Gun control and the Toronto Star

“Tories delist sniper rifles, self-loading weapons,” says the front-page Toronto Star headline, followed by text in the body of the story claiming that such weapons will be “declassified” under the Conservatives’ bill to kill the long-gun registry.

It’s unclear exactly what the Star means here by “delist” and “declassify.” Currently, firearms in Canada are classified three ways: as non-restricted; restricted; or prohibited. Roughly speaking, most rifles and shotguns are non-restricted; restricted firearms include many handguns, and rifles or shotguns that are deemed to be too short; and prohibited firearms include automatic rifles, as well as some handguns. The Tories aren’t reshuffling how various firearms will be classified. A gun that was non-restricted previously will remain so. What’s changing is that gun-owners will no longer have to register non-restricted rifles.

The Star lists several examples of firearms its says will soon be “freed from the binding controls that now see them listed with the RCMP-run database.” It’s a little more complicated than that.  

One example given by the Star is the “powerful Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle used in the 1989 Montreal massacre and this summer’s Norway bloodbath.” The gun is actually less powerful than most deer rifles, but never mind. A case can be made that all semi-automatic rifles should be restricted because of the speed with which they can be fired multiple times. But the Mini-14 is not uniquely dangerous, and bolt-action rifles have also been used in massacres. According to the RCMP, there are two versions of the Mini-14. One is restricted because of its short barrel length. The other is non-restricted.

Also listed by the Star is the “menacing” IMI Tavor TAR-21 assault rifle. I’m not sure what’s menacing about it — maybe its appearance, all black and futuristic. I can’t find a reference to it being used in a murder in Canada. Its high price tag likely puts it out of the reach of many would-be killers. In an interview with Maclean’s, the RCMP said one version of the gun is non-restricted; other versions are either restricted or prohibited.

Finally, the Star lists two sniper rifles: the LII5A3; and the Steyr-Mannlicher HS .50. The RCMP says these are indeed classified as non-restricted. One could argue that they should be restricted based on the long range from which they can kill. But such high-end large calibre sniper rifles simply don’t feature in the history of gun violence in North America — even when victims were methodically targeted and shot from a distance, such as in and around Washington, D.C. in 2002. Regular hunting rifles can also kill from several hundred metres away. Singling out specialized sniper rifles as a threat is based more on emotion and gut reaction than evidence.

It’s worth repeating that Bill C-19 doesn’t change how firearms are classified. It would have been just as easy to purchase any of the non-restricted firearms highlighted by the Star when the Liberals were in office as it is today, and will be after the long-gun registry is eliminated. Those wishing to prevent Canadians from owning such firearms are attacking the wrong legislation.