Federal gun control bill receives both criticism and support

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The federal government’s proposed new firearm control legislation is all “smoke and mirrors” that will do nothing to reduce gun violence, says MP Alex Ruff.

The Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Conservative politician said the Liberals’ Bill C-21 targets the wrong people – going after law-abiding firearm owners instead of containing measures to get guns out of the hands of criminals and gangs and address an uptick in gun violence that’s mainly occurring in Canada’s big cities.

“It’s just partisan virtue-signalling to say we’re doing something to make you feel safer for those Canadians that are living in urban centres that are facing drive-by shootings and gun violence,” he said Friday.

“To me, let’s focus on the real issues – focus on the crime, focus on the gangs, focus on the drugs, focus on the illegal smuggling and even focus on poverty. That will achieve way more than going after our sport shooters, our farmers and our hunters.”

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Government officials say the legislation, tabled Wednesday, will build on measures already in place to protect Canadians from gun violence, including a federal ban on 1,500 models of “assault-style” firearms and funding to support prevention and enforcement efforts to tackle gun-related violence and gang activities.

While organizations like the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, Canadian Shooting Sports and some gun control advocacy groups have criticized the legislation by saying it doesn’t address the criminal misuse of guns, others like Canadian Doctors for Protection From Guns and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police have voiced support for the bill.

Locally, Owen Sound Police Service Chief Craig Ambrose said he thinks the legislation is important and he’s happy to see proposed changes aimed at combating the illegal importation and trafficking of firearms.

“I think that will reduce the number of illegal firearms that find their way into communities and hopefully that then reduces the number of crimes that are committed with those weapons,” he said.

But he said it’s too early to say if the bill’s measures are enough to curb gun violence.

Along with increasing criminal penalties for gun-smuggling and trafficking, the legislation would allow municipalities to ban handguns within their jurisdictions.

The Liberal government says it will also launch a voluntary buyback program to purchase the “assault-style” firearms it classified as prohibited in May.

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To combat intimate partner and gender-based violence and self-harm involving firearms, the federal government says Bill C-21 would also create “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws to allow people, such as concerned friends or relatives, to apply to the courts for the immediate removal of a person’s firearms.

Jon Farmer, supervisor of The Men’s Program, which provides services in Grey-Bruce to end gender-based violence, said any legislation that specifically addresses intimate partner violence is a good thing.

Proposed changes in Bill C-21 could help to reduce the lethality of gender-based violence, he said, noting a 2018 report by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability found that in cases where information was available, 34 per cent of killings involving women and girls in Canada involved firearms.

He said firearms can also be used by abusive partners as tools for intimidation.

But the proposed legislation is not a cure-all for the problem, he said, as guns are not the cause of gender-based violence.

Such violence is a societal and systemic problem that must be addressed over the long-term by shifting beliefs around equality and equipping people with the tools to have safe and healthy relationships and resolve conflict in respectful ways, he said.

“That speaks to widespread education and skill-building. Prevention is always going to be better than response, but until we’ve been successful in that, we’re still going to need effective responses to situations of risk and harm,” he said.

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Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy said he’s surprised the legislation proposes allowing municipalities to adopt their own handgun ban bylaws.

“Clearly, these types of regulations are federal jurisdiction, so I’m not sure why they would be trying to give away decision-making or maybe downloading it to someone else to have to make,” he said.

“I don’t really see how transferring this to municipal decision-making deals with gun violence in a better way than if it was done nationally.”

It could result in a patchwork of bylaws across the country, he said.

Ruff said the government is “totally ignoring provincial jurisdiction” by including the bylaw proposal. Alberta and Saskatchewan have already passed legislation barring municipalities from making their own gun laws, he said.

Ruff said the Liberals have also been contradictory in their statements about Bill C-21. Government officials have spoken about the dangers of the prohibited firearms, while, on the other hand, proposing a buyback program that’s voluntary and allows lawful owners of the guns to keep but not use, transport or sell them.

The bill also comes in the same week as the government tabled Bill C-22, which would repeal mandatory minimum penalties for several firearms offences.

“They’ve put out two bills in the span of a few days that are actually working to, in my view, do more to increase potential gun crime in the country,” he said.

Costs of the buyback program are also unknown, he said. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says it could cost $300 to $400 million, while some experts estimate it will swell to more than $1 billion.

Ruff said money would be better spent on measures to crack down on gun smuggling into Canada.

“We have about 117 land-crossing points in the country. So give them all a million bucks. That would only cost you $117 million to either hire more agents, more law enforcement, put it into surveillance equipment, dogs, whatever you need to actually target the illegal smuggling of mainly handguns coming into the country,” he said.

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