, because I’ve got to keep locked in a gun safe.”
What’s Banned and What’s Not?
Determining what guns are banned and what guns are not isn’t too complicated. What is complicated is trying to figure out why the ruling Liberal Party banned the guns they did, since much of the law seems nonsensical.
As Johnson explained it, the new banned firearms list contains essentially all modern semi-automatic, magazine-fed rifles and carbines, and lists them by name. In all, about 1,500 different models of rifles were banned in the sweeping move, from the Aero Precision A15 to the ZVI OP99.
“Effectively, any modern rifle designed since World War II, or even before World War II, is now illegal to own,” he said. “The law is so badly written and insane that it makes no sense. They did not consult industry, they did not consult owners. They did not consult any experts. Besides the absolute injustice in principal, technically it’s just horribly flawed.”
To understand a little better about the guns that were banned, consider that there are three classifications of firearms in Canada—Non-restricted, Restricted and Prohibited. The designation “non-restricted” is nonsensical, as those guns still require a license to own. They don’t, however, have to be registered with the police. “Restricted” firearms must be registered with the police.
“We know that more than 125,000 individual rifles and carbines are targeted in the first wave, and it could be a lot higher than that,” Johnson said. “About 90,000 of the guns had been registered with the police, which means the police know who the owners are, make, model and serial number, when it was purchased—basically everything.”
Strangely, some guns were left off the list that are very much like the guns included on the list. One such is the Tavor, which is a magazine-fed bullpup semi-auto made by IWI that operates much like a typical AR-15. Also not on the list is the SKS, a semi-auto precursor to the AK-47.
“There’s just no logic to it,” Johnson said. “There are some mag-fed semi-autos that were not banned. It’s like they just made this list up or they’re just specifically targeting certain owners of certain firearms.”
Additionally, other guns were added to the list that don’t seem to belong there at all, like the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22. That gun is a rimfire carbine that shoots .22 LR ammunition.
Interestingly, First Nation members, Canada’s native people, are exempted from the semi-auto ban—yet another nonsensical feature of the legislation. If these guns are really bad enough to ban, then why are they good enough for some people to own?
Some Canadians speculate the exception was made because those in the First Nations might put up a substantial fight if confiscation were attempted. And while the government claims the exception is to allow natives to continue hunting, that’s the very same government that has claimed these rifles aren’t useful for hunting purposes.
In addition to the semi-auto rifles, Trudeau’s ban also targets many shotguns used by hunters. As explained earlier this week by the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, the legislation also outlaws all firearms with a bore diameter equal to or greater than 20 millimeters. Whether intentional or not, this includes nearly all 12-gauge shotguns with screw-in chokes, which includes many models popular for hunting and sport shooting.
“On all these modern shotguns with removable chokes, if you remove the choke and put in a caliper, a lot of them will have a bore diameter exceeding 20 millimeters,” Johnson said. “That wipes out all of these shotguns that are used for Olympic shooting, skeet, trap, bird hunting and turkey hunting.”
After that revelation, Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair (Johnson calls him the Minister of Confiscation) said that information is incorrect and claimed those guns were not banned. But few Canadian gun owners are prone to believe anything from the Liberal Party after such an extensive ban was forced upon them in such a way.
For his part, Johnson believes that the Liberal Party could have added that part to the gun ban to reduce gun ownership and use by sowing seeds of doubt.
“You can’t help but think they did it on purpose, because it creates huge uncertainty,” he said. “Someone might say, ‘Holy smokes, I was going to go turkey hunting. Can I take my shotgun? If I take my 12 gauge with a removable choke, am I going to jail if I get stopped by the conservation officer? What do you do? If you’re a lawful, honest person, you’re not going to take the chance. That’s how it kills the firearms industry, it kills the sport shooting, it kills hunting. You’re not going to risk your freedom on a millimeter.”
Gun Owner Response
While it might be too late, Canadian gun owners are attempting to fight the new ban. Yes, they knew some kind of ban was likely. But they didn’t know how all-encompassing it might be, or that it would be enacted so swiftly.
“There’s been a huge uproar from gun owners,” Johnson said. “A new petition just opened up yesterday on the House of Commons website, and it got more than 55,000 signatures in its first day. [Two days later, the total was 94,000.] And for Canada, that’s a lot. Our gun petitions struggle to see 20,000 signatures. So 55,000 in 24 hours is huge. Politicians are looking to stop this, lawyers are looking to stop this, gun-rights groups are looking to stop it. A lot of people are looking to stop it.”
Unfortunately, a look at the numbers shows how little clout Canadian gun owners have. As Johnson points out, Canada has an estimated 15 million to 20 million firearms owned by about 2 million to 3 million people. Of that, owners of modern semi-autos only number about 250,000 or slightly more.
“So if you look at it in terms of political influence, it’s very small,” he said. “Around 300,000 owners out of 30 million voters, that’s less than 1 percent of voters. So, this whole thing affects only 1 percent of voters.”
Even more unfortunate, many Canadian gun owners seem to be in favor of the government confiscating semi-auto rifles, since they don’t own them personally. They don’t realize that their gun of choice is likely be the next on the ban list.
“Unfortunately, a lot of gun owners support confiscation,” Johnson said. “A lot of people say—the same thing you hear down there—‘Why does anyone need an AR-15?’ ‘Why does anybody need a handgun?’ ‘Why does anyone need a firearm that can fire more than three shots? So there is definitely a not insignificant proportion of firearms owners who support confiscation, and that really turns my stomach.”
Most Canadian gun owners believe the Liberal Party has had the new ban ready for some time, but has just been waiting for the perfect time to inflict it on Canadian gun owners. The recent mass murder in Nova Scotia gave party members a good opportunity to proceed with the plan, even though none of the new restrictions would have changed that situation.
In fact, many Canadians don’t believe that the ban will do what the government says it will do relating to reducing crime. And it’s not unlikely that Liberal Party officials who formulated the ban don’t really expect it to have an impact on violent crime, either.
“They’re trying to make it about crime and safety and violence,” Johnson said. “Everybody who knows anything about firearms, people who own firearms and people who use them know that hurting people is already illegal. And the people who hurt people don’t stop and think, ‘Oh, well if that weapon is illegal, maybe I’ll use another weapon.’ From what I’m reading in the papers, criminals aren’t consulting the legislation on the way to do a hit.”
Fighting by Province
Some provincial leaders, including those in Alberta and Ontario, are trying to fight back against the ban. And it’s possible they might be able to gain some traction since the battle is coming from the top of provincial government, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
“Part of that is to show opposition and disagreement symbolically,” Johnson said. “But, he is also in power, so the fact that he is in power right now is important. It’s not just some fringe political party saying it. He can actually do things. And a lot of people in Alberta own guns. It’s one of the provinces with a higher rate of gun ownership.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford also opposes the ban. He has publicly stated that he believes the Canadian government should be focusing on smuggling of illegal weapons at the border and strengthening jail sentences for crimes rather than targeting legal gun owners.
“Ontario is the biggest province economically and in terms of firearm ownership,” Johnson said. “So, the fact that the premiers are opposing this ban, even if it’s symbolic, is important. And there’s a chance that they could actually create resistance, create friction and slow this or stop it.”
Interestingly, there is also a growing movement of Canadian law enforcement officers speaking out against the gun ban. In fact, Johnson recently posted a story at his website describing how officers are taking to Twitter to oppose the law.
Despite somewhat widespread anti-ban sentiment, Canada’s governing Liberal Party has announced it will continue to create laws to arbitrarily and quickly ban new gun designs as it works to weaken citizens, destroy the firearms industry and kill modern shooting sports.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on May 1 after ordering mass rifle confiscations that the new “ever-evolving” classification-prohibition system will be “renewed constantly” to stop companies from selling certain models. And Minister Bill Blair said the new, flexible “evergreen framework for gun classifications” will allow the Liberals to “respond quickly” to block manufacturers from selling new designs.
A Tough Decision
On a personal level, the ban puts Johnson, an AR-15 owner, in a very bad situation with a big decision to make.
“I don’t know yet what I’ll do,” he said. “My intention is to keep it. I don’t want to go to jail. I will have to make a very difficult choice of how I respond because I do believe in standing up for principal, I do believe in standing up for what’s right, I do believe in standing up for freedom—that’s why I do what I do. But, I also don’t want to go to jail. A lot of us are going to have to make a difficult choice in terms of our next steps.”
Be sure to check in with FirearmsNews.com for more updates on the firearms ban situation in Canada, additional information on this subject can be found in the following articles:
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for the past 20 years.