Liberals promise to prohibit semi-automatic assault rifles, allow cities to ban handguns

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says a re-elected government would ban semi-automatic assault weapons and allow municipalities to restrict, or prohibit, handguns.

Buyback program for quarter-million weapons could cost up to $600 million

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced new gun control measures today. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says a re-elected Liberal government would ban semi-automatic assault weapons and enable municipalities to restrict or prohibit handguns.

Trudeau made the announcement in Toronto's Greektown, the site of a deadly gun rampage last summer.

Faisal Hussain walked through the Danforth neighbourhood on July 22, 2018, shooting at people on the street, on patios and in restaurants.

He killed 10-year-old Julianna Kozis and 18-year-old Reese Fallon. Thirteen others were injured. Hussain, 29, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after a gunfight with police.

"People are dying. Families are grieving. Communities are suffering," Trudeau said, with 20 Liberal candidates standing behind him. "So we're going to do more and we're going to do better. Thoughts and prayers are just not going to cut it. The choice could not be clearer: Liberals are for tougher gun laws, Conservatives are for weaker gun laws."

Trudeau said a re-elected Liberal government would work with the provinces and territories to give municipalities the ability to further restrict – or ban – handguns.

Background materials from the Liberal Party said the semi-automatic assault rifle ban will include the AR-15, a weapon the party says is "specifically designed to inflict mass human casualties and [has] no place in Canadian society."

Fully automatic assault weapons are already banned in Canada.

Trudeau proposes banning assault style rifles

4 years ago
Duration 1:22
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in the Toronto suburb of Don Mills

A Liberal government also would create a buyback program for all semi-automatic assault rifles that were legally purchased, offering owners a fair market price for their weapons and giving law enforcement agencies resources to administer the program. A two-year amnesty would be put in place while the program is being set up.

Bill Blair, who served as the government's pointman on gun control, said there are about 250,000 of the weapons now legally owned, with an average value of about $1,500 each. The buyback program is expected to cost between $400 million and $600 million, he said.

Gun-maker Colt announced Thursday the company is suspending its production of rifles for the civilian market, including the popular AR-15. It said the shift is due to changes in consumer demand and a market already saturated with similar weapons.

No costing details were provided for the campaign promise; the party says that more information will be released "over the course of the campaign."

No costing provided

The federal Liberals are being accused by their rivals of keeping voters in the dark about the cost of their campaign promises. While the Conservatives and New Democrats have had their platforms costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office and publicly released, the Liberals have so far neglected to release PBO estimates for the nearly $4 billion worth of campaign promises they've made so far.

The Liberal gun control platform also promises to:

  • Prevent people suspected of posing a danger to themselves or others, including their partners or children, from possessing or acquiring new firearms.
  • Require that everyone importing ammunition show proof of a valid firearms licence.
  • Strengthen safe-storage laws to make it harder for legal weapons to fall into the hands of criminals.
  • Not bring back the long-gun registry.

Having a valid firearms licence is already a requirement for buying or importing ammunition; the proposed new policy would require gun owners to actually show the licence when importing ammunition.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, whose city has been reeling from eruptions of gun violence, has been calling for a national handgun ban for more than a year, but in August he said he would be happy with a city-wide ban.

"It is a step in the right direction toward tougher gun control," he said Friday afternoon in response to the Liberal proposal.

Asked if he thinks Ontario Premier Doug Ford might try to block such a ban, Tory said the two politicians have a common interest in "saving lives."

He called on the next federal government to take action and make heavy investments to stop the smuggling of handguns from the U.S. into Canada.

Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, said it is "disappointing but typical" for the Liberals to "attack" lawful firearms owners whenever they get into trouble.

"Canada's firearms community is the go-to whipping boy of the Liberal Party, guaranteed to deflect attention away from the latest Liberal scandals," he said in a statement to CBC.

"Trudeau's announcement raises more questions than answers. The Liberals have been unable to define what a military-style assault weapon is, or their role within crime.

"Trudeau's hyperbolic rhetoric is purely designed to whip up public sentiment against our community and deflect from his own electoral problems, despite the statistical evidence that firearms owners are the most law-abiding people in our country ... and apparently unrepresented by the Liberal Party of Canada."

Mixed reaction from gun control group

Heidi Rathjen, coordinator of the pro-gun control group Poly Remembers, had a mixed reaction to the Liberal promises, which she called long overdue.

She praised the semi-automatic rifle ban as "great news, full stop," and praised the buyback program.

"Canadians will be better protected against the risks associated with weapons specifically designed to kill humans rapidly and effectively," she said.

But Rathjen said she is disappointed by the plan to hand over to municipalities the responsibility for banning handguns, calling it inadequate and inefficient.

"All one has to do is look at the glaring disaster south of the border resulting from a patchwork of state and local gun laws, where handguns easily transit from one jurisdiction to another, to see how misguided this approach is," she said in a statement.

"This would also a guarantee protracted and contentious political battle in any municipality that considers further restrictions on handguns, and we doubt there is much appetite in municipalities to face off against the gun lobby when the federal government is clearly unwilling to do so, at least on the issue of handguns."

The policy differences between the Liberals and Conservatives on guns are stark.

In a radio interview in Kitchener earlier this week, Trudeau accused Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer of "being in the pocket" of the gun lobby.

During an event in Saint John today, Scheer called that a "ridiculous accusation" made by a leader mired in scandal and desperate to change the channel.

Very different party positions

"Our plan goes after the real criminals. We're going after illegal firearms, we're standing up for honest Canadians, farmers and hunters, people who use firearms responsibly and legally," he said.

"It's easy to ask law-abiding Canadians to follow more laws. It's harder to go after the criminals and illegal firearms. Conservatives are ready to do the hard work that will actually improve safety in our communities."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau listens to a question at a campaign rally in Saskatoon Sept. 19, 2019. Trudeau is announcing new gun control policies today. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

With files from the CBC's David Cochrane

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now