Prime Minister Stephen Harper says it's "patently ridiculous" to interpret remarks he made last week as suggesting Canadian gun owners should take the law into their own hands.

Speaking to the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities last Thursday, Harper said guns are needed for safety in rural areas.

"My wife's from a rural area. Gun ownership wasn't just for the farm. It was also for a certain level of security when you're a ways from immediate police assistance," Harper said.

His comments drew criticism from a number of politicians, including NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who called them "irresponsible," and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who said the fewer guns in Canada the better.

During a news conference today in Mississauga, Ont., Harper said he wasn't promoting vigilante justice.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper says it's 'patently ridiculous' to interpret recent comments to mean he wants rural Canadians to take the law into their own hands. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

"Gun owners in Canada are not allowed to take the law into their own hands. Nobody here is suggesting they should be able to do that," he said.

"In fact we have had, in many parts of this country, widespread gun ownership for many years, for various reasons including security, without people taking the law into their own hands. So that's just not the reality of the situation."

Harper said Canadian gun policy, which includes the government's proposed Bill C-42 to change some aspects of firearms licences, is "moderate."

"We've got rid of the needless and ineffective long-gun registry because we already register gun owners anyway … we're doing some other things that make gun owners' lives a little bit easier in terms of regulation. These are strong things that we believe in," he said.

"The other parties are clearly anti-gun owners, they've made that very clear, so obviously this is an issue."

New bill still working through the house

Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney unveiled Bill C-42, the "Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act", in July, promising to change rules around transporting firearms, to introduce a six-month grace period for owners to renew their licences and to bring in mandatory safety courses for new owners.

The bill was introduced in the House of Commons in early October and last mentioned Nov. 26, having not yet passed second reading.

The executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association said Harper was talking about Bill C-42 Thursday as a way to let gun owners know that they are still on his radar, while the public safety committee deals with the anti-terror Bill C-51.

"We're a little anxious, however we certainly haven't lost faith in the bill moving forward," said Tony Bernardo in an interview.

"We believe the Harper government will pass the bill by the end of the session. We are getting tight for time, there's no question about that … but certainly not panicking."

Bernardo said he couldn't discuss why he feels the bill would pass before this year's federal election, because he's a member of the government's firearms advisory committee, only saying he's confident it will.

"We're hoping the bill continues moving forward, we don't have any indication that it's not. We're doing what we can to make sure it goes through as quickly and easily as possible," he said.

"It's going to be a good bill for everybody, it doesn't compromise public safety one bit, but it does save taxpayers a lot of money and eases a ridiculous paperwork burden for law-abiding people."