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Don't broaden handgun freeze exemption, firearm-control advocates tell senators

Norway's Johannes Thingnes Boe, left, shoots during the World Cup biathlon men's short 15 km event in Canmore, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh Norway's Johannes Thingnes Boe, left, shoots during the World Cup biathlon men's short 15 km event in Canmore, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
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Ottawa -

Proponents of tougher firearm restrictions are urging senators not to broaden an exemption for Olympic athletes from the federal handgun freeze to include a wider range of sport shooters.

When they introduced gun-control legislation last year, the federal Liberals announced a plan to implement a freeze on importing, buying, selling or otherwise transferring handguns to help reduce firearm-related violence.

Federal regulations aimed at capping the number of handguns in Canada are now in effect. The bill has measures that would reinforce the handgun freeze.

Businesses can still sell to exempted individuals, including elite sport shooters who compete or coach in handgun events recognized by the international Olympic or Paralympic committees.

Gun-control advocates including the group PolySeSouvient said in a letter to Senate committee members studying the bill that expanding the exemption would put the interests of recreational sport shooters who want to buy new handguns ahead of public safety.

A representative of the National Association of Women and the Law has also written to members of the Senate committee to express opposition to such a wording change.

The committee is reviewing the bill clause by clause after hearing from an array of witnesses.

During his appearance, Jim Smith of the International Practical Shooting Confederation asked senators to widen the exemption to include participants in their competitions.

Unlike at more traditional competitions, the confederation's matches can involve firing on the move at stationary and mobile targets, and trying to be quick between shots when reloading or drawing from a holster.

Smith said that while the bill does not outright ban handgun ownership, the result for IPSC Canada is that, as a sport, “we will see a slow demise as our athletes age when no new athletes are introduced and existing competitors' equipment wears out with them unable to source replacements.

“Since the ban was introduced by order-in-council, we have already seen a slow decline in participation as new prospective members have been unable to purchase handguns.”

The letter to senators from PolySeSouvient is signed by others pushing for tighter laws, including Boufeldja Benabdallah, spokesperson for the Quebec Mosque community, and Meaghan Hennegan of Dawson Families for Gun Control.

Amending the bill to further broaden the Olympic exemption “risks completely nullifying the freeze on new handgun acquisitions,” since Canadian law already essentially limits handgun purchases to target shooters, the letter says.

“It would be akin to prohibiting new cars - except for drivers.

“Expanding the exemption would prioritize the interests of recreational sports shooters who want to buy new handguns over the lives of (highly predictable) future victims of gun violence,” the letter says.

It would also cast aside evidence that gender-based violence and intimate partner violence are fuelled not only by access to long guns but also handguns, it adds.

“Furthermore, it would negate the long and arduous democratic process that led to the freeze on new handguns in the bill, involving years of advocacy by victims' groups, unwavering public support and its adoption by the elected members of the House of Commons.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2023.

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