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Liberal gun-control bill headed to Senate following passage by House of Commons

Almost a year after its introduction, MPs have passed a gun-control bill that would cement restrictions on handguns, increase penalties for firearm trafficking and try to curb homemade ghost guns.

Almost a year after its introduction, MPs have passed a gun-control bill that would cement restrictions on handguns, increase penalties for firearm trafficking and try to curb homemade ghost guns.

The legislation, now in the hands of the Senate, also includes a ban on assault-style firearms that would apply once the bill comes into force.

The House of Commons passed the government bill 207 to 113 with the support of Liberal, NDP, Bloc Québécois and Green members of Parliament.

The Conservatives oppose the legislation, saying it penalizes law-abiding firearm owners instead of targeting criminal gun violence.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in a video posted online after the Commons vote that the measures would save lives. “This is the most significant gun-control legislation in a generation.”

Objections from the Tories and some gun owners over the initial scope of the assault-style firearm ban sparked an uproar that sidelined the bill for months.

The Liberals withdrew a planned amendment to the bill in February that would have spelled out in law the various models to fall under a ban.

They had touted the definition as an evergreen measure that would enshrine in legislation a May 2020 regulatory ban of some 1,500 firearm models and variants, including the AR-15, as well as 482 others flagged subsequently.

The government pulled the measure after weeks of criticism from Conservative MPs and some firearm advocates who said the definition would prohibit many commonly used hunting rifles and shotguns, unnecessarily singling out gun owners.

Under a revamped approach, the government would make regulations through the Firearms Act to ensure that guns are classified correctly before entering the Canadian market.

However, that would not apply to the 482 models left out of the 2020 regulatory ban.

The government plans to revive a firearms advisory committee of interested groups and individuals that will make recommendations on the classification of such guns now on the market.

Upon introducing the bill last year, the Liberals announced a plan to implement a freeze on importing, buying, selling or otherwise transferring handguns to help reduce firearm-related violence. Federal regulations aimed at capping the number of handguns in Canada are now in effect.

The bill contains measures that would reinforce the handgun freeze. The legislation would also allow for the removal of gun licences from people engaged in family violence, as well as increase maximum penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking to 14 years from 10.

Gun-control group PolySeSouvient said Thursday the bill contains some welcome measures to improve the protection of victims of domestic violence from gun violence following a series of amendments passed by the House of Commons public safety committee.

“However, the public safety benefits of other measures rest on yet unknown regulations that will flesh out the details,” said the group, which includes survivors of the 1989 mass shooting at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique.

For example, the freeze on handguns could be seriously undermined by an exemption for those “training, competing or coaching” in an Olympic handgun shooting discipline, as anyone could claim to want to be an Olympic athlete, the group said in a statement.

Related criteria to be set out in regulations will determine whether or not this exemption “will turn into a huge loophole,” PolySeSouvient said.

“Most importantly for us, the bill fails to deliver on the measure repeatedly promised to survivors and families of victims of mass shootings: banning assault weapons.”

The new definition of prohibited weapons in the bill applies only to future models and can be easily circumvented, the group said. “Hundreds of models of military-style weapons remain legal and even non-restricted.”