“Ban” on new Canadian weapons is not a ban.
This might sound like a ban for urbanites who are unfamiliar with the labyrinth of Canadian federal arms regulations, and indeed, the government quite deliberately uses the word to describe its recent actions – “prohibitions.”
But the changes announced last week did not, in a meaningful way, constitute a major change in the way Canada treats the purchase, storage and use of firearms as a whole. So if you have supported the “ban” of Ottawa’s new weapons as the end of selling deadly weapons contained in the military … well, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have. A very misleading government message will do it.
Semi-automatic weapons are still legal. Let me say that again. Semi-automatic weapons are still legal.
Firearms in Canada are prohibited (cannot be bought or sold), restricted (legal under certain conditions), or not limited. Fully automatic weapons have been illegal since 1978. Not much has changed there.
What changed, last week, was that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the list of banned weapons in Canada would be expanded to include a number of firearms that were previously restricted and unrestricted. He called this a ban on “military-style assault rifles.”
But that designation has no meaning in Canadian law under the Firearms Act. This, more precisely, the artificial category, is undefined, only useful in perpetuating the false impression that Canada has banned all classifications of firearms when not.
Once again, Canada has not banned semi-automatic weapons. Instead, he has banned nine main models and variants, basically expanding the list of weapons that are banned by around 1,500 models. But there are still many other semi-automatic weapons – such as the military style IWI Tavor, which look just as scary as the newly banned ones – which remain legally valid.
Mr. Trudeau and his ministers covered up these uncomfortable details by sticking to their lines about banning “military-level assault weapons.” A more accurate way to describe what the government is doing is to say that the government arbitrarily prohibits the sale of some semi-automatic, while maintaining the status of others. But the government knows that misleading messages are far more uplifting than the right type. Already, the announcement has received applause from celebrity and progressive America politician.
Indeed, the government believes that the people who are supposed to appeal will not know the difference. That is why Mr. Trudeau can say last Friday that “you don’t need an AR-15 to bring down a deer,” even though hunters in Canada are no longer allowed to use AR-15 (or other limited firearms) for that too. That’s why he could talk about banning “weapons designed to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time” with respect to semi-automatic weapons, even though he actually described fully automatic weapons, which were banned several decades ago.
I point out all this not as someone who has an interest in weapons or in particular understands their appeal, but as someone who doesn’t like the government utilizing knowledge gaps in populations to gain political influence.
One could say that something – that is, banning some semi-automatic weapons under the guise of more general action – is better than nothing. But the argument assumes that law-abiding weapons owners will not only start buying semi-automatic firearms that the government has removed from the list.
It also assumes that the current government has not wasted what might be a useful alliance with legal weapons owners on future plans promised to crack down on gun crime, purchase of firearms for those who do not have licenses and illegal smuggling of weapons from across the border. Evidence-based policies, which are said to be the domain of the Liberals at one time, will suggest prospective steps to be approved by the Parliament will have many greater impact about the number of gun related crimes in Canada.
On weapons, as with most things, political capital is unlimited. The government has decided to make a big splash on arbitrary actions that have incited the owners of legal weapons, but have maintained their semi-automatic legal status and also did not touch the weapons involved in majority crimes involving firearms in Canada. The urge to want to do something after the mass shooting in Nova Scotia earlier this month is understandable. But it deceives Canadians into thinking that the government has banned all semi-automatic weapons that appear threatening and inspired by the military to be inappropriate, or true, or deserve any kind of applause.
If this government will spend some political capital on weapons, it must be done in steps that will really make a difference – and not on marginal movements that can be sold as “prohibitions”.
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