A man stands holding a hunting rifle in a green field with his son who is looking through binoculars.

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Does Bill C-21 Amendment Target The Wrong People?

Some of these guns have been used for generations

Minister says they’re going to get it right, but current amendment is far from a bullseye

If you haven’t heard of it, Bill C-21 is the new firearm legislation being debated in parliament. It aims to ban all handguns and military-style assault firearms in Canada (pun intended).

Needless to say, the Bill has lots of people talking.

“I am not against guns. I come from a family of hunters. However, I don’t understand why one has to have something other than hunting rifles in their home. Not shitting on it, I just don’t understand why.”

That’s from Facebook comments on an article discussing protests against the Bill.

It’s a fair question. Both handguns and assault rifles were originally made for uses other than hunting.

People who legally use guns as tools don’t normally use them for anything besides hunting, sport, and scaring the occasional wolf away from the chickens.

Still, guns that were designed to be deadly weapons don’t sit right with a lot of us. Even hunters.

It’s safe logic. If you don’t plan to assault people, why have an assault weapon?

But many folks who use guns have taken issue with the Bill, especially some last-minute amendments like the transfer ban. So let’s look at some of the reasons why.

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns addressed the amendments to Bill C-21 in Parliament. He said they would hurt rural and coastal communities in particular.

“This bill was supposed to protect people, not go after hunters, farmers or Indigenous peoples,” Johns said in the House of Commons.

So how does this bill “go after” these folks?

First of all, they’re the main demographic who legally uses guns as tools.

Canadian hunters have been using what were once military rifles to hunt for a long time now. The .303 Lee-Enfield, used in both World War I and World War II, was once the standard Canadian hunting rifle and is still commonly used.

Now, they’re the kind of item that has been passed down in families for multiple generations.

Under the transfer ban, if you die, you can’t put the gun in a will. Not even if it’s more of a decoration now and worth a pretty penny.

The amendment also proposes banning some guns that don’t fit the government’s new focus on “assault-style firearms.” 

The SKS semi-automatic rifle is one of them. It was not under the original ban in 2020 because if a weapon was not a modern design, it was left out of the ban.

Designed in 1945, despite still being an assault weapon, it doesn’t compare to modern military rifles like the AR-15. 

“There are, by our best estimates, somewhat over half a million SKS rifles in circulation in Canada,” Tony Bernardo of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association told CBC News.

Presently, the SKS is a non-restricted (and unregistered) class of firearms.

To put it simply, the government does not know who owns them.

Bernardo says the SKS is particularly common among Indigenous and sustenance hunters in remote areas.

So maybe folks have been using these guns for 70 years to ward off bears. But because the government doesn’t know who they are, under the new amendment, they could be arrested without knowing their gun is illegal.

It’s a bit of a mess.

“The consequences of this are absolutely huge and, quite frankly, totally uncalled for,” said Bernardo.

“The goal of the legislation was to get dangerous handguns off of our streets, but not criminalize hunters, farmers and/or Indigenous peoples,” Johns told the Comox Valley Record.

“We won’t support amendments to the bill that ban handguns primarily used for hunting or protecting farm animals from predators, and that don’t respect treaty rights. There’s time for the government to get it right.”

Even gun control group PolySeSouvient, which formed following the horrific shooting that took place at École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989, has said the government needs to do more to inform the public if the Bill is to go through.

“The priority should be to ensure that the public, hunters and First Nations understand the proposed measure, which is not the case at present,” PolySeSouvient spokesperson Nathalie Provost said to the CBC.

The goal of the Bill is to boost public safety in Canada. We all want more safety, not less.

But some say the Bill’s amendment won’t do that.

For one, a lot of guns in Canada are illegal. Bans won’t stop them from coming into the country.

Also, lots of people who get shot are shot by people they know using legal and illegal guns.

Like the woman in Port Alberni who shot and killed her adult son in August, 2021. Or the man who shot his romantic partner in June, 2022 in Campbell River and then killed himself with the same gun. Or the man who shot and killed an 80-year-old woman (reports say she was known to him) in Courtenay in March, 2022.

We need to fight for their safety, too.

But talking about how guns and trauma can lead to violence is a much harder conversation.

And when it comes to legal hunters and farmers, they shouldn’t be the targets when it comes to taking aim at gun violence in Canada.

We’d all like to take deadly weapons out of our country. We want to keep people safe.

But this amendment misses the mark.