On arms, we console ourselves… and we grieve

On the issue of gun control, when we compare ourselves to our American neighbors, we are consoled.

What is happening south of the border is simply delusional. Gun violence has taken the form of an epidemic. And the dramas of the last few weeks particularly strike the imagination.

Five people killed in Texas by a neighbor who practiced shooting in his garden and who got angry when he was told to keep the noise down…

A young teenager who was shot in the head for going to the wrong address in the state of Missouri…

A 20-year-old woman shot dead in New York State because the vehicle she was in drove into the driveway of a house other than the one where she was expected…

We could continue this list for a long time.

This is all the more delusional in that in Washington, meanwhile, the American Congress stubbornly refuses to act consistently.

Here, we take comfort in particular because we live in a country where a majority of federal elected officials are making serious efforts to better regulate the sale and use of firearms.

To deny it would be to lie. Measurable progress has been made in recent years. For example, in 2020, Justin Trudeau issued an executive order banning some 1,500 semi-automatic firearms. A giant step.

Then, in May 2022, he introduced a bill (C-21) which tightened the framework again, in particular by making the program to buy back assault weapons by Ottawa mandatory and by announcing a “national freeze” on handguns (which was introduced by regulation a few months later).

In short, we console ourselves… but not completely. We are also sorry, because since these decisive advances, the file has been going through a zone of turbulence.

Late last year, the Liberal government sought to make the assault weapons ban harder to overturn by giving it the force of law. He proposed amendments to Bill C-21, among other things to include an expanded list of prohibited firearms to be added to the Criminal Code (482 more models).

But the initiative has raised a lot of controversy, especially within Indigenous communities – we even saw Canadian goalkeeper Carey Price come out of his usual reserve to criticize it.

Because the government took everyone by surprise, not consulting anyone about it. And because in his list, there were some models frequently used by hunters.

Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino later made a 180-degree turn. He withdrew the controversial amendments. Pfff… like air escaping from a balloon, the list of 482 new prohibited weapons has disappeared.

Then, last Monday, new amendments to Bill C-21 were introduced. They water down the legislation, much to the dismay of groups that campaign for better gun control like PolySeSouvient. Their members say they are betrayed.

We can understand them. Ottawa has just proposed a new definition of prohibited weapon, specifying that it will only apply to assault weapons “designed and manufactured” after the adoption of the bill.

This means that the 482 models that were once deemed too dangerous to be sold in Canada will not be affected by the law. Instead, the formation of a committee whose members will look into the fate of these firearms is announced.

The strategy is clear: we are shoveling the problem forward.

Especially since such a committee has already existed and its record was not rosy. Four years ago, Nathalie Provost, survivor of the shooting at Polytechnique, had left him with “the feeling of having been used as a moral guarantee for inaction”.

What is also annoying is that the new definition of prohibited weapon specifies that we will prohibit models designed “originally with high capacity magazines of six cartridges or more”. However, many have pointed out that it will be easy for manufacturers to sell larger capacity magazines to firearm owners in the future for models that will be “originally” designed with a magazine of a maximum of five cartridges.

In Ottawa, a government source familiar with the matter, however, indicates that this breach should be closed in the coming months.

Wondering why the Liberals scaled back their ambitions? The answer is in three letters: NDP.

Jagmeet Singh’s party, following last year’s controversy, has deflated. Probably for fear of scaring away too many voters. And the Liberals persist in wanting the support of both the NDP and the Bloc for this bill.

But the Liberals should learn more from the Bloc than from the NDP.

MP Kristina Michaud called for the immediate ban, by decree, of almost all of the 482 weapons that the government wanted to ban last year. She believes that only the others, a handful of “military-style assault weapons reasonably used for hunting”, should be evaluated – quickly – by the advisory committee that is to be created.

It is certainly an example of a reasonable compromise that would dispel the nagging impression that the Liberal government is in the process of completing a very, very important, but still too incomplete, reform.

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