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'All about politics': Feds, under pressure, walk back gun bill

Legislation change would have caused 'a virtual collapse of the industry,' says Elwood Epps owner, noting it would have impacted police and military as well
Wes Winkel, owner of Elwood Epps Sporting Goods, is pictured with a Winchester .308 semiautomatic, one of numerous hunting guns that would have been banned in amendments the federal government made to its most recent gun legislation.

The federal government recently walked back an amendment to its newest gun legislation that would have banned many hunting rifles and shotguns.

Bill C-21, originally designed to ban handguns, was subject to a last-minute amendment in the fall that dramatically expanded its scope.

Although the amendment has now been scrapped, businesses have taken a hit.

Wes Winkel, owner of Elwood Epps Sporting Goods on Highway 11, said his business has lost up to $12,000 amid the confusion generated by the bill.

He said roughly 20 per cent of his inventory would have been affected by the amendment, which would have taken 420 kinds of guns off the market.

“When they announced these amendments back in November, all of us, as an industry, went and cancelled the order for these guns because we didn’t want to get caught with them, so we paid cancellation fees and all sorts of stuff,” Winkel told OrilliaMatters. “Now they cancelled the amendments, (and) now we’ve got to reorder them.”

More frustrating than the financial effects, however, were the broader implications of the changes, and the way the government went about adding the amendment, he said.

“One of the Liberal committee members … introduces two amendments, which usually are supposed to be small and procedural changes, but in this case, they were massive,” he said.

“They added another 420 different makes and models of guns to the prohibition list, including a lot of hunting guns, so all of us in the industry said, ‘What the heck’s going on here? Like, where does this come from?’”

Winkel, who is president of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association, said he spoke in more then 30 Zoom meetings with government officials over the past few months regarding the implications of the bill.

He said the changes would have “decimated” the firearms industry in Canada, banned numerous guns used by Indigenous communities for hunting, and even affected police and military operations.

“We explained that, basically, if these amendments went through as written, they will cause a virtual collapse of the industry. (It had) so many far-reaching effects, in situations of wildlife control and … even as far as the police and military. To be able to get ammo becomes difficult because there’s just no industry to support it anymore,” he said.

“The Native bands got pretty upset, as well, because now the government has affected their ability to hunt and feed their families.”

Simcoe North MP Adam Chambers said the proposed amendments were “embarrassing” for the federal government and that they added fuel to an already touchy gun conversation in Canada.

“It has not done the whole conversation any good in terms of the public. It’s a very divisive issue, and it’s something that people have to sit down and work through together ... Are there enhancements that we can make to the system?” he said.

“They said, ‘We’re not going after hunting rifles and we’re not banning any hunting rifles,’ and yet listed in the legislation were rifles that were commonly used for hunting. It turns out what all of those groups were saying was actually true, and the government now admits it was true.”

Chambers, similarly, expressed frustration with the way the amendments were introduced, noting a lack of consultation with Indigenous communities. He said the way the current government has handled gun legislation is more “politically” and “ideologically” motivated than it is in increasing community safety.

“It’s not that we have the perfect system and we shouldn’t do anything and there’s not ways we should look to make changes or tweaks to enhance the system,” he said. “It’s that the process the government’s been using … is all about politics. It’s actually not about what they say it’s about in terms of keeping guns off the streets.”

Canada has a stringent gun-control system in place already, Chambers argued, saying legal gun owners are, on balance, law-abiding citizens who look to keep their gun privileges intact.

He said the feds have done little to address the social roots of crime or to prevent illegal firearms from entering the country, and that the changes brought forth by the amendment would not have addressed those issues.

As an example, Chambers asked the government for data on illegal smuggling through train cars between 2018 and 2022.

“I asked the government (in) how many train cars that crossed the border did they find illegal, prohibited items, whether it’s alcohol, tobacco, firearms, at border crossings on trains, in the last few years,” he said. “Between 2018 and 2021, the government seized absolutely zero items.”

The government did make four seizures through train cars in 2022, for alcohol, tobacco, and illegal knives, but Chambers expressed concern about the total lack of seizures through that four-year period.

“You mean to tell me that there was not one? They couldn’t find one? That signals to me that they’re not checking,” he said. “The issue is our porous border and our inability to really check thoroughly the goods that are coming across the border both at land crossings and by the train.”

Chambers also questioned the government’s proposed gun buy-back program through Bill C-21, arguing those funds would be better used addressing crime in communities.

“The government’s intending to spend however many hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to purchase firearms from people. They’re going to spend money doing that, but not put more resources and not put more focus on the border, (or) for enhanced police efforts for better coverage in our cities for gang-related activity, or into social supports to help prevent people from getting involved with gangs,” he said.

“We have a limited number of resources, so we should be really careful about where we’re deciding to spend them.”

Winkel had similar concerns.

“It seems that there’s a big separation between crime policy and the federal government’s current firearms policy,” he said. “They’re not (addressing) ... the root causes of the crime, but rather trying to just restrict the distribution of firearms.”

The government still intends to push ahead with Bill C-21 without the amendment, which will bring a handgun sale ban in Canada, among other measures.