Gun owners in Yellowknife say a sweeping firearms ban introduced by the federal government earlier this month unfairly targets law abiding citizens while failing to address the root causes of gun violence in Canada.
“They’re turning us into criminals overnight. It’s not right,” said Robert Anderson, a Nova Scotia-born sport shooter who owns firearms now prohibited under the recent ban.
On May 1, Trudeau’s Liberal government announced that, effective immediately, 1,500 types of “assault-style” firearms would be banned nationwide.
The feds say the move, which came less than two weeks after a gunman took the lives of 22 people in Portapique, N.S., is part of an effort to reduce gun crime and strengthen public safety by halting the sale of “military-style assault” weapons that civilians have no use for.
Anderson, who grew up a short drive from the Maritime town devastated by the April shooting spree, can longer use his AR-15. The gun has now been banned outright. Anderson often used the already restricted firearm at the Yellowknife Shooting Club gun range — effectively the only legal place to operate it under federal regulations prior to this month’s far-reaching ban.
Anderson will have to keep the expensive firearm locked in a safe for the next two years — that’s the amnesty period the federal government has set for licensed owners whose firearms now fall under the ban. In the meantime, the government says it will flesh out a promised buyback program. Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair has said that legislation will be crafted as soon as possible to usher in the program.
Anderson, joining a chorus of critics — from gun rights groups to the Conservative Party of Canada — says the ban is a political ploy that hones in on some Canadians’ lack of understanding about firearms.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with pandering for votes,” Anderson told NNSL Media.
The ban has drawn sharp criticism from the Official Opposition, which has questioned the government’s timing in the wake of the Portapique; citing initial RCMP reports that the shooter had obtained most of his guns illegally, sourced from outside of the country.
The ban covers firearms including the M16, AR-10 and Ruger Mini-14 rifle. The Ruger Mini-14 rifle was used in Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique massacre that claimed the lives of 14 women — a catalyst in the nation’s gun control movement.
Anderson said the prohibitions are going after law abiding gun owners who don’t commit crimes, while doing nothing to tackle contributors to gun violence; mainly the flow of illegal firearms from the United States into Canada and mental health factors.
“A lot of people are angry about this,” he said.
Public safety trumps owners’ concerns, says gun control proponent
On the other hand, Lyda Fuller, a city resident and gun control proponent, welcomed the sweeping ban.
“I’m in full agreement that they be banned and I’m actually hoping that it will be the first step in a larger initiative actually, to protect Canadians from gun violence,” said Fuller.
Asked about concerns raised by licensed owners whose firearms are now prohibited, Fuller said public safety takes precedence.
Sherri Aube disagrees.
Living off grid on the Ingraham Trail, she’s a gun owner with years of experience working in the justice system. Aube, who has worked as a deputy sheriff and RCMP dispatcher, said the ban stands to be “detrimental to the Northern way of life,” impacting competitive shooters and hunters alike.
She owns a now-prohibited pump action shotgun.
While she doesn’t hunt herself — she’s a member of the shooting club along with Anderson — Aube said she believes it’s a “a basic human right to be able to feed yourself and there are a lot of traditional hunters that use these guns for hunting and feeding their families.”
Echoing Anderson’s comments, Aube said resources would be better spent investing in social programs that curb firearm violence. She believes banning the long list of guns will only exasperate the issue.
“From my experience in law enforcement, I’ve seen that when the government bans something, it puts it solely in criminal hands,” said Aube.
“If history repeats itself, who do you think are going to be the ones with the sole possession of the firearms should they be banned in Canada,” she continued.
She said the new ban wouldn’t have prevented the tragedy in Nova Scotia.
Before being re-elected last fall, Trudeau pledged to ban “military assault-style” weapons.
Despite concerns raised about its impact on Northern hunters, NWT Liberal MP Michael McLeod said hunters would largely remain unaffected.
The federal government has stated that Indigenous hunters will be exempt from the new prohibitions under Canada’s constitution.
The Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, a lobby group that’s readying a Charter challenge in wake of an “unprecedented attack on the freedom and liberty of Canadian sport shooters and hunters,” according to its website.