Hunters, sport shooters, and other gun owners in the Lakeland are feeling targeted by the new legislation introduced by the federal government on Feb. 16.
Bill C-21 expands the list of prohibited weapons, increases the maximum penalties for weapons offences, and allows municipalities to pass bylaws restricting storage and transportation of handguns within their borders.
It would also provide $250 million over five years for anti-gang programming, and establishes a “non-permissive storage regime” for gun owners who choose not to participate in the buyback program – the details of which have not yet been released.
According to Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, the legislation “will help build on the practical and targeted measures we have taken to protect Canadians from firearms violence.”
But Lakeland MP and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness critic Shannon Stubbs says the legislation targets law-abiding firearms owners and retailers instead of the criminals and gangs responsible for gun crime.
“The government should be investing in police anti-gang and gun units and the CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] to provide law enforcement with the resources they need to stop illegal smuggling operations and get criminals and gangs off the streets,” said Stubbs.
She noted the Liberals voted against Bill C-238, which would have imposed tougher sentences for people convicted of smuggling or possessing illegal firearms.
Hunters and sport-shooters feel targeted
Darryl Lotoski is the owner of Warehouse Sports in St. Paul. He called the legislation ridiculous and said the Prime Minister and Bill Blair are focused on making honest gun owners in to criminals.
“If Trudeau and Blair would actually answer some questions, instead of just spewing their mouths and listen to what we’re saying. They have no idea, no [expletive] clue of what they’re talking about,” said Lotoski.
Lotoski said he’s especially frustrated by the lack of clarity on “variants” and that the guns being banned are the “scary black ones.”
“There was a .410 semi-automatic shotgun. So just like a normal, regular shotgun that you hunt prairie chickens with. There was four different colours, let’s say a camouflage, a wood stock, a chrome stock and a black one. All identical working guns, the only difference is color and they banned the black one,” said Lotoski.
He said if the federal government wanted to make things safer for people living in Canada, they should invest the money planned for the buyback program in law enforcement instead and focus on the cross-border gun trade and people involved in straw purchasing, where a person who is legally allowed to purchase guns makes the purchase and then sells the firearm on the black market.
He said the new list of prohibited weapons doesn’t do anything more to protect the public because criminals will still steal and smuggle guns. According to Lotoski, what it does do is interfere with sport shooting and hunting, including the popular three-gun competitions hosted across Canada.
Three-gun is a competition where participants shoot a handgun, a shotgun, and a rifle and are scored on speed and accuracy. Shawn Severin is involved with Lakeland 3 Gun in Cold Lake, he said prior to last year’s expansion of the prohibited weapons list the AR-15 was frequently used by competitors for the rifle stage.
“We’ve adapted and overcame a little bit. Either went to a two gun, so a pistol/shotgun competition, or to a bolt action rifle instead. But it’s not the same competition and you don’t get the same atmosphere. There’s definitely a big drop in competitors and attendances at our clubs,” said Severin.
Asked why the switch from the semi-automatic AR-15 to a bolt-action rifle makes such a difference to the competition, Severin said it’s because it slows the overall speed down and creates a barrier to shooting for people who have previously invested in the sport and now have to replace their guns.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the firearm groups right now with the political climate,” said Severin. He said people are concerned about replacing the guns because “who knows how long until that one gets banned.”
Municipalities opposed to ban
Provincial Justice Minister Kaycee Madu called the provision for municipalities to ban handguns “bewildering.”
“Criminals flagrantly using guns won’t follow such a bylaw anyways,” said Madu.
“In addition, a patchwork approach of policy varying by invisible municipal boundaries would create obvious confusion in enforcement, and the federal government clearly knows that.”
He noted municipalities fall under provincial jurisdiction under the constitution and said if the bill passes “Alberta would vigilantly defend its jurisdiction.”
According to Madu, the Government of Alberta will expedite private member’s Bill 211 by Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo “which would limit municipalities’ ability to pass bylaws on these matters.”
The City of Cold Lake passed a motion when the list of prohibited weapons was expanded in June 2020 to oppose the ban and buyback program, as well as ask the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to consider a similar resolution.
Gun clubs in Bonnyville and Vermilion changed range policies to require law enforcement be in civilian clothing when they attend.