Liberals right to revise scattershot gun-control bill
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A decision last week by the federal Liberals to withdraw a proposed amendment to their gun control bill is an instructive lesson on how not to draft legislation.
The federal government introduced Bill C-21 last May, a proposed law that would ban the sale, transfer or importation of handguns. The bill includes several features to reduce gun violence, including revoking firearm licences from domestic abusers and stalkers. The proposed legislation faced little opposition after it was first introduced.
Where the Liberals stumbled was a decision last fall to amend the bill to expand the definition of prohibited weapons. The proposed changes were confusing and vague, so much so that even experts could not agree on which firearms would fall under the ban.
The additions to the bill drew sharp criticism not only from the gun lobby, but also from Indigenous groups and Opposition parties, who claim the amendment could unfairly target law-abiding hunters.
“I’ve never seen such a groundswell of opposition come really from everywhere all at once,” said NDP MP Alistair MacGregor.
The intent of the amendment was to ensure new models of assault-style long guns are covered under Canada’s list of prohibited weapons. However, the wording of the proposed changes had the unintended consequence of including firearms some may use for hunting.
That led Opposition Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to claim, without evidence, that the Liberals’ amendment was a “deliberate attack on rural and Indigenous people” and an attempt to ban all hunting rifles. The accusation is politically motivated and entirely without merit.
It’s clear the federal government is not trying to ban all hunting rifles. If they wanted to confiscate firearms from hunters, they would bring in legislation banning all long guns. They have not done so, nor have they expressed any intention of moving in that direction.
What all firearms do have in common is they can be used to maim and kill. For that reason, Canadians expect guns to be highly regulated… But changes should also be made carefully, methodically and based on evidence.
What is obvious is the Liberal government, in its zeal to crack down on assault-style weapons, failed to follow proper procedure before proposing changes to complex firearm regulations. They did not do their homework. The Liberals proposed significant amendments to Bill C-21 during the committee stage of the bill, without conducting the necessary due diligence. They failed to consult with independent experts and stakeholders to ensure firearms used legitimately for hunting were not inadvertently included in an expanded definition of prohibited weapons. It was sloppy work.
Gun control is a complex area of public policy and a politically charged one. The definitions of prohibited and restricted weapons in Canada are highly technical and are not easily understood by the general public. The lines between civilian use of firearms and what should be limited to military or law enforcement application are sometimes blurred.
What all firearms do have in common is they can be used to maim and kill. For that reason, Canadians expect guns to be highly regulated, including prohibitions on firearms capable of killing multiple people in short bursts. Amendments to firearm legislation should reflect that. But changes should also be made carefully, methodically and based on evidence.
When they are not, when they are rushed and made without proper consultation, they are less likely to find support among Canadians. They are also more susceptible to political manipulation and fearmongering, the kind peddled by Conservative MPs in recent weeks.
Canada needs effective firearm legislation that balances the need to reduce gun crimes with the rights of civilians to use firearms for legitimate purposes. The federal Liberals were right to withdraw their ill-conceived amendment. They should now go back to the drawing board and get it right.