The Canadian parliament is considering a ban on a large category of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, including many models that critics say are widely used by hunters.
The House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security is considering the ban as an amendment to another bill (C-21) that would, among other things, ban the sale, purchase, or transfer of handguns.
Late last month, Liberal MP Paul Chiang added to this handgun ban an amendment that would ban semi-automatic centerfire rifles and shotguns capable of accepting a detachable magazine holding over five rounds.
Whether the owner of the rifle or shotgun possesses a magazine capable of holding more than five rounds is irrelevant. The amendment would categorize any rifle or shotgun “capable of discharging centerfire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner and that is designed to accept a detachable cartridge magazine with a capacity greater than five cartridges of the type for which the firearm was originally designed” as “prohibited.”
Critics say this amendment represents a direct attack on law-abiding hunters across the country.
“I am here today because with bill C-21 the federal government has, whether it wants to admit it or not, said to hunters, ‘Your way of life is going to be no more,’” Conservative MP Blaine Calkins said at a recent committee hearing. Before being elected to parliament, Calkins was a conservation officer for the province of Alberta. “Guns are not weapons of war…but an essential harvesting tool used for hunters to feed their families,” he said.
Among Canada’s three classes of firearms—non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited—hunting is only allowed with non-restricted firearms. By re-categorizing thousands of non-restricted rifles as prohibited, the Canadian government will bar hunters from transporting those rifles to the field. If those gun owners fail to surrender or properly register their firearms, they run the risk of prosecution and serious penalties.
Canadian NHL star Carey Price made waves when he weighed in with an Instagram post featuring an image of himself wearing camo and holding a shotgun.
“I love my family, I love my country and I care for my neighbour,” he said in the caption. “I am not a criminal or a threat to society. What [Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] is trying to do is unjust. I support the [Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights] to keep my hunting tools. Thank you for listening to my opinion.”
Proponents of the ban on semi-automatic rifles argue that it’s necessary to prevent crime. “As a former police officer I understand that weapons of war have no place in our communities,” MP Chiang said on Twitter. “Our government’s work to improve public safety through Bill C-21 will remove dangerous weapons by adding clear definitions for prohibited weapons. These definitions will protect Canadians while respecting hunters and Indigenous populations across Canada.”
Canada’s overall homicide rate rose in 2020 and 2021, and homicides by shooting rose from 264 in 2019 to 297 in 2021. Handguns were the primary type of firearm used (57%), followed by rifles and shotguns (26%), according to Statistics Canada.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has accused the Conservative Party of “whipping up fear” that C-21 will target hunting rifles.
“The government has no intention—no intention whatsoever—to go after long guns and hunting rifles,” he said. “And this is simply Conservative fearmongering.”
Whether Mendicino’s assurances ring true depends largely on one’s definition of “hunting rifle.” Rifles that can hold more than five rounds of ammunition have long been prohibited in Canada, but many hunters still use semi-automatic rifles like the Benelli R1, the Remington Model 742 Woodsmaster, the Auto-Ordnance M1 Carbine, and the Browning BAR MK III. In the Public Safety Committee’s most recent hearing, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer mentioned each of these rifles as being of concern to his constituents.
Hunters are especially concerned that the SKS rifle will be banned. The SKS is a Soviet-era semi-automatic rifle, and with an estimated 200,000 owners, it’s Canada’s most-popular centerfire, semi-auto rifle. It’s also used widely by Canada’s Indigenous hunters, according to Conservative MP Requel Dancho.
Semi-automatic shotguns with fixed tubular magazines would fall outside the scope of the ban, but any shotgun that accepts a detachable magazine would be banned.
MP Calkins also pointed out that even if a hunter doesn’t prefer a semi-auto rifle for hunting, these rifles are most effective for self-defense in bear country.
“In some parts of our country, firearms are vital to one’s physical safety,” he said. “Tour operators need to ensure their guests are protected from wildlife. When beekeepers go out into remote areas, it is not uncommon for a beekeeper to be caught unaware by a lingering bear. These are people who find themselves in a defensive position. They need to react and respond quickly.”
Some observers have noted that the proposed list of prohibited firearms also includes single-shot and bolt-action guns like the Ruger No. 1 and the Weatherby Mark I, II, and V.
When asked about these non-semi-automatic firearms at the Public Safety Committee’s hearing, technical specialist Murray Smith clarified that only models chambered in cartridges that produce more than 7,376 foot-pounds (10,000 joules) of energy at the muzzle would be prohibited, including the .50 BMG, .460 Weatherby Magnum, and .416 CheyTac. These high-powered cartridges aren’t common among North American hunters, and the prohibition on rifles chambered in such cartridges has been in place since 2020.
However, confusion persists, and not everyone is reassured. Nicolas Johnson is the editor of one of Canada’s most popular gun news websites, TheGunBlog.ca. He told MeatEater that hunters are still worried about running afoul of the country’s ever-expanding gun control regime.
“If a conservation officer comes up to you while you're out hunting and thinks he should arrest you for illegal possession of a prohibited firearm, good luck explaining the nuances of, ‘Yeah, this model, but not this particular caliber,’” Johnson speculated in an email to MeatEater. That hunter may ultimately prevail in court, but not before racking up sizable legal fees.
Even some of Canada’s gun experts appear to be confused. When asked during the Public Safety Committee hearing whether the Mossberg 702 Plinkster Tactical 22 would be banned, Smith said, “No.” “The model 702 Plinkster is a conventional 22-caliber hunting rifle. It's unaffected by what's in C-21,” he said.
However, the .22 LR firearm is listed among the newly prohibited firearms as a “variant or modified version” of the M16, AR-10, and AR-15.
Despite what Johnson described as “HUGE” opposition from Canadian gun owners, he believes the amendment is likely to pass.
“The pushback by Conservative politicians is nice, but unlikely to change anything,” he said. “I expect the Liberals will pass the bill and amendments into law, pretty much as-is. They're quite savvy and know how to work the system.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said C-21 is being reviewed to ensure the legislation doesn’t go after hunting rifles and shotguns.
“We just put forward a list and we're consulting with Canadians on that,” Trudeau said. “That's what we're listening to, feedback on how to make sure that we're not capturing weapons that are primarily hunting weapons.”
In the meantime, Canadian hunters and gun owners can still write to their Member of Parliament, the members of the Public Safety Committee, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to express their opinion about C-21 and the semi-automatic rifle and shotgun ban.