(CNN) — The Canadian government proposed legislation Tuesday that would allow local communities to ban handguns, but it backed away from supporting a national handgun ban.
“These are the strongest measures to fight gun violence our country has ever seen,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a news conference Tuesday in the capital, Ottawa.
Trudeau’s Liberal government is making good on both a 2019 election promise for stricter gun control and an announcement last May, when Canada banned the sale of military-style assault weapons and promised more legislation would follow.
That pledge came after the deadliest mass shooting in Canada’s history, in which a heavily armed gunman dressed as a police officer killed 22 people in a shooting spree that terrorized residents of rural Nova Scotia.
The legislation, which would still take months to become law, also introduces a voluntary buyback program for the estimated 150,000 to 200,000 legally-owned assault-style weapons in Canada. Owners of the now-prohibited firearms can still choose to keep them, although they could no longer use them as guns and they would be subject to strict licensing and storage laws.
Trudeau acknowledged there would be political fallout from both sides of the gun control debate. The mayors of Canada’s two largest cities, Toronto and Montreal, have advocated for a national handgun ban as gun violence worsens in those cities.
In a statement obtained by CNN, Toronto Mayor John Tory said city staff are reviewing the new set of proposed laws and that the city welcomes the federal government’s efforts to curb gun violence. But Tory also restated his city’s support for a national handgun ban.
“Toronto City Council has been clear that it supports a national handgun ban. The federal government has said the changes announced today would allow municipalities to ban handguns and include federal penalties for those who violate local bylaws. The City looks forward to receiving details from the Government of Canada on how such a ban would work and what its impact would be on gun violence,” Tory said in the statement.
Federal government officials said cities cannot act alone and that provincial governments, several of which have indicated they do not support banning handguns, would have ultimate jurisdiction.
Law enforcement officials say random gun violence in Canadian cities continues to worsen, with deaths increasingly linked to gang violence.
A teenage girl was killed in a drive-by shooting earlier this month in Montreal, prompting the mayor to again call for a national handgun ban.
“Obviously there are political elements in this but the core of why we are doing this, the core of why Canadians want this done, is to keep our communities safe. In Canada people can use guns for hunting and for sport shooting, not for personal protection. And there is no need (for) military-style assault weapons anywhere in this country,” said Trudeau.
In his news conference, Trudeau highlighted a key component of the new set of laws, the “red flag” and “yellow flag” provisions. He said they would help combat intimate-partner and gender-based violence by allowing people to apply to the courts to order the removal of a person’s firearm or to suspend their gun license.
Gun control advocates noted that while the proposed legislation is comprehensive, it does not go far enough.
“This is imperfect legislation but a very Canadian approach to addressing a complex issue,” Dr. Philip Berger, senior adviser to Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, said in a statement. He added, “To make the further changes still necessary, the 80% of Canadians who support gun control need political parties other than the Liberals to step up and be accountable.”
If passed, the new law would also forbid the altering of the cartridge magazine component of a firearm and would ban depictions of violence in firearms advertising. There would be tighter restrictions on imports of ammunition and a ban on the import, export, sales and transfers of all replica firearms.
Canada’s Conservative Party denounced the proposed legislation, saying it penalizes lawful gun owners and does not adequately address the issue of guns being smuggled into Canada from the United States.
“I think that Mr. Trudeau misleads people when he tries to suggest that buying things back from hunters and other Canadians who are law-abiding is somehow going to solve the problem of shooting and criminal gang activity in the big cities. It’s ignoring the real problem and it’s dividing Canadians,” Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said in a news conference Tuesday.
In a detailed technical briefing, the government outlined that it would continue to combat gun smuggling and trafficking by stepping up enforcement and increasing penalties. The Trudeau government has also said it will reach out to US President Joe Biden’s administration to find new ways to cooperate on gun smuggling issues along the border.