Nova Scotia

2 types of guns N.S. shooter used in rampage now banned in Canada

Two types of firearms used by a gunman who recently took the lives of 22 people in Nova Scotia are on a list of more than 1,500 "military-style assault weapons" that were banned in Canada on Friday, said the country's public safety minister.

New rules target legal gun market, but the N.S. gunman’s firearms were obtained illegally, many from the U.S.

A memorial in Portapique, N.S., is shown on April 26, 2020. Two firearms the gunman had were banned in Canada on Friday, as part of a new ban on assault-style firearms. (Héloise Rodriguez-Qizilbash/CBC)

Two types of firearms used by a gunman who recently took the lives of 22 people in Nova Scotia are on a list of more than 1,500 "military-style assault weapons" that were banned in Canada on Friday, said the country's public safety minister.

Police have said the gunman had several semi-automatic handguns, as well as two semi-automatic rifles, but haven't specified the calibre of those firearms or whether any of them had modifications.

On Friday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair declined to identify the weapons, saying that should be left to the RCMP.

"But I can tell you that every firearm begins legally and then moves into an illegal market," he said.

"And I can say with some confidence that the two long-guns that were involved in that investigation, without identifying them, are included on today's list."

RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell shows a map tracking the gunman's movements during the rampage on April 18 and 19. (CBC)

The changes, which took effect immediately on Friday, mean the weapons can't be legally used, sold or imported in Canada.

Both Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referenced the Nova Scotia shootings in their remarks, with Blair saying it "deepened our resolve to move forward as quickly as possible" to introduce regulations.

RCMP believe gunman got most firearms from U.S.

But it's unclear how such a ban could have prevented the Nova Scotia gunman from obtaining the weapons he used, if at all.

That's because Friday's announcement targets legally-purchased firearms and investigators have said they have a "fairly good idea" that the gunman didn't have any kind of licence to possess firearms in Canada.

Investigators have said they believe all but one of the gunman's weapons were obtained outside of Canada, in the United States.

Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair spoke to reporters on Parliament Hill on Friday 3:01

Irvin Waller, an emeritus professor at the University of Ottawa and author of the book, Science and Secrets of Ending Violent Crime, doesn't think the ban would have made any difference had it been passed sooner.

"One of our big problems is that it is always going to be relatively easy to get guns across the border from the United States," he said.

While there is evidence that a ban like the one announced Friday "will save some lives," Waller said it needs to be taken in context with what the government does to reduce handgun violence, which typically accounts for the majority of gun homicides in Canada.

He pointed to the Liberals' promise to tackle demand for handguns by getting to the bottom of why people use them, including youth who are drawn to gang violence.

"When they actually do that, we will see significant reductions in that sort of violence," Waller said.

Scheer blasts ban

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused the Liberals of using the pandemic and the "immediate emotion" from the Nova Scotia shootings to push through "major firearms policy changes."

"Taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals who obtain their guns illegally," Scheer said in a statement.

Earlier this week, RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell acknowledged the gunman had a weapon that could be described as a military-style assault weapon, though he declined to provide further details.

Some witnesses described the gunman as "carrying a long-barrelled weapon," Campbell said, while two people who were shot and survived, including RCMP Const. Chad Morrison, said they were shot with a handgun.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to pass legislation in the coming months to provide 'fair compensation' to people who own the now-banned firearms. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

It's unclear how many of the 22 people died from gunshot wounds and how many perished in several fires the gunman lit.

The structures he torched included his own home and garage in Portapique, N.S. That has made it difficult for police to verify statements from witnesses that indicated he had a "significant" cache of ammunition and weapons, Campbell has said.

Investigators are also piecing together how the gunman obtained weapons from the U.S. and whether anyone helped him.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is "working closely" with the RCMP and its intelligence and criminal investigation teams consider it "a top priority," according to a statement sent by an agency spokesperson late Thursday.

The RCMP didn't respond to questions sent on Friday, after the federal ban was announced.

Ban 'could have a long-term impact,' says professor

Blake Brown, a history professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax who has written and taught about gun control in Canada, said the federal ban likely won't bring international firearms trafficking to a halt.

But, it can prevent the numbers in legal circulation from growing — and Brown said there's certainly a percentage that end up getting moved into illegal circles.

He noted earlier this year, four AR-15 rifles were stolen from a locked safe in an Aylesford, N.S., home. While it's unclear who took them and for what purpose, he said there's a good chance they are now being used in criminal activity.

"If [the ban] reduces the number of those firearms in circulation, even in legal hands, it could have a long-term impact," Brown said.

New list leaves out weapons used in high-profile murders

Although the new federal list is a long one, covering about 1,500 models, Brown noted this doesn't capture the specific weapons used in some high-profile murders.

He pointed to the SKS rifle, a "very cheap," non-restricted weapon that can be bought at many chain hunting and sporting stores for $300 or less.

It was used in the three murders carried out by two young men in northern British Columbia last summer, as well as another Nova Scotian tragedy when military veteran Lionel Desmond killed his wife, his mother, his 10-year-old daughter and himself in 2017.

Trudeau promised to pass legislation in the coming months to provide "fair compensation" to people who own the now-banned firearms.

"You could, for example, have an AR-15 and sell it to the government and then take that money and go buy a gun, which basically has the same characteristics like an SKS," Brown said.

"If you're trying to target semi-automatic weapons … it doesn't seem like they're trying to prohibit all of those, just some of them."

Brown said it might be easier to affect the illegal flow of weapons if the ban captured all semi-automatic weapons based on capability, following the lead of countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.

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About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.