Any positive steps on gun control in the U.S. can only benefit Canada

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew
At Ade's Gun Shop & Em & M Guns in Orange, Emily Atkinson shows the safety features of a Springfield Armory XD compact pistol to a female client.

Gun control is finally taking centre stage south of the border, much to the relief of those of us in Canada who hope real policy change will mark improvements in the U.S. as well as here at home.

President Barack Obama today announced that real, actual action will be taken, and soon. He is placing Vice-President Joe Biden in charge of pursuing policy changes by as early as January.

And even the National Rifle Association is vowing to offer a “meaningful contribution” toward stopping the next mass shooting. Considering the positions taken by gun advocates since the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting, that meaningful contribution could be offering free rifles to school teachers.

Consider the significant role weapons smuggled into Canada from the U.S. play in our own problem with gun violence, Canadians can be forgiven for watching intently to what changes may be on the way.

The Washington Post reports the likely result of the Biden task force will involve a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, as well as initiatives surrounding mental health and the depiction of violence in popular culture.

[ Related: Obama to press for new gun policies following Connecticut shooting ]

Congratulations can’t come soon enough, but they will have to wait to see how much progress can actually be made in the complicated U.S. political climate. It is still worth noting that the policy changes expected to come about would bring the U.S. closer in line with gun laws currently in place here in Canada.

For example, the Bushmaster rifle carried by Newtown shooting Adam Lanza is actually and perhaps surprisingly available here in Canada, but with some key alterations.

CBC reports that federal laws mean Canada’s version of the Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic is different in several key ways. First, ammunition magazines are limited to five cartridges, whereas standard U.S. magazines hold 30 rounds.

The Canadian weapons are also more difficult to turn into fully automatic weapons, meaning only one bullet is released every time the trigger is pulled.

Should Biden manage to champion real change to gun laws, America’s version of the Bushmaster may end up looking something similar to those available in Canada.

That would come as a welcome change for Canadian law enforcement groups, which cite the States as the key source of outlawed weapons into the country. Toronto police say as many as 70 per cent of all weapons seized in the city have been smuggled into Canada from the south.

And an intensive RCMP investigation from 2007 cites the U.S. as the "primary source for smuggled firearms ... due in part to its close proximity, [and] differences in gun control legislation." The report also notes a "marked increase" in assault rifles and submachine guns being smuggled into the country.

[ Related: Gun-control advocates want more attention paid to Canada's gun lobby ]

Since then, the prevalence of gun smuggling has only grown. An investigation by Postmedia News found that the 500 guns seized at the border between the start of the year and the end of October were more than any of the last three total years. And most of those weapons were categorized as restricted or prohibited firearms.

The fact is that any law that limits the strength and prevalence of weapons in the U.S. is bound to have a positive impact on limiting the feeding system into Canada.

Too many questions remain to determine whether the benefit to Canada will be definitive or anecdotal. But either way, better times should be on their way.