OTTAWA – The timing for Canadian gun enthusiasts couldn’t have been much worse. Just a few weeks ago, they presented an online petition to Canada’s Parliament urging the government to loosen its severe restrictions on the AR-15 rifle.

More than 25,000 Canadians signed the petition from a group calling itself the Lawful Firearm Owners of Canada urging the government to take the AR-15 off the list of officially “restricted” firearms and allow it to be used for hunting. Right now, the AR-15 can generally only be used at gun ranges, and users face tight rules on transport of the weapon.

Bob Zimmer, the Conservative Party member of Parliament who presented the petition to the House of Commons, said that the AR-15, when handled properly, is “a completely innocuous firearm.”
Then, the Orlando massacre happened and a rifle often compared to the AR-15, a Sig Sauer MCX rifle, was fingered as the weapon of choice.  Versions of the AR-15 had also been implicated in the mass shootings in San Bernadino, Calif.; Aurora, Col.; and  Newtown, Conn.

Canada’s public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, made it clear this week that he had no intention of loosening the restrictions on the AR-15. “The request has been made to change the classification but our position is no,” Goodale said. “The existing classification will remain.” He also said that the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will continue to heed the views of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which administers the firearms law and recommends which guns are unrestricted, restricted or prohibited.

Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, says it’s all very unfair, that the AR-15 used to be an unrestricted weapon but was incorrectly reclassified in the early 1990s simply because politicians thought “it looked scary.”

Incidents like the Orlando massacre are simply fueling prejudice against the rifle, he continued. “The media is doing a wonderful job at assassinating it. It’s just a gun.”

“We have never had a single crime committed in Canada by an AR-15," he said. "The AR-15 didn’t create the problem any more than fertilizer and diesel fuel [used to make improvised bombs] create problems.”

Canada makes it a lot harder than the United States for people to walk in off the street and buy a firearm. Gun shops are few and far between and the process for buying a gun takes time. And magazines for guns like the AR-15 are restricted to five bullets.

To legally own a gun, you have to apply for a firearms license, and take a mandatory day-long safety course. If it’s a restricted weapon like an AR-15 you have to take a second course. The RCMP advises on its website that any applicant has to anticipate a 45-day wait for an application to be processed, which includes a mandatory 28-day holding period. And there are background checks.

Gun lovers in Canada had considerable political sway under the previous government led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which in 2012 abolished a mandatory long-gun registry covering all rifles and shotguns. The registry was deeply unpopular in rural areas.

Trudeau's Liberal government, in contrast, has promised to tighten up some gun laws and reverse some of the rules instituted by the Conservatives, but it won’t bring back the long-run registry.

As for the AR-15s, some politicians don’t think the rules are strict enough. Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, expressed consternation that the AR-15 is legal in any form. “It’s horrific that such weapons exist.”

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