Local hunters are blasting a proposed amendment to federal gun-control legislation that could lead to a ban on many semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.
In late November, the Liberal government proposed to enshrine a definition of a prohibited assault-style firearm as part of legislation being studied by the House of Commons public safety committee.
The amendment to Bill C-21 was in response to pleas from advocates of tougher gun laws, with a spokesperson for gun control group PolySeSouvient calling it "another critical step towards a comprehensive and permanent ban on assault-style weapons in Canada."
It would build on a May 2020 regulatory ban of more than 1,500 models and variants of what the government considers assault-style firearms.
But it drew criticism from other circles — including the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, which is worried the definition could prohibit firearms used by hunters across the country.
"Hunters here are left thinking, you know, what's next?" said Matt DeMille, the federation's director of policies and programs, in an interview last week with CBC Ottawa News at 6.
"The government was clear that hunters and hunting firearms weren't the target of this legislation. Now we see that ... it is going to affect firearms that are being used by hunters across the country."
Prized by bird hunters
The amendment put forward by Liberal MP Paul Chiang would prohibit rifles or shotguns "capable of discharging centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner [and] designed to accept a detachable cartridge magazine with a capacity greater than five cartridges of the type for which the firearm was originally designed."
Semi-automatic rifles are designed so when the trigger is pulled, another bullet is loaded into the gun's chamber. They're especially prized by bird hunters, DeMille said, while farmers or ranchers might also prefer them as the best way to keep predators away.
"When you're shooting at a flock of geese, you might wait all day for the flock to come in. So [a semi-automatic] brings your chances quite higher," said Harvey Young, a hunter in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, Que.
Semi-automatics also differ from automatic weapons, where multiple shots can be fired with a single pull. It's a distinction most Canadians don't understand, said Young — and he felt the proposed amendment takes advantage of that lack of understanding.
"It's nonsense. It's targeting people that aren't breaking the law," said Young, who owns two semi-automatics for shooting waterfowl.
"Every gun fires a bullet. It's the person behind the gun that makes the bad judgments."
Thousands of rifles still available: Liberal MP
Liberal MP Taleeb Noormohamed told the Commons committee last week that nobody was trying to vilify hunters. Rather, the government was focusing on "weapons that should be banned because they have been responsible for taking life — killing human beings."
Citing numbers from a Department of Justice official, Noormohamed said once the new definition comes into force, there would still be as many as 20,000 types of firearms that would be classified as non-restricted and could be used for hunting.
Even so, the Ontario federation has issued a call to action, urging people to "respectfully" send thoughts on the amendment to their local MP via an online form. That form was no longer online Saturday afternoon, with the federation's website noting "overwhelming" use had led their service provider to shut it down.
Brian Preston, a long-time duck and goose hunter in the Township of Rideau Lakes, Ont., said he supported the federation's stance and accused the Liberals of ramming through another "unnecessary" gun law that won't act as designed.
"They target legal, trained, certified hunters. And they don't put enough [resources into] really going after the criminals," Preston said.
"They just seem to think it's easier to take all the guns away from Canadians ... it's the easy way out."
Read the amendment here: