Canada bans assault-style guns after Nova Scotia rampage

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday banned 1,500 models of military-style assault weapons in Canada, nearly two weeks after the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history.

Canadians are no longer allowed to buy, sell, use, transport or import those types of weapons, Trudeau said. Owners of those guns will have a two-year amnesty period to surrender the weapons, and Parliament will pass legislation to provide them with “fair compensation,” he said.

But gun owners also will have the option to have their weapons "grandfathered" under the new requirements, senior Canadian officials said. They did not provide more details on the buyback program or on grandfathering, which they said are still being worked out.

Officials advised owners not to surrender their firearms to police stations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trudeau's announcement comes after nearly two dozen people were killed April 18 and 19 by a gunman in Nova Scotia, Canada's deadliest mass shooting since the 1989 murders of 14 women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. The Nova Scotia shooter reportedly obtained some of his weapons from the U.S., which has been beset by a series of mass shootings in recent years but has yet to enact significant changes to its national gun laws.

“Their families deserve more than thoughts and prayers," Trudeau said of those affected by last month's shooting. "Canadians deserve more than thoughts and prayers.”

The Nova Scotia shooter didn't have a gun license and thus possessed all of his weapons illegally, a fact Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer seized upon in blasting Trudeau's move.

"Taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals who obtain their guns illegally," Scheer said in a statement. “The reality is, the vast majority of gun crimes are committed with illegally obtained firearms. Nothing the Trudeau Liberals announced today addresses this problem."

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said two of the long guns used by the Nova Scotia gunman are included on the prohibited list.

Liberals vowed in their campaign platform to ban "all military-style assault rifles, including the AR-15," and to institute a buyback program for those weapons while avoiding a long-gun registry — a controversial policy passed under a Liberal government in 1995 that was later scrapped by former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The ban got top billing in Trudeau's mandate letter outlining priorities for Blair, a former Toronto police chief.

Blair said the forthcoming legislation will include "red flag" laws to prohibit individuals considered too dangerous to own guns from obtaining them. It will also include an "evergreen" framework for weapons classification to ensure that any new firearms only enter the market if they're not a variant of a previously prohibited model, he said.

Canadians applying for a firearms license currently must undergo background checks and provide character references. Canada classifies weapons under three categories: prohibited, restricted and non-restricted. Friday's announcement instituted new limits on any firearm that exceeds a certain threshold of power and affects weapons previously classified as restricted or non-restricted.

The firearms now prohibited were chosen based on three characteristics: semiautomatic action with a large magazine capacity, modern design and wide availability in the Canadian market. Cabinet determined that the weapons in question are not suitable for hunting or sporting activities, which a senior official said was the test for today's decision.

"Assault-style" is still undefined for purposes of describing a firearm, the official said.

While the total number of weapons and owners affected by the ban is unknown, it includes approximately 105,000 restricted firearms owned by about 72,000 people, the senior official said, since that category was previously required to be registered.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police will reach out to the 2.1 million gun license holders in Canada, any of whom could own the affected firearms, the senior official said.