Westman firearms organizations are concerned over new federal gun legislation they say could end a popular form of sport shooting and unfairly targets legal gun owners.
The proposed legislation allows handgun owners to continue to possess and use their pistols but freezes their ability to import, buy, sell or transfer them. That’s a concern for people who shoot competitively and for the longevity of the sport.
“The next generation is not going to have the opportunity to enjoy shooting handguns,” said Mark Michie, president of the Melvin Road Gun Club, near Austin. If new people can’t get into the activity, it will die out, he said.
The new rules are aimed at keeping Canadians safe, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Monday, and includes other measures, such as increasing criminal penalties for gun trafficking and requiring long-gun magazines to be altered to hold a maximum of five rounds.
But Michie said the part of the legislation aimed at handguns will have consequences for legal gun owners and the gun clubs of which they are members.
“You can’t get anyone new into it. As a gun owner, part of the gun community … part of our goal is to educate on what our gun laws actually are and how safe we actually are as law-abiding firearm owners so that we can get (people) involved and get them interested,” he said.
“This just — pardon the pun — shoots that down.”
The legislation includes some exemption to restrictions on transferring handguns, including for businesses selling to movie companies, museums and exempted people. Exempted individuals would include those who transport valuable goods and elite sport shooters who compete or coach in handgun events recognized by the international Olympic or Paralympic committees.
Brandon Wildlife Association president Brad Kirkpatrick said he is still waiting for more details on how the exemptions will be managed and who will be exempted. He also shares concerns about the impact on sport shooting, such as through the International Practical Shooting Confederation.
“Effectively, we’re one generation away from handguns or at least competition shooting being extinct in this country … certainly that’s a big fear,” he said.
“There are people, including myself, in this who are very avid shooters, enjoy the organized competition a great deal.”
There are approximately 1,000 members of the Brandon Wildlife Association, Kirkpatrick said, and many own handguns. Pistols aren’t as high profile as other firearms, but many people take part in competitions.
Despite the federal government’s focus on reducing handgun crime, Kirkpatrick said he doesn’t believe the new rules will have an impact as many illegal guns are smuggled into the country.
“They’re targeting the wrong people,” he said.
“It is very concerning and [there are] still a lot of questions up in the air.”
In a statement, Brandon police public information officer Sgt. Kirby Sararas said the City of Brandon has not seen the same level of gun violence as larger Canadian cities in recent years.
The majority of handgun-style weapons police seize in Brandon are imitation or pellet guns, she said, which can still pose a problem.
“As criminals, especially those in the drug subcultures find it difficult to get their hands on real handguns, they turn to imitation firearms, which they use to threaten and intimidate victims. It is incredibly difficult to tell the difference between a real weapon and a replica.
“Depending on the specifics of the new legislation, we anticipate that the number of replica guns police encounter could diminish significantly; this will be a welcome change.”
Despite the proposed legislation targeting the Canadian market, handguns can still be bought in neighbouring jurisdictions, which means criminals will turn to the black market
“While it might not have a significant impact on Brandon’s current gun climate, it has the potential to mitigate any future gun activity,” Sararas said.
Those in opposition of the proposed bill are questioning how effective it will be in preventing gun violence.
Dauphin–Swan River–Neepawa Conservative MP Dan Mazier criticized the plans Tuesday, asking what will be banned next after handguns.
As he and other members of his party have said before, he believes a more prudent approach to fighting gun violence would be to give the Canadian Border Services Agency the resources to tackle the flow of illegal guns coming in across the border.
“I don’t know why they’re picking on legal gun owners,” Mazier said.
“It’s a progression this government seems to be fixated with, they can’t get it out of their DNA … it’s the legal gun owners they’re attacking and I don’t understand it.”
The proposed legislation is a missed opportunity for the federal government, said Tracey Wilson, vice-president of public relations for the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights.
Wilson, an owner of three handguns, hoped to see a bill that focused on reducing street crime, intervened in gang violence and mitigated smuggling illicit guns into the country, she said.
“After seven years of beating the crap out of licensed gun owners, crime is still going up and [Trudeau] is looking at us wondering why. It’s because you’re going after the wrong people.”
While the new rules would place a freeze on legal handguns across the country, Wilson claimed the vast majority of gun crimes are used with firearms that are illegally purchased or smuggled and aren’t being targeted in the proposal.
There is currently little information available to determine the source of firearms used in crime, according to Statistics Canada.
However, the same page shows handguns were the most serious weapon present in the majority of firearm-related violent crimes both between 2009 and 2014 and between 2015 and 2020 (59 per cent).
Wilson said she wants the federal government to invest in communities, at-risk youth, gang intervention and technology at the border to prevent smuggled weapons before handcuffing law-abiding gun owners.
“Why don’t we try focusing on crime and if all else fails, then come talk to me about my guns,” she said.
“Are Canadians safer after this legislation passes? The answer is no, we’re just more divided.”
A freeze on handguns would also largely impact gun distributors, according to Matthew Hipwell, owner of Wolverine Supplies in Virden.
“It’s a significant piece of our market,” he said. “It will absolutely affect my business.”
Hipwell’s shop also sells airsoft guns, which would also be frozen if they closely resemble a real gun.
Hipwell said he’s unsure if he can do anything to challenge the new bill should it pass, but is set on supporting the shooting community to the best of his ability.
“Like every business, you need to adapt and move forward.”
Social problems, mental health issues and addiction are all issues that plague the country, yet Monday’s announcement focused on those who are legal firearms owners, Hipwell argued.
“They need to focus on the root causes of these problems.”
The new regulations are expected to come into force in the fall.
» firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com with files from The Canadian Press and Colin Slark
Joshua Frey-Sam, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun