Ross Faulkner, owner of The Gun Dealer, “Atlantic Canada’s largest firearms dealer,” gets more and more strident the longer the phone interview goes on. He makes his points over and over again, as if not convinced I can understand, and sometimes he speaks as if there were a full stop after each word, which gives his speech a staccato rhythm.
He is clearly upset and also indignant. He tells me his storefront was already closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then on top of that, overnight, his inventory had become “worthless.”
“Can’t move it. Can’t ship it. Can’t sell it. Can’t transport it. Can’t do anything,” he says.
Faulkner called his suppliers and asked if they would take his firearms inventory back. “They all laughed,” he says. “They’re not taking them back.”
Faulkner, who operates The Gun Dealer with his son in McAdam, New Brunswick, says he’s worried that new federal gun controls will drive Saskatchewan and Alberta to “say bye-bye” and exit Canada. And if they do, he figures he and other legal firearms owners will head west too.
We’re not staying. We’re not staying down here with these stupid firearms laws. I know that if Alberta or Saskatchewan separates, we’re gone. We’re going where it’s firearms-friendly. This is crazy. Crazy.
1,500 firearms banned
I’d given Faulkner a call to get his reaction to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s May 1 announcement about an Order-in-Council decision to ban more than 1,500 firearms in Canada.
Trudeau had prefaced the announcement with a tribute to the victims of the April 18 and 19 mass shooting in Nova Scotia, saying:
Last week, 22 Canadians were killed in the deadliest rampage in our country’s history. They were nurses and teachers, correctional officers and RCMP officers. They were someone’s child, someone’s best friend, someone’s partner. Their families deserve more than thoughts and prayers. Canadians deserve more than thoughts and prayers.
Today we are closing the market for military grade assault weapons in Canada. We are banning 1,500 models and variants of these firearms by way of regulations. These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only, to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time. There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada.
Saying, “you don’t need an AR-15 to bring down a deer,” Trudeau then delivered this statement:
Effective immediately, it is no longer permitted to buy, sell, transport, import or use military grade assault weapons in this country.
Semi-automatic handguns are not included on the list of banned firearms. (A brief history of gun control and mass shootings in Canada since 1960 is provided at the end of this article).
Assault weapons or sporting carbines?
Faulkner, who stocks some of the now-banned semi-automatic firearms in his store, says he doesn’t understand the rationale for the ban or the terminology being used.
The government said there was military assault rifles. We don’t understand that term. Obviously military assault rifles were banned. They are fully automatic rifles, with magazine capacities of 20, 30, or more, and are used by military only. And they’ve been banned from civilian use since 1977.
I’ll repeat: the models, we do not carry any military assault style weapons. We carry sporting carbines, which are semi-automatic, not fully automatic rifles. And to imply that these weapons are made to just shoot people and fire a mass amount of bullets is misleading the public totally. These rifles are pinned to five shots only! That is the law in Canada!
As for the “military grade assault weapons” that Trudeau’s government had just banned, Faulkner insists that:
They do not in any way meet what the Canadian military would want. They are not military weapons, because no military would ever use one of these on a battlefield. They only use fully automatic weapons with large capacity magazines, which these are not!
In Canada, we have classifications of firearms. We have non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited. Many of these [that had just been banned] are restricted, so they are used at shooting ranges for the purpose of target practice. They are not allowed … restricted firearms are not for hunting purposes, they are for sports shooting. And they’re … used at approved government ranges.
Faulkner says there have been “little or no incidents at these ranges with these sporting carbines.” Rather, he says, “Where we are seeing incidents is firearms being smuggled in from the United States of America,” and “getting into the hands of unlicensed criminals who are using them in crime.”
“So banning legal firearms from legal firearms owners would in no way ever stop the terrible, unthinkable tragedy that happened in Nova Scotia,” Faulkner says.
The man in Nova Scotia did not have a firearm licence. He obtained his guns illegally. How does punishing legal firearms owners help the province when you don’t deal with the illegal firearms criminals? How does it help? Could you explain it to me? Because I’m 63 years old and I can’t figure it out.”
“Weapons of war”
Seeking another perspective, I turned to Dr. Najma Ahmed, a trauma surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto and co-founder of Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns (CDPG). She says there are more than 500 healthcare specialists in the group, which formed in February 2019 to advocate for “preventive tools to reduce gun use” and its “consequences on youth violence, domestic abuse, and suicide.”
In a phone interview, I asked Dr. Ahmed how, when firearms are obtained illegally as they were in the case of the mass shooting in Nova Scotia, a ban on legally obtained weapons could improve public safety. And why, as Ross Faulkner asked, should law-abiding gun owners be punished by having their legal weapons outlawed? Her reply:
The evidence is very, very clear that the more guns there are in society, the more gun deaths there are in society. So that’s one [way].
Two, if gun owners want to be legal gun owners then they should obey the law. The current law is that you cannot buy, sell, resell, transport, transfer, or lend any of those prohibited weapons. That’s the law. So if one keeps saying they’re law abiding, then as law-abiding citizens they obey the law.
Thirdly, many, many women … specifically, speaking of domestic homicides, the vast majority of those homicides are committed with legal guns.
Fourthly, the most frequent cause of gun death in Canada is suicide. And almost all of those are committed with legal guns that are in people’s homes.
Finally, and it’s a little bit difficult to know the exact number because it fluctuates year to year, but probably a third to 50 percent of gun crimes are committed with guns that are not smuggled across the US–Canada border, but were originally sourced in Canada, like the gun that was used on the Danforth shooting [in Toronto]. That was a legal gun that was stolen from a gun shop … It wasn’t smuggled across the border. So they’re stolen or they’re bought legally and then sold into the illegal market, so-called “straw purchases.”
Ahmed tells me her concerns about gun violence developed over two decades of working as a trauma surgeon, and having to deal first-hand with the suffering it causes, particularly when semi-automatic weapons are involved.
First of all, there is a terrible loss of life because they’re very lethal weapons. They’re meant to kill and they’re very effective. So over the years, I’ve told so many mothers and so many partners and so many children that their loved one is dead, that it is very, very heart wrenching to sit with families.
… these are very, very powerful weapons. And even when people survive, they require multiple operations, weeks and weeks in the ICU, months in the hospital, years in rehab. And they’re never really the same. And so those patients have stayed in my practice over the years and I see the devastation that is for them. They survive, but their families are never the same. They live with emotional problems. They often don’t go back to work or go back to school. They have chronic pain issues. So I think that these are the things that over the years have propelled me to think that something must be done.
Ahmed disputes claims from critics of the ban that semi-automatic weapons have a legitimate place in the hands of civilians.
These are weapons that have capacity for doing maximum damage, killing the most number of people in the shortest period of time … they’re not intended for hunting or sporting. They’re modeled [after] or meant to emulate weapons of war. They’re military style assault style weapons, and that is the exactly correct descriptor of them … And you don’t want to get in the way of that. There’s no reason why any civilian needs to have access to that. They’re weapons of war. They’re not meant for civilian life. They’re very different, of course, than hunting rifles.
Animals don’t shoot back
Cliff Seruntine is an experienced hunter who teaches foraging and wilderness skills in northern Nova Scotia. He firmly opposes the use of semi-automatic firearms for hunting. In a Facebook message he tells me:
From my own conversations with hunters at the shooting ranges, I infer they think a semi-auto is going to increase their odds of success by offering quick follow-up shots if they miss the first time. Honestly, that freaks me out. The thought of someone planning to empty a clip at an animal is mind-boggling. It will only lead to a wounded animal and risk shots flying off for potentially miles to who knows where, which puts people in danger … if you miss your first shot, you should let the animal flee and try again when the next one comes by. That’s the way to ensure a quick, clean kill for the animal and everyone else’s safety.
When people call semi-auto centerfires “sporting carbines,” I’d have to ask what sport? In what kind of hunt does one actually benefit from using a carbine? There is no good answer. Animals don’t shoot back. Only the first shot matters. How is it sporting in any way to use a carbine?
Seruntine owns four firearms, each with a different use, none semi-automatic. One is a black powder rifle for early season, with which he usually takes his first deer. He continues:
It’s safe in that I can’t imagine a mass shooter would ever use one, or could ever use one, for a mass shooting because of the long and complex reload procedure. With practice, it’s good to a couple hundred meters, plenty for our dense Nova Scotia country. For later in the season, I use a bolt action .308. It is also plenty for deer, and is more reliable as the wet snow and rain of early winter comes in the rifle season. I have a double barrel shotgun for hunting hares and grouse, and removing the pigeons that ruin the hay in my barn, and a .22 bolt action rimfire for the same purpose. Which I use mainly depends on my mood. If I am hunting in thick woods or shooting flying pigeons, the shotgun is the way to go. If I am taking hares at range, the .22 is fine.
Seruntine says he supports the ban on semi-automatic rifles, because:
I am willing to give up something for the greater good of reducing opportunities for mass shootings to occur. The problem isn’t the law-abiding citizens. The problem is the non-law abiding citizens. But since none of us can tell future or read minds, we have no real way to know who that is going to be. That’s just reality.
Holes in the ban
Blake Brown, who teaches courses on gun control and gun culture in the history department at Saint Mary’s University, says there are “a lot of word games” in the gun control debate. In a telephone interview, he told me:
The federal Liberals want to call them “military style assault rifles.” People who support gun ownership really don’t like that. [They] think there’s no such thing as assault rifles. Well, there is. But what we have in Canada doesn’t qualify because they say you have to be able to fire it fully automatically for it to qualify.
So other people will say, ‘well, you can effectively call a semi-automatic AR-15, in which you can very quickly exchange cartridges and continue firing for quite a long time and quite quickly, an “assault rifle.’” But I tend not to advocate using the term, so in my own writing, I sometimes call them “assault style.” People know what you mean. You know, they pretend they don’t, but they do.
Brown says that the government is not banning all semi-automatic rifles the way New Zealand, Great Britain, and Australia did, and that it’s a more “piecemeal” approach, which is problematic.
The other part of this story is that they’ve identified some models of firearms to prohibit, but they’re not catching all semi-automatic rifles here. They’re catching some, so it could be that you’ll have to — depending on the grandfathering — either keep your AR-15 but have it grandfathered in somehow, or sell it back to government. If you sell it back to the government, you may be able to take that money and go buy a firearm, which is functionally pretty much the same.
If you really want to kind of get rid of this [proliferation of semi-automatic firearms], if you’re saying this kind of firearm with this capability is too dangerous to have around, then you probably want to ban all of them, not just these models.
However, the more firearms are included, Brown says, the higher the cost, which may have been a factor in deciding what was banned and what wasn’t.
While the technology of semi-automatic firearms is not new, their popularity has been growing in recent years, and Brown believes the federal government may be trying to “limit the growth of that popularity.”
He notes that there are avenues for legally purchased weapons to get into the illegal market. There is “straw buying,” he says, where someone might buy 10 guns legally and then transfer nine to criminal elements.
Brown also points to the potential for the theft of legal firearms. In January this year, for example, four AR-15 rifles and eight handguns were stolen from a home in Aylesford, Nova Scotia, when the owner was attending his father’s funeral.
Brown, who authored the 2012 book Arming and Disarming the Nation: A History of Gun Control in Canada, takes a scholarly approach to the issue, despite the fact that he is sometimes accused on social media of being a “gun-grabber.”
I grew up in small town Nova Scotia, in Bridgewater. All my brothers-in-law, they’re hunters. My father [is a] longtime gun owner. I actually have no particular interest in … disarming the population. I do have concerns about the failures of the legal infrastructure, the regulatory regime to kind of keep up with changes in the technology that we’re seeing. That’s my big concern.
They’ve banned these numbers of semi-automatic weapons, but there’s going to be other ones out there, including some that have a fairly bloody history … I’m not sure I give the Liberals a great grade on this just because there’s holes in it that really should be filled.
Blake Brown also points out that the heated debate over guns and gun control — even the language used — is nothing new.
The contours of the gun control debate in terms of the arguments people make have been incredibly repetitive for a long, long, long time. I could send you arguments, articles from the 1920s [in which] I don’t think they use the term “law-abiding gun owner,” but essentially they’re saying, “why are you picking on us?”
A reaction to the Nova Scotia tragedy
In his 2018 mandate letter from Prime Minister Trudeau, Bill Blair, who was then Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction and is now Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, was instructed to “play a leading role” in “efforts to reduce gun violence” and specifically to:
Support the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on the passage of Bill C-71, and work together on additional policy, regulations or legislation that could reduce crime involving the use of firearms and keep Canadians safe. You should lead an examination of a full ban on handguns and assault weapons in Canada, while not impeding the lawful use of firearms by Canadians.
A federal government “engagement paper” of October 2018, estimated that there were 900,000 handguns registered to individuals in Canada and “about 100,000 legally owned restricted and prohibited non-handgun firearms — usually rifles and shotguns — registered to individuals. Some of these could have features consistent with what is described as an assault weapon.”
The paper also noted that:
“Assault weapon” is not a legally defined term in Canada’s firearms legislation. Various international jurisdictions use different terms and definitions, often based on physical characteristics. For illustrative purposes, the US Department of Justice has used the following description: “in general, assault weapons are semi-automatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire.”
In Canada, however, it stated that firearm magazines are limited to 10 cartridges for handguns and five for other centre-fired semi-automatic firearms.
Even before the Trudeau government announced the ban on May 1, Angus Reid polls showed that a strong majority of Canadians — 78% — supported a “complete ban on civilian possession of Assault weapons” and that 65% of them “strongly supported” such a ban.
Only 22% opposed a ban on assault weapons, of whom just 11% “strongly opposed” it.
Although these numbers came from a survey undertaken after the mass shooting in Nova Scotia, Angus Reid noted that they were “not very different” from a poll a year earlier.
Blake Brown doesn’t believe the government’s decision to ban military grade assault weapons is linked to the shooting in Nova Scotia. He says it is something that has been on the agenda for long time.
I think the Liberals were going to move ahead with it. I think, you know, Trudeau himself has stuck his neck out on this in a way which I would note, many prime ministers have not in the past. You know, often prime ministers would let their justice minister do this because they knew it was a hot potato.
… this was not thrown together at the last minute. Now, there might still be some problems with what was done, but I think it’s pretty clear that they had planned to do this.
Writing about the ban in Policy Options, Brown stated that:
This was not a knee-jerk action, but rather the result of decades of incidents with such weapons. But it’s a half-measure that only bans a percentage of the rifles Liberals claim are dangerous to the public.
The gun lobby reacts
Nevertheless, there have been widespread claims by critics of the ban that Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberal government are taking advantage of the mass shooting in Nova Scotia to push their political agenda for gun control.
Peter MacKay, a contender for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party, tweeted a video of himself making such a claim and condemning the ban:
As a Nova Scotian, I am outraged that Justin Trudeau is using our tragedy to punish law-abiding firearms owners across Canada.
As Prime Minister, I can guarantee to all Canadians that I will never take advantage of a tragedy like this to push a political agenda.
The gun lobby has also been vocal since the ban, vehemently denouncing it on their websites. The Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights (CCFR) proclaimed:
The four major national lobbies that represent gun owners and firearm businesses, united in the call to have Bill Blair removed from his position as Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness.
CCFR also recommended “that Canadian firearm owners retain their firearms and NOT turn them in to the government,” which sounds like a distinct call to law-abiding gun owners to become non-law-abiding gun owners.
The day after the ban, the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association (CSAAA), which aims “to attain industry stability through self-regulation,” posted this banner headline on its website: SPORTING ARMS INDUSTRY CALLS FOR BLAIR’S REMOVAL.
The Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CSSA) stated on its website that government officials “were unable to provide a working definition of the firearms that were placed on the ‘banned’ list and displayed a shocking ignorance of current laws.”
The National Firearms Association (NFA), which bills itself as “Canada’s firearms voice in Ottawa,” wrote on its website: “Ban Bill Blair.”
The CCFR also says that it is taking the government to court to challenge the ban.
On May 5, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel sponsored a House of Commons e-petition to have the government scrap the Order-In-Council decision to ban the firearms. As of the afternoon of May 7, the petition had 118,821 signatures.
Michelle Rempel is no stranger to pro-gun lobbyists and petitions. In October 2018, the same day that Minister Blair began public consultation on a potential handgun ban, Rempel sponsored a petition to oppose a federal ban on handguns and assault rifles.
Earlier that year, before the Liberals introduced Bill C-71 to bring in more gun control, Rempel accepted birthday gifts from Tracey Wilson, Vice President of Public Relations with CCPR. According to an Ipolitics report, the Liberals asked that the ethics commissioner investigate Rempel, who avoided investigation by returning the gifts — “two CCFR T-shirts, a pistol holder and a pink carrying case for a pistol.”
Rempel has met with Tracey Wilson, a registered lobbyist with the federal government, twice in the past year. Glen Motz, Conservative shadow minister for public safety and emergency preparedness, has met with Wilson three times, most recently on April 29, together with Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, who is also a contender for the leadership of the party. Wilson was also interviewed frequently in the media in the hours and days after the firearms ban was announced.
Blake Brown says that the pro-gun lobby groups are “very loud” in the modern media environment, where they get lots of airtime. However, he says that although they don’t typically divulge the numbers, the membership numbers are generally not that large. He adds:
… even something like the National Firearms Association, maybe even at its peak, its numbers were probably in the tens of thousands. But again, [there are] 2.2 million licensed gun owners [in Canada], [so] most don’t actually belong to these groups.
What comes next?
On May 1, Minister Blair said that, “the banning of these assault weapons is an important step, but let me also acknowledge that we know that there is much more to do.” He pledged:
We will introduce legislation at the first opportunity to fulfill our commitments to Canadians to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening our storage laws, by preventing gun trafficking and smuggling. We will bring in greater control of ammunitions and magazine capacities. And perhaps most importantly, we will bring in red flag laws that allow law enforcement to remove firearms from dangerous situations to make sure that they don’t become deadly. We will empower victims, communities, doctors, families. We will empower Canadians to render their situation safe and where there is firearms in a situation that could be dangerous, we know that situation can become deadly and red flag laws will empower us to keep Canadian safe.
Najma Ahmed of Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns is hopeful that these promises will be kept. She says her group is “elated” by the ban, but would still like to see more done, including:
… further refinements and additions to a comprehensive gun violence prevention program, which includes harm reduction strategies at the point of sale, red flag laws, an effective buyback program, and a comprehensive policy on semi-automatic handguns.
It’s a little bit like treating a sick patient. It’s complicated. And so you have to, there are many aspects of the treatment. We were active in having [Bill] C-71 passed in the Senate. That was an important step. And then we see this ban on 1,500 types of semi-automatic weapons to become prohibited as a very important step, a very important signal and a very important step that Canadians put ourselves firmly in the camp that these are not weapons that are meant for civilian life.
It will require a “multi-pronged approach” to reduce gun deaths and injuries in Canada, Dr. Ahmed says, concluding:
But certainly policies that decrease the proliferation and per capita possession of these guns will make us all safer. It’s not actually rocket science.”
 NPR has put together a useful brief history of the AR-15: “’AR’ comes from the name of the gun’s original manufacturer, ArmaLite, Inc. The letters stand for ArmaLite Rifle — and not for ‘assault rifle’ or ‘automatic rifle.’ ArmaLite first developed the AR-15 in the late 1950s as a military rifle, but had limited success in selling it. In 1959 the company sold the design to Colt. In 1963, the U.S. military selected Colt to manufacture the automatic rifle that soon became standard issue for U.S. troops in the Vietnam War. It was known as the M-16 … When Colt’s patents for the AR-15 expired in the 1970s, other manufacturers began making similar models. Those gun makers gave the weapons their own names, yet the popularity of the AR-15 turned it into a generic term for all types of AR-15-style rifles.”
Cover Photo: Roadside memorial in Portapique to the 22 victims of the mass shooting that began there. Photo: Joan Baxter
|A brief history of gun control and mass shootings in Canada since 1960|
|1968 – 1969: Canadian government creates categories “firearm,” “restricted weapon” and “prohibited weapon.” An “Order-in-Council” can designate weapons as prohibited or restricted. Registration system requires certificate for each restricted weapon.
1976: Bill C-83 introduced to impose stricter penalties for criminal misuse of firearm, prohibit fully automatic firearms, and bring in a licensing system for acquiring or possessing firearms. Bill dies on Order Paper in July.
1977: Bill-C51 passed, which includes new requirements for firearms acquisition certificates, and firearms and ammunition business permits. Fully automatic weapons are prohibited, unless they are registered as restricted before January 1978.
December 6, 1989: A gunman using 30-round magazines in a variant of a semi-automatic unrestricted Ruger Mini-14 rifle shoots and kills 14 women, injuring 13 others, at Montreal’s École Polytechnique. This becomes known as the “Montreal Massacre.” Survivors start a petition to demand stricter laws to prevent military and paramilitary weapons.
1991 – 1994: Bill C-17 brings in changes to the firearms acquisition certificate system, requiring, among other things, more information from and screening of applicants. A major focus is need for controls on military, paramilitary and high-firepower guns, including prohibition of large-capacity cartridge magazines for automatic and semi-automatic firearms.
1995: Bill C-68, introduced in 1993, results in the Firearms Act, brings in a new licensing system and Firearms Registrar, requiring a licence to possess and acquire firearms and ammunition, and registration of all firearms, including non-restricted shotguns and rifles. The registry will become known as the “long-gun registration program.”
March 3, 2005: Gunman shoots and kills four RCMP constables in Mayerthorpe, Alberta. He possessed several weapons, including a Heckler & Koch .308 semi-automatic rifle that he had purchased legally from someone in the 1980s, before it became prohibited in 1995.
2012: Stephen Harper’s majority Conservative government pass Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, and end the long-gun registry. Non-restricted firearms no longer need to be registered, existing records are to be destroyed.
June 14, 2014: Anti-government gunman shoots five RCMP officers in Moncton, New Brunswick, killing three and severely injuring two. An independent review finds he had five non-restricted firearms, and was carrying an M305 semi-automatic .308 Winchester (7.62x51mm) rifle with one five-round magazine and two prohibited 20-round magazines. He legally bought the gun in 2009 and had a valid firearms certificate.
2015: Conservative government introduces Bill C-42, Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, loosening many regulations on firearm transport and licensing.
January 29, 2017: An Islamophobic attack by a gunman on a mosque in Quebec City killing six and wounding five others. The shooter was trying to use a legal CZ 858 semi-automatic assault rifle with illegal magazines that could have fired 30 rounds each, but it jammed, so he resorted to a semi-automatic handgun.
July 22, 2018: A gunman opens fire on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue, killing two and injuring 13, using a Smith & Wesson M&P .40-calibre handgun, stolen from a gun store in Saskatchewan in 2016.
June 21, 2019: Bill C-71 An Act to Amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms receives Royal Assent, which, among other things: expands background checks from preceding five years to lifetime history before granting applicants licenses to own firearms; requires sellers to verify validity of firearms licence before selling a non-restricted firearm, and; helps police trace guns used in crimes by requiring businesses to keep point-of-sale records for non-restricted firearms.
April 18 – 19, 2020: A gunman kills 22 people in Nova Scotia, using semi-automatic handguns and rifles. RCMP say that he had no gun licences, and only one of his weapons came from Canada; the remaining came from the US.
May 1, 2020: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces ban of 1,500 types of military grade assault weapons in Canada.
The Halifax Examiner is an advertising-free, subscriber-supported news site. Your subscription makes this work possible; please subscribe.
Some people have asked that we additionally allow for one-time donations from readers, so we’ve created that opportunity, via the PayPal button below. We also accept e-transfers, cheques, and donations with your credit card; please contact iris “at” halifaxexaminer “dot” ca for details.