The federal government’s promised national “freeze” on the sale, purchase and transfer of handguns takes effect Friday — part of Ottawa’s plan to limit access to firearms to tamp down on a spike in crime.
Under the regulations, people can still own and use their existing registered handguns and sell or transfer handguns to “exempted individuals or businesses.”
Requests to transfer a handgun submitted before today’s date will still be processed, the government said.
Authorized businesses can continue to import and sell handguns to other eligible businesses (like museums and the movie industry, among others), law enforcement, defence personnel and other exempted individuals.
According to the government, exempted individuals include anyone who already holds an authorization to carry handguns — which requires permission from the Canadian Firearms Program of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — and people who train, compete or coach in a handgun shooting discipline that is a program of the International Olympic Committee or the International Paralympic Committee.
Everyone else won’t be able to legally buy a handgun after Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed the freeze at a stop in Surrey, B.C. on Friday. He said the new restrictions will make communities safer by limiting the number of firearms in circulation.
“When people are being killed, when people are being hurt, responsible leadership requires us to act,” Trudeau said. “We’ve seen too many examples of horrific tragedies involving firearms.”
Reading from a list of statistics, Trudeau said the number of handguns in Canada has increased roughly 70 per cent since 2010.
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The number of firearms-related homicides has gone up some 40 per cent since 2011 and handguns were the weapons most commonly used to carry out these crimes, Trudeau said.
Trudeau said these regulations are designed to curb handgun-related homicides and reduce the number of domestic violence, suicide and self-harm incidents.
Reducing firearm-related crimes
Eileen Mohan is the mother of a 16-year boy who was inadvertently killed in Surrey, B.C. during a wave of gang-related violence in 2007. She said the Liberal government’s gun laws are “not popular” with some groups who prefer a more permissive approach to firearms.
But that should signal the changes will have a meaningful impact on public safety, she added.
“Leaders are not chosen to make people happy. They’re there to be leaders for the future generation. The Liberal government has chosen life over death,” she said.
“If tomorrow I die, I know that my son’s death wasn’t in vain. I’m rejoicing that I’m seeing this day.”
Firearms rights groups and the opposition Conservatives have criticized the freeze, saying the move targets law-abiding citizens and businesses rather than illegal and smuggled guns.
Tracey Wilson, a spokesperson for the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights (CCFR), said this firearms freeze was rolled out today to serve as a “distraction to a scandal-ridden government.”
A sales “freeze” like this will not be effective because legally owned handguns already face onerous federal regulation, Wilson said.
Freeze ‘serves no purpose,’ says CCFR
Under current Canadian firearms law, handguns are already classified as a “restricted” (or, in some cases, a “prohibited”) firearm, which means they can only be used at RCMP-approved shootings ranges. Only licensed owners who have passed a course that covers the safe handling, transportation and storage of restricted firearms can legally possess a handgun.
“The CCFR condemns the actions of the Liberal government today. This perfectly timed move by Trudeau, to implement the handgun ‘freeze’ on 650,000 licensed, RCMP-vetted gun owners, serves no purpose other than to energize their base,” she said.
In the face of this criticism, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Ottawa’s policy is not just about firearms bans or a freeze. The government is also directing more money at the border to interdict the many guns that pour across the Canada-U.S. boundary each year, he said.
WATCH | Opposition MPs weigh in on the national handgun freeze:
Trudeau said the government intercepted nearly twice the number of illegal guns coming across border as they did in the previous year.
But that statistic may not be all that informative because there was so little cross-border traffic in 2020 — the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The handgun freeze is part of a broader firearms-control package — the government’s Bill C-21, which is currently before Parliament. It would allow for the automatic removal of gun licences from people committing domestic violence or engaged in criminal harassment, such as stalking, and would increase maximum sentences for gun smuggling and trafficking to 14 years from 10.
Concerns about exemption for sport shooters
The firearms regulations in place as of today allow elite sport shooters to continue to buy handguns — an exemption some want expanded to include a wider range of recreational shooters.
The government says the exemption applies to about 8,000 athletes, a number that could rise significantly if it is broadened.
Wes Winkel, president of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association, told the Commons public safety committee this week that other competition shooters should be exempted from the proposed legislative provisions.
He suggested they should include participants in international competitions organized by the Single Action Shooting Society, the International Practical Shooting Confederation and the International Defensive Pistol Association.
Gun-control group PolySeSouvient said in a written brief to the committee that the exemption should be limited to current athletes that compete, train or coach in an Olympic or Paralympic discipline involving handguns in order to prevent “a future scenario which would render the freeze on new handguns meaningless.”
Asked about possible new exemptions, Trudeau said it would “surprise me” if Bloc Quebecois or NDP members of the Commons committee move to water down the provisions in the bill.
Justice Minister David Lametti, speaking in Montreal on Friday, criticized any effort to ease the handgun freeze.
“It is worrisome and even shocking to see an attempt of reducing the extent of this bill and giving more space to handguns,” Lametti said in French, adding the goal is to shrink “the number of handguns in our streets.”
Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said Friday the fact the Liberals’ handgun freeze is taking effect while a parliamentary committee studies the accompanying legislation “shows they’re not serious about consulting experts.”
“We are in the midst of an extensive committee study into their current legislation on gun control and we are hearing from experts across the country that there is clearly a division on what experts believe should be done about firearms,” she said.
The Liberals are politicizing the issue and the freeze will not reduce gun violence, Dancho added.