OTTAWA — Following the recent mass shooting in Toronto, the federal government is eyeing tighter restrictions on handguns — possibly by making certain firearms harder to buy and allowing municipalities to impose their own controls.
A federal official with knowledge of the current brainstorming says ideas have been percolating for several months — building on firearms legislation introduced in March — and have evolved further after Sunday’s shooting in Canada’s largest city.
Two people were killed in the tragedy that also injured 13, led to the gunman’s death and left a neighbourhood traumatized. Two days later, Toronto city council passed a motion calling on the federal government to outlaw the sale of handguns in the city.
A federal bill introduced late last winter would expand the scope of background checks on those who want to acquire a gun, strengthen record-keeping requirements for sales and require purchasers to present a firearms licence.
But the government is actively exploring additional measures.
Firearms in Canada are classified as either non-restricted (such as ordinary hunting rifles and shotguns), restricted (including handguns and certain rifles and semi-automatics) or prohibited (certain handguns, fully automatic firearms and sawed-off rifles).
Restricted and prohibited firearms must be registered and entail additional safety training.
Officials are contemplating a rejigging of the categories that would effectively remove some firearms from the commercial market altogether.
“Do you make it so that there are fewer firearms that would fall into these more restricted or prohibited categories available for purchase?” said the federal official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. “That’s one question.”
Another idea being studied would see the federal government hand off some responsibilities under the Firearms Act to the provinces which could, in turn, permit municipalities to restrict purchases or even impose bans. But it is unclear to what extent the government could transfer these authorities.
“These are questions that we’re asking,” the official said.
Authorities are also mindful of the emergence of three-dimensional printers that can easily manufacture guns without any kind of licensing control — eliminating the need to walk into a firearms shop or hire a cross-border weapon smuggler.
The advent of 3D guns could render traditional notions about gun control obsolete and potentially hasten any federal efforts to overhaul the classification system, the official said.
The government’s firearms advisory committee is expected to provide advice to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in September on four key issues he has flagged, including the possibility of:
— Stricter firearm storage rules for gun shops, after two dozen handguns were stolen by thieves who snipped a cable;
— Limitations on commercial advertising of restricted firearms that glorifies violence and simulates warfare;
— A mechanism to identify large and unusual transactions to buy or sell guns, particularly restricted or prohibited ones — purchases that may indicate gang activity or trafficking;
— Requiring medical professionals to advise provincial authorities of people who have diagnosed conditions, including mental illnesses, that are likely to put the lives of other people in danger.
Goodale has asked Quebec to share lessons learned from its law requiring reporting of suspicious behaviour related to firearms when federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for public safety meet in St. John’s, N.L., in November.
Bill Blair, the new minister for border security and organized crime reduction, is also likely to attend the Newfoundland meeting, where firearms control will be a central issue.
The work of the advisory committee and deliberations with counterparts from across the country will help Goodale decide on any new legislative steps, the federal official said.
“The minister will want to take the advice from those colleagues and move at that point probably fairly quickly on whatever comes next.”
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Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press